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Bright Lights, Big City For Extension

Kristin Feierabend is NC State Extension’s first statewide urban area agent. What does that mean? She’s working with communities to decide.

By Chelsea Kellner

Kristin Feierabend is NC State Extension’s first statewide urban area agent. What does that mean? She’s working with the state’s urban communities to decide.

Kristin Feierabend’s workday involves a lot of listening – to residents, partners and county officials at the local level, and to Extension staff in urban counties across the state.

“I’m not assuming anything,” Feierabend said. “I’m listening first to identify what the needs are.”

Her full title is a mouthful: Area Specialized Agent, Community Resource Development – Urban Extension. She’s based in the Wake County Extension office, in the east-central part of the county. But unlike most area agents, who focus on a specific region, Feierabend’s charge is two-fold: piloting community development efforts in Wake while working with Extension staff to strengthen Extension’s position in urban communities throughout North Carolina.

“There’s an opportunity to bridge the gap [between rural and urban areas] and build regional prosperity.”

— Kristin Feierabend

And she’s ready. Originally from a small city in Tennessee, Feierabend has worked on community economic development in cities and towns of all sizes across the country. She most recently worked with The Aspen Institute, a policy nonprofit in Washington, D.C., where she helped communities develop and implement strategies to combat poverty.

Excited to be back in the South, Feierabend sees great potential for Extension. “We have an opportunity to bridge the gap between rural and urban areas and help build regional prosperity,” she said.

To kick off statewide efforts, she is visiting urban counties around the state to understand their unique strengths and challenges. She will then work with staff to develop a shared vision for urban Extension.

In Wake, Feierabend works to engage residents in the county’s Social and Economic Vitality Initiative, a collaborative effort to increase economic opportunity, educational attainment and positive health outcomes in two pilot communities. Verna Best, program manager for the initiative, praises Feierabend as “very knowledgeable and very grounded in community relations.” Social and economic vitality is a crucial quest for all community members, Best said, not just those directly affected by this effort.

“It’s important for Extension to focus on these defenseless zones in urban areas,” Best said. “Your community as a whole is only as strong as its weakest parts.”

Feierabend agrees. “There’s a lot of hidden potential in our urban communities,” she said. “We have to start talking to folks to find out what they care about, and work alongside them to help move their communities forward.”