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By Shelby Holmes (LFNC Fellow – Shelby) and Nina Worth (LFNC Fellow – Rockingham County)

Lead for North Carolina’s model matches each fellow with a community “facing considerable challenges, [with] significant need for young talent and innovative thinking.” It’s based around the idea that, as young post-grads, we often think about problems differently and bring new energy and ideas into rural communities, who in turn have struggled with brain drain. As Fellows, on the other hand, we grow our own capabilities and serve citizens by “gaining an understanding of and appreciation for local government, learning to identify and resolve the most pressing community issues, [and] enacting systemic and equity-driven change.”

We learn about government functions, balancing interests, growth-planning, community organizing, and so much more. At its core, the program is designed to be mutually beneficial. It’s an agreement and an investment by and in both the Fellow and the jurisdiction. By nature of the program– Fellows are matched with local governments across the state– many of us come into LFNC with a clear passion for policy or a background in political science. It feels tailor-made for people who know they want to work in government. It is, but it’s not only that.

If post-grad (and 2020/2021) has taught us anything, it’s that there are endless paths forward. We (Shelby & Nina) started with different perspectives on the fellowship and will end the fellowship with different next steps:

Shelby: After graduating Davidson College with a sociology and gender studies double major, I began my fellowship with the City of Shelby fully intending to head into a MPP program the following year. I planned to pursue a career in policy research, working at a think tank or directly within government. For me, this year has been hugely impactful on my career path– just in ways I wasn’t completely expecting. Working in the city manager’s office has demonstrated how choices made in this building (and choices made in Raleigh and choices made in DC) have real, tangible impacts on residents of Shelby. It’s been exhilarating to be a part of, but/and it’s also highlighted for me that what I’m most excited about is helping people figure out how those choices play out in their day-to-day lives. The fellowship has pulled out the question at the crux of my work this year and after: How do we navigate our environments in ways that best suit our needs and the needs of those around us? For my municipality, this provides a unique perspective from which to consider the “local government problems.” For me, it’s sharpened my intention to return to school– but for socially informed counseling psychology, rather than policy.

Nina: On the other hand, I came into Rockingham County with the intent to pursue a legal career. After graduating from North Carolina State University with a degree in political science and public policy, I decided to leave the bustling city of Raleigh and come to the growing, yet laid-back, rural community of Rockingham County as an administrative fellow. While my policy background made sense with the fellowship, my future plans did not. I fell subject to the common narrative of what success looks like for folks who are graduating from college: you have to move to a big city in order to jumpstart a successful career. I now know that is not true. Rockingham County has taken me in with warmth and trust in my capabilities, while teaching me skills that are critical for my future legal career. That feels like success, or at least a starting place for success.

My time in Rockingham County has allowed me to reshape how I view both the limitations and possibilities within the framework of the law at the base of local government. The intersection of law and local government intertwine immensely and the perspective I gained here is one that is unique, exciting, and rare. Simultaneously, this fellowship has challenged me in decision making, my preconceived notions, and the ever-changing ways I can continue to support my community in the future. Going into my legal career, I know I will be able to look back at my time in Rockingham County and cite the community that not only took me in but also instilled values of intentional work coupled with dynamic ways to perform critical community support.

This fellowship showed us that local government shapes everything– beyond even what we thought we knew coming in. It’s an integral player in community work and should not– cannot– be separated from other public-facing professions (which, let’s face it, is most of them in some way or another).

If you’re considering LFNC, we hope you take the plunge. If you come in and/or leave fully committed to a future in local government, that’s amazing– we’re in desperate need of strong, compassionate public servants. Many of our fellow Fellows are pursuing long careers in local government, policy research, and planning and we are endlessly excited about the future of our communities under their leadership. If you come in confused about it all and/or leave seeing yourself doing something else for the common good, we’re here to tell you that’s amazing, too. We’re also in need of doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, psychologists, nonprofit workers, …. Who have developed an appreciation for local government and consideration for rural, underserved populations?

While we leave this fellowship pursuing a new career path (Shelby) and continuing a long-term dream (Nina), we share a mutual understanding of ways we can participate in public service and our communities in the future. Whether this looks like sitting in on public meetings, serving on an advisory board, or simply dedicating our lives to various avenues of public service– LFNC has allowed us the ability to redefine and shape what it means to be engaged and committed to serving those around us. Do not let uncertainty or confusion hold you back from a truly unique opportunity.

The crux of LFNC is about community care and investment: tuning into a new (or returning to your own) community, making connections, and investing in its present & future. There’s flexibility in what that looks like. This fellowship is more expansive than the day-to-day of government work; it’s about a philosophy of servant leadership. How do we reinvest in rural communities, serve people more equitably, and respond to the greatest challenges of our neighbors? And where do we fit in in the long fight?