By Carrie Henderson
A native to rural Pamlico County, Charessa Sawyer thought she understood the struggle of rural counties in the state – until she began working as an intern with the Carolina Economic Recovery Corps.
“Being a Corps member has been extremely eye-opening. Growing up in a small community, I thought I knew the hardship many local governments face. After working with other rural communities, I’ve learned how important it is for North Carolinians to come to these areas to provide resources and support the economy,” said Sawyer, a UNC graduate with a Masters of Social Work degree placed in the Mid-East Commission in Washington, NC.
UNC Chapel Hill’s Office of Economic and Business Development created the Carolina Economic Recovery Corps (CERC) to help smaller cities, towns and counties with economic recovery.
Eight graduate student interns were selected from over seventy candidates, with disciplines ranging from City and Regional Planning, Law and Social Work. Each intern was placed with Councils of Governments (COGs) across the state, specifically in RTP, Rutherfordton, Greensboro, Asheville, Wilmington, Washington, Charlotte and Wilson. Additionally, a ninth intern was placed with the League of Municipalities to create an inventory of the local governments who have applied for recovery funds.
The purpose of the intern placement is to increase capacity to track federal economic recovery funds, help the COGs apply for funds and plan for the future after the program ends, explains Jesse White, Director of UNC’s Office of Economic and Business Development. “The ultimate goal is capacity-building, especially for communities that are understaffed. We accomplish this goal by getting boots on the ground through the interns.”
CERC funding comes from the UNC Office of Economic Business Development. Each intern receives a stipend of $6,000 for the 10-week program. Overall, White estimates the program costs $60,000.
In addition to researching and applying for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds at local COGs, each intern works with nearby COGs who may not have the capacity for interns but are in need of financial assistance.
Sawyer, whose work serves Beaufort, Bertie, Hertford, Martin and Pitt counties, explains her work fluctuates on a daily basis, but is always grounded in helping these communities be resourceful about the types of funding available.
Sawyer believes the work done by CERC will have lasting effects in the participating regions: “I’ve met with city and town managers, county managers, mayors and many others who are grateful for the assistance. The work of CERC interns is raising awareness in rural communities about funding and the importance of collaboration.”
For further information, please contact:
Jesse L. White
Director, Office of Economic and Business Development
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill