LFNC Fellows Program Celebrates Fifth Year, Fifth Cohort of Future Leaders

The group of cohort 5 fellows stands smilling between the pillars of the School of Government

July 2023 brought the fifth cohort of Lead for North Carolina Fellows to the UNC School of Government to begin their journey into public sector careers. Cohort Five began its work in August after completing training in July.  

Lead for North Carolina (LFNC) aims to recruit, train, and place young leaders in paid local government fellowships as a means of strengthening public institutions, supporting local communities, and cultivating a new generation of public service leaders.

Addressing local government needs

Now entering its fifth year, the program is looking to the future and ways to address the most pressing concerns local governments face today.

“There has been an unprecedented investment into communities via grant dollars from the federal government, which brings extra capacity concerns in finance offices—particularly in distressed communities,” said Dylan Russell, director of LFNC.

This year, the program is piloting a finance-specific track for Fellows with more finance training to help local governments address capacity constraints in their finance departments. Fellows will assist with everything from accounts payable, to internal controls, to updating policies and procedures.

“We saw an overwhelming number of local governments express interest and are excited to launch a track focused solely on meeting the financial needs and concerns of local governments,” said Russell.

Forty-four percent of Fellows in the fifth cohort are participating in the new finance-specific track.

Learnings and highlights from the past five years

The first year, we had to work hard to convince local governments that a recent college graduate could be a value-add for their jurisdiction as a new program. We identified sixteen local government partners who agreed to co-pilot the program with the School and our philanthropic partners,” said Russell. “This past year, we had eighty-two governments apply to host a Fellow—the largest application cycle to-date.” 

The demand from local governments to participate in the program has increased and proves the value that Fellows bring to communities across the state. The program also benefits Fellows by providing training and exposure to new career paths.

“To see the number of young people who did not have local government careers on their radar be convinced of the transformative work you can do in this field and pursue it after the program has been inspiring,” said Russell.

To-date, twenty program alums are working for local government in some way after having completed the program. Another twenty alums are either attending or planning to attend graduate school for subjects related to the field such as public policy, public affairs, and planning. 

Key Funders

LFNC has had crucial support from funders who have helped shape and support the program throughout its five years.

One such funder is the SECU Foundation, which has offered support both financially and as an advisor for the development of the program’s model. “The SECU Foundation—from their board members, foundation staff, corporation staff, and community advisor boards—have been so supportive and influential to the program’s success. It is not an understatement to say this program would not exist without their continuous support,” said Russell.

AmeriCorps began funding during the third year of the program, which unlocked federal government benefits for participants, offered more support for the Fellows, and boosted recruitment for the program.

The support of Anonymous Trust allowed the program to prioritize working in rural and underserved communities in eastern North Carolina.

The support of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation has also been incredibly valuable through every year of the program.

Other key funders include State Farm, Wells Fargo, Jesse Ball Dupont Fund, and the Golden LEAF Foundation.

Host sites

The fifth cohort of Fellows will join thirty-six host sites. The complete list of Fellows and host sites for Cohort Five is below:

Payton Blaney – Bladen County

Eva Davis – Buncombe County

Adrienne Stacy – Cary

Nick Warnement – Catawba County

Gracie Ruebel – Chadbourn

Divya Mehta – Chatham County

Sarah Dhunjishaw – City of Marion

Emily Martin – City of Raleigh

Talula Flower Dechev – Columbus County

Isaac Jones – Enfield

Aanyah “Nyah” Sykes – Goldsboro

Abby Kimmel – Greenville & Pitt County

Alyssa Wadham – Hickory

Marshall Grayson – Hillsborough

Brittany Wilborn – Hometown Strong

Seth Moore – Hyde County

Quentin Riddell – Jacksonville

Brittany Best – Kinston

Kennedy Young – Land of Sky Regional Council

Suzy Brito Lagunas – Lee County

Ruby Klein – NC League of Municipalities

Ania Hairston – NC League of Municipalities

Tyler Holden – North Wilkesboro

Kirsten Tucker – Rockingham County

Alex Curry – Southwest Commission

Ryan Ledbetter – Spencer

Albaro Raul Reyes-Martinez – City of Kannapolis

Emiyah Watkins – City of Lowell

Faith Gray – Town of Angier

LaShonda Sousa – UNC School of Government

Ryan Bullard – Topsail Beach

Emily Saunders – Town of Apex

Antonia (Tonia) Christou – Town of Ranlo

Tyler Queen – Triangle J Council of Governments

Asia Shanelle Melton – Washington County

Ryan Oathout – Wendell