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Hometown Strong expanded

State program to help rural counties names director to help with COVID-19

NORTH CAROLINA—Hometown Strong, which North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper created in 2018 to create partnerships between state government and rural communities, has named an executive director for rural counties to respond to COVID-19.

Polk County officials met with state officials last year about how to partner together as part of Hometown Strong.

Cooper announced this week that he named Mary Penny Kelley as the new executive director of Hometown Strong.

“Having grown up in rural North Carolina, I know well the great opportunities as well as the challenges there,” Cooper said. “The pandemic has put a spotlight on rural needs and we will listen to local leaders and work to get them the help they deserve.”

Gov. Cooper created Hometown Strong in 2018 to build partnerships between state agencies and local officials to help the state’s 80 rural communities, including Polk County. The program is designed to leverage state and local resources, identify ongoing projects and community needs and implements plans to boost the economy, improve infrastructure and strengthen the state’s hometowns.

The expansion of Hometown Strong is aimed to help the state’s rural areas respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy.

Polk County and its three towns have all approved budgets for the new fiscal year, with discussions regarding decreased revenue, particularly in sales tax because of the pandemic.

The state’s new NC Pandemic Recovery Office is a team that will focus on key initiatives that help small towns and rural areas recover, including improving access to health care, economic planning for commercial revitalization and remote learning support for students and workers.

Hometown Strong has visited 40 rural counties over the past 2 years and more than 150 towns and American Indian tribes.

Since the pandemic, Hometown Strong plans to use online meeting tools to meet with the remaining 40 rural counties.

“Hometown Strong for me is a return to the rural communities that are the very backbone of North Carolina,” Kelley said. “Rural communities grow our food, provide our outdoor adventures, greet us on Main Street and rely on neighbor helping neighbor during times of trouble. The pandemic is certainly a time of trouble, threatening our health and our livelihoods. It is time to pitch in with our neighbors and add our resources to the fight against the pandemic and to strengthen our hometowns.”

Kelley was previously the Director of Operations and Rural Engagement for Hometown Strong. She also previously served at the Department of Environmental Quality and the Attorney General’s Office.

For more information about Hometown Strong, people can visit hometownstrong.nc.gov.