The State Employees’ Credit Union Foundation gave a $500,000 grant to Lead for North Carolina, a pilot program that aims to recruit, train and place promising young leaders in two-year paid fellowships in local governments.
The UNC School of Government, along with several partners, launched Lead for North Carolina with the goals of strengthening public institutions, supporting local communities and cultivating a new generation of public service leaders.
The program was developed in response to two main problems. First, many local governments are addressing increasingly complex issues with few resources, compounded by staffing difficulties from impending retirements and talent pools that are not representative of the community’s diversity.
Additionally, there is limited infrastructure in place for students to learn about the opportunities and career options local government presents.
“We thought that what we could do with Lead for North Carolina is meet the needs and interests of students who are graduating and want to continue working in public service and meet the need of local governments that need that professional capacity,” said Mike Smith, dean of the School of Government.
Lead for North Carolina will select a group of approximately 25 recent graduates, most of whom are native North Carolinians or who recently graduated from a UNC-system school, to begin training in July at the UNC School of Government led by professor Kara Millonzi.
The training will prepare fellows to work in one of four areas: emergency management, community health, citizen engagement or business process improvement.
As part of their training, they will also take a bus tour to counties across the state to be exposed to the challenges the communities face firsthand.
During training, they will be taught various professional skills and prepared to enter the culture of local government. Afterward, 20 will be named SECU Fellows and begin their paid fellowships in local government in August.
“We’re really excited to get young people into local governments where they can provide the skills and backgrounds they developed in college and their personal passions to address problem solving at the local level, and that’s where innovation really happens,” said Dylan Russell, executive director of Lead for North Carolina.
The SECU Fellows will be placed in communities designated as Tier 1, a classification given to the 40 most economically distressed counties in the state by the North Carolina Department of Commerce where the need for young talent is especially significant.
“This is an incredible opportunity for North Carolina’s young adult leaders interested in exploring public service careers to learn more about the inner workings of local government and the communities they serve," said Bob Brinson, SECU Foundation chairperson, in a press release. "The Foundation’s grant is an investment in the future of our state, one that we hope will provide significant and long-term dividends for our state and citizens."
The SECU Foundation grant enables the UNC School of Government to train and place these fellows, as the grant will cover their first year’s salary and housing stipends.
The grant was funded solely by SECU members with checking accounts who pay a $1 monthly maintenance fee that goes to the Foundation, which then allocates the funds to projects that give back to its members in all 100 counties across the state.
“It is the power of a dollar that funds all our projects, and we like to see projects that have a statewide reach,” said Jama Campbell, SECU Foundation executive director.
In its inaugural year, Lead for North Carolina is both finalizing selections and matching them with local governments in the next few weeks.
“We’re excited to get this program off and running and to have a great impact on North Carolina long into the future,” Smith said.
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