Town of Smithfield North Carolina USA

Report: Long-Term Investment in Rural Areas Improves Resources

new report reveals that investing in rural areas can improve essential resources for the people living there. Despite a significant rural population of 46 million in the United States, these regions receive only a minimal amount of grant funding. Back in 2012, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust launched the Healthy Places North Carolina initiative and allocated $1-hundred million to 10 rural counties. The aim was to improve resource accessibility, and after a decade, their impact report reveals significant progress in areas such as healthy food, recreation and health-care resources.

Adam Linker, vice president for programs with the Reynolds trust, said the key to empowering these communities hinges on close collaboration with the residents themselves.

“The people who know the problems the best are the people who are closest to the issues in the community, and so you have to invest in those leaders, in those organizations so that they can lead the change efforts themselves,” he said.

Linker emphasized the power of community-driven solutions for real, lasting change. The report echoes this sentiment, highlighting nearly 600 grants distributed to 61 local organizations across eastern and central North Carolina. Their efforts are making a difference, from setting up addiction recovery centers to improving health-care access.

One community reaping the benefits firsthand is West Marion in McDowell County. Linker pointed to the significance of the West Marion Community Forum, the sole Black-led nonprofit in the county. Historically underserved, Linker notes its pivotal role in creating initiatives such as free public transportation, establishing a thriving community garden and expanding access to vital resources.

“Their community, West Marion, that’s predominantly African-American, was at one time they talked about the last that gets snow removal, and through their work of getting to know the city leaders, they’re now the first to get snow removal. The city has started paying a lot of attention to what the community has to say,” Linker said.

Kristen Burwell Naney, director of learning and impact with the Reynolds trust, believes the last decade has shown that it’s not only important for funders to build up community organizations but to also change the way they think about success. She says this work requires a long-term strategy.

“So rather than expecting to see quick changes in population health outcomes, we found that you need to focus on things like detection of changes in networks, relationships, power and problem solving within a community, ” she explained.

The report highlights key lessons for funders who want to shift conditions that produce inequality to drive change. Naney explained one important take-away to understand is that differences in organizations’ abilities are often due to unequal access to financial and capacity building resources. The report suggests that funders have an opportunity to address these imbalances by offering more targeted support to groups that have historically been underfunded or excluded.