News Flash


Posted on: April 26, 2023

Local Residents and County Staff Graduate from Leadership Development Program

Three Warren County leaders - Demetrius Hunter, Crystal Smith, and Rose Ponton - all recently graduated from the NC Rural Center’s Homegrown Leaders program. This three-day regional leadership and economic development program develop and supports highly motivated local leaders committed to regional collaboration.  

 “This experience has really underscored the importance of authentic storytelling and engaged listening in addressing community challenges,” said Rose Ponton, Warren County Community and Economic Developer and a resident of the town of Warrenton. “It was so valuable to meet other regional leaders and learn how we are all addressing similar issues.”

 Crystal Smith, Director of Warren County Cooperative Extension, stated, “I highly recommend Homegrown Leaders. The content is relevant to creating a thriving community.” 

 Demetrius Hunter, local entrepreneur and owner of the Soul City Event Center and Peanut and Zelb’s Produce which recently opened in Norlina, also attended the program. 

 “There need to be leaders who understand equity and inclusion. Those leaders need to act on policy change and not be afraid,” stated Hunter. “Equity is not an invested dollar; it is a debt owed to my ancestors. Therefore, I am the recipient.”

 The training, held in Pittsboro from April 18-20, attracted existing and emerging leaders from a 13-county region including Caswell, Chatham, Durham, Franklin, Johnston, Granville, Lee, Moore, Orange, Person, Vance, Wake, and Warren counties.

“Our Homegrown Leaders curriculum showcases the critical importance of innovation in leadership development and regional collaboration,” said Rural Center Senior Director of Leadership and Engagement Bronwyn Lucas. “It is vital to lift up our rural leaders and the critical work they do to enhance their communities. We are thrilled these talented graduates will now be joining the Rural Center’s leadership alumni network of more than 1,400 rural leaders across the state.”

 Graduation certificates were presented to the program's 33 participants upon completion of the training. 

 “Leadership development is at the core of the Rural Center’s work, and now more than ever it is important that our leaders are equipped with the skills and tools to foster growth and innovation,” said Rural Center President Patrick Woodie. “We’re excited to see the impact our Homegrown Leaders graduates will have in their communities and regions to create a thriving future for generations of residents.”  

 Class participants included economic development and health professionals, educators, and civic and nonprofit leaders.

 For more information about Homegrown Leaders, visit

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