Standing in 82-degree weather dripping with sweat and feeling the dull ache in my hands as I swung the garden hoe down to break up the dry earth, all I could think was: “I hope that this sweat dries before I get to the formal Friday Center for the Bernstein Dinner, but either way – this is worth it.”
Throughout the fall 2017 semester, I interned with Rural Forward NC (RFNC) as a Program Associate. RFNC is a regional support organization for Healthy Places North Carolina, an initiative of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust with the task of improving the health and overall quality of life for individuals in rural North Carolina. RFNC was designed to respond to the needs of rural communities by working with local leaders and residents to hear their voices and find ways to celebrate community successes and combat problems.
As a Program Associate, I worked with my supervisor and other staff members to complete various projects. I traveled across NC to attend meetings and learn about the initiatives in the counties that RFNC works in: Nash, Edgecombe, Beaufort, Rockingham, and Halifax. My supervisor was primarily involved with Rockingham County, so I was mainly working on projects there.
There was a push to create a food council in Rockingham County to provide public awareness and education about local foods, to provide local food, to encourage collaboration and communication between growers and buyers, and to identify and address the root causes of the issues in the community. The food council would serve as a hub for communication and collaboration, allowing for centralized information so that others could be aware of the current projects and join in. It would also create a network for providing education topics such as healthy eating, local foods, and the connection between local foods and the local economy. For this project, my role was to attend meetings, take notes and compile ideas, research other food councils, and attend other meetings related to food access.
My favorite meeting was the Organic Agriculture Revitalization Strategy (OARS) Regional Summit in New Bern, NC. I went to the meeting as the only Rural Forward NC representative, and I learned about some unbelievable projects going on in northeastern NC. The most amazing thing that I heard about was a mobile farmer’s market, which grows produce year-round and travels around to serve disadvantaged communities. One of their most incredible aspects is that they set up at a hospital in Vance County, and physicians write prescriptions for fresh produce that patients can redeem at the mobile market.
Behavioral Health and Opioid Awareness
The first event that I attended was a National Opioid Awareness Day event in Rockingham County, in which speakers came together to discuss the effects of opioid addiction. At the event, the space for a memorial garden was dedicated to those lost to overdose. Later on, I went back to the site with my girlfriend to actually plant the garden. In an interesting turn of events, I ended up wielding a garden hoe to break up the dry earth while three other people each shoveled holes, and planted and watered tulip bulbs.
Additionally, I was involved with the Coalition for Addiction Recovery and Education (CARE) program. The CARE program aims to create a Recovery Community Center to serve the community and provide a centralized location to focus on opioid addiction recovery and education services. For this project, I researched successful recovery centers and potential funding opportunities.
Western Rockingham Recreational Group
The Western Rockingham Recreational Group was interested in having a recreational facility built for their community. The area already had a recreational center and a YMCA, but neither are very good or usable. The group’s idea is that if there is a better facility built, more people will utilize its resources to engage in a healthier lifestyle. I conducted research on recreational facilities and potential funding opportunities.
HPNC Strategy and Hub Development Meeting
I traveled to Winston-Salem with the two other interns and most of the RFNC group for a meeting with the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. At the meeting, we discussed the upcoming happenings for RFNC, including its expansion into the western part of the state. When we were put into small groups for discussions about power dynamics, I was put into a group of influential people. They were talking together, which was very interesting and helped me understand where people in the group were coming from, but I didn’t know if I was supposed to be saying anything. When the conversation lulled, I decided to throw out some comments of my own. It turned out very well and people seemed pleasantly surprised with my insights.
Being a Program Associate with RFNC has been the highlight of my semester. When I started, I was considering going to graduate school after graduation, but I was not sure for what. My major is Natural Resources: Policy and Administration, and I knew that I wanted to study how people in underprivileged communities interact with their environments. My work with RFNC has allowed me to follow that passion by giving me the ability to provide opportunities for individuals to be educated about food and live healthier lives. Realizing this dream has allowed me to become more confident of my goals for the future.
I have long been involved in advocacy work, and this internship has allowed me to realize that I can keep doing what I love even after I leave NC State. I am now planning to pursue a Master’s of Public Administration with a focus on Nonprofit Management. The experience that I’ve gained from working with RFNC will help me in graduate school because I will have real world knowledge on how nonprofits work. I think that the most important thing that I have learned is that nonprofits have a responsibility to put their hearts and souls into supporting communities.