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Hometown Strong: Cooper announces effort to help rural NC with COVID-19, economy

The effort will focus on ways to improve health care access, economic planning for business revitalization, and remote learning support for students and workers.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Hometown Strong, an initiative created by Governor Roy Cooper in 2018, will expand its efforts to help 80 rural North Carolina counties fight COVID-19 and strengthen local economies, according to a press release from Cooper's office. 

Governor Roy Cooper announced Wednesday that Mary Penny Kelley will be the new Executive Director of Hometown Strong. Kelley will work to make sure reliable information and resources are available to rural communities during the pandemic. 

"Having grown up in rural North Carolina, I know well the great opportunities as well as the challenges there. 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," said Governor Cooper.

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Cooper created Hometown Strong in early 2018 to help champion rural areas. The effort leverages state and local resources, identifies ongoing projects and community needs and implements focused plans to boost the economy, improve infrastructure and strengthen North Carolina’s hometowns.

Now, Hometown Strong will help rural areas hit hard by the pandemic. 

Cooper's office says the Hometown Strong team will work out of the new NC Pandemic Recovery Office and will focus on ways to improve health care access, economic planning for business revitalization, and remote learning support for students and workers.

Since it launched, Hometown Strong has visited 40 rural counties and over 150 towns and American Indian tribes to listen to local communities and connect them with resources. 

In a time of social distancing, Hometown Strong will use online tools to connect and build partnerships with the 40 rural counties that are new to the program. 

“Hometown Strong for me is a return to the rural communities that are the very backbone of North Carolina. 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,” said Kelley. 

Prior to this appointment, Kelley served as the Director of Operations and Rural Engagement for Hometown Strong. She previously served in senior positions at the Department of Environmental Quality and the Attorney General’s Office.

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