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One of only 11 Leads for North Carolina in the state, Magnolia Long joins Rutherfordton team

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Magnolia Long in her firefighter uniform. Photo contributed.

Magnolia Long is becoming more and more familiar with the Town of Rutherfordton and the community as its Lead for North Carolina (LFNC) fellow sponsored by the UNC School of Government. In addition to a number of tasks, she most recently launched the Rutherfordton Community Garden.

Town Manager Doug Barrick said the community garden project has been a true pleasure.

"Our community needs projects like this to bring a tighter bond for a common cause, watching the community respond to this vision to assist those in need has been nothing short of amazing," Barrick said. The community garden provides a connection to food, "but moreover it is a vital part of a focus to increase activities and programs that enhance our social infrastructure."

The LFNC program's mission is to strengthen the pipeline of public servants in local governments by recruiting and training recent college graduates and placing them in municipalities all across the state. Long explained.

"It's quite a competitive program to get into because you have to go through a multi-stage interview process with Lead for America and Lead for North Carolina, and then match with a municipality," Long said.

"I'm not quite sure about the numbers, but I think there were about 50 or so finalists in the last round, and only 11 municipalities to match with. So, I am beyond lucky to be one of the 11 people in this program," Long said.

Long learned about the Town of Rutherfordton when the LFNC program director asked if she was interested in interviewing with the Town Manager in Rutherfordton.

"I had no idea where it was, or who he was talking about, but I am so glad I said yes. Not only did I see a wonderful opportunity to work in Rutherfordton, I was really excited to get back to Western North Carolina, because I grew up in Brevard and Candler," Long said.

She said took a leap of faith and joined the Rutherfordton team.

Although her LFNC fellowship is for one year, she plans staying longer in her role as the Community Development Director, a position she also filled when she joined the team as its LFNC.

"I primarily work on projects that deal with community and economic development,' Long said recently.

She has created a Welcome Guide for new citizens, assisted the town with its transition to a new website platform and has also worked in housing issues as well as creating partnerships with nonprofits to increase the housing inventory within Rutherfordton.

Learning about others and trying to make things better are among the beset parts of her job.

"We are living in an incredibly polarizing world, and I truly hate to see people polarized against each other based on labels," Long said.

"I love that the Town staff can separate from ideology and come together to just do what's right for the people," she continued. "I truly believe that Rutherfordton is excelling because this town is comprised of leaders who will stop at nothing until the community is built better, served better, and made happier and healthier."

Long admits it is a challenge to find a balance between work and "having a life." She said it's difficult to put up the boundaries between her work and personal life.

"I pour all of my energy and time into my job, and I believe that I'm making a real impact from that, but it can get draining personally after a while."

Long describes the leadership of the town as everyone being "very intentional about Rutherfordton's growth and future."

"While we address immediate community needs, we think about different approaches to ensure that our solution will not hurt the Town in years to come," Long said.

"I see other communities fall into that trend of fixing a problem, but not think through the lasting effects on the Town's future. And because of Rutherfordton's commitment to the citizens and the town's history, I can only see really wonderful things for the town in the future."

"While the community garden, the Factory, downtown projects, housing improvements, and parks development all serve different purposes specifically, they all are working together to make Rutherfordton and even better place to live," Long said. She also made the decision to join Rutherfordton Fire & Rescue department as a volunteer firefighter as another way to serve the community. She is taking night classes at Isothermal Community College to receive her firefighter certification.

"So when I have a little bit of free time, I'll try to run calls." Long said.

If there is anymore free time, she takes her two dogs on walks along the Purple Martin Greenway.

"Magnolia has been a great addition to our team, she brings a wonderful mix of passion and knowledge to help us expand our capacity in many ways," Barrick concluded.

"This is reflected in our housing work and community development projects like the community garden."

About her name, Magnolia, said her parents, especially her dad, loved the band, Grateful Dead. "My father wanted to name me after his favorite song, 'Sugar Magnolia,' but after my mom explained the possible implications from naming me Sugar, they settled on Magnolia Sunshine," she said.

To donate or volunteer with the community garden, contact mlong@rutherfordton.net or visit their Facebook page. There will be a meeting this afternoon (Feb.25 at 5:30 p.m. at the garden spot at 128 Hospital Drive, Rutherfordton. Any food that is grown in the community garden will be donated to local food pantries. We are expecting to grow an assortment of food like head lettuces and greens, carrots, cabbage, cucumbers, and other suggestions from the community.

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