Spotlight: Kylie Foley, Rural Faith Communities Fellow

Bliss for Kylie Foley is listening to a three-hour podcast while driving somewhere new.

These days, she’s probably on the road to a small town in North Carolina; It’s part of her job as the Institute for Emerging Issues’ Rural Faith Communities Fellow, a position that keeps her traveling across the Tar Heel state with the Thriving Rural Communities program as she helps rural faith leaders strengthen and engage their communities.

The program, funded by The Duke Endowment, seeks to amplify the central role—often social as well as spiritual—that faith communities play throughout North Carolina’s rural areas, often providing support and resources to some of the state’s most underprivileged and underserved populations.

For Foley, a 27-year-old South Florida native, serving in the role comes from a place of passion—not just of travel but of turning faith into action.

“How do we go outside the four walls of the church?,” Foley said. “For example, communities shouldn’t just be asking how do we provide food for the community, they should be asking ‘Why are people going hungry?’” The Thriving Rural Communities Program helps faith communities delve into such issues by, among other services, providing detailed community metrics, county health assessments, and helping faith communities identify and reach future goals, whether it’s growing their congregation or starting an early childhood program.

Reaching faith communities is a way to help communities as a whole, Foley saideven individuals who don’t attend religious services regularly—since faith communities often have a  “ . . . historical foothold. Some of these faith communities have been around for hundreds of years.”

Foley, who spent her youth in the Presbyterian church, first got a taste for putting faith into action as a student at Florida State University, where she served as part of the FSU Wesley Foundation and founder of the Noles4Haiti club, which provided support for victims and rebuilding after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. After college, Foley landed a job with the First United Methodist Conference, where she worked as a fundraising coordinator of 650 Florida churches for the Imagine No Malaria campaign. “That job gave me a love of traveling and I really got a heart for small churches,” Foley said.

Foley also developed a love for public speaking, which she recently put to use at the annual Rural Faith Communities as Anchor Institutions (RFCAI) conference, held this year April 18-19 in Asheboro, where more than 90 faith leaders and community partners from around the state gathered to dialogue and expand on early childhood topics previously discussed at IEI’s February kidoNomiCs Forum

But two days in one place was long enough; Foley’s true home is on the road and her desk, behind the wheel, as she logs miles east to west and north to south throughout North Carolina. And though her Florida skin may never get used to Tar Heel winter temps, she adores the state’s postcard-pretty towns and bucolic rural settings. Some favorites NC spots: tiny downtown Murfreesboro, Down East in Hertford County;  mountain village Canton, just outside Asheville; and Scotland Neck, near Rocky Mount, home of the surprising Sylvan Heights Bird Park. “Traveling reminds me that I am not the only person in the world,” Foley said. “It makes me feel more connected.”

Connection, including the importance of the faith-community connection, will be a key component of ReCONNECT NC, a recently launched, three-year initiative that will include six forums set throughout the state examining how to “reconnect” North Carolina civically, socially and economically. The first forum, slated for September 2018, will take place in Asheville and focus on civic engagement. Foley sees firsthand, every day, the important role churches play in promoting civic connection in rural communities, and what that means for the rest of the state. “When our small, rural towns do well, the entire state does well,” Foley said.

When Foley is not on the road or working, she “connects” to exploration closer to home, like the coffee shops in her Durham neighborhood—Cocoa Cinnamon is a favorite, because churros! Or, she might be throwing a theme party, another favorite hobby; One party recently featured all potato dishes, another a St. Patrick’s Day/ Shrek theme.

Also, if she hears of a cheap plane ticket, she just might take off for the weekend spontaneously to a hot spot like Austin, Texas, or whatever place catches her fancy (and meets her budget)  though her absolute DREAM destinations are Iceland and Portugal.

But really, just as long as she’s going somewhere new—and learning—she’s good.

–Beth Hatcher