LUNCH SESSION: 12:30 PM - 1:30 PM

Fireside Chat:

How can philanthropy work to dispel the dichotomy between “coastal elites” and “real America” and provide support to rural communities? Social impact initiatives in rural areas face unique challenges, opportunities, and organizational needs, which require nuanced understanding from funders based in rural and urban areas. This fireside chat will pair perspectives from philanthropy and social enterprise to explore the factors affecting efforts to fund change in rural America.


Sara Chester and Molly Hemstreet: Executive Co-Directors, The Industrial Commons

Lavastian Glenn: Director, Racial and Economic Justice, The Nathan Cummings Foundation

Panelist Bios:

Sara Chester is the Executive Co-director for The Industrial Commons. She co-founded the organization in 2015 to create more opportunities for working class people in rural communities. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill then returned to her hometown of Morganton, NC, to take a position at Burke Development, Inc., plant roots and start a family. Sara has worked in economic and community development for six years, focusing much of this time on place-based initiatives that grow local wealth. She was awarded an International Economic Development Council (IEDC) award for Innovative Economic Development and was named in 2017, along with Co-Director Molly Hemstreet, a J.M.K. Innovation Prize awardee. Sara enjoys being out in the woods, camping or hiking, and spending time with her husband and two kids.

Molly Hemstreet is the Executive Co-director for The Industrial Commons. She co-founded the organization in 2015 to support industrial workers across her region. She is a native of Morganton, NC where she continues to work and raise her family. After attending Duke University she returned home to teach in the public school system. She then worked for the Center for Participatory Change organizing economic development initiatives across rural Western NC in a response to the need for fair livelihoods. In 2008 she founded Opportunity Threads, currently the largest, US based worker-owned, cut and sew facility. She also co-founded the Carolina Textile District in 2013, a strategic value chain supporting the resurgence of textiles across the Carolinas. Molly serves on the national board of the Democracy at Work Institute (DAWI). She loves being with her family and, when she has time, she likes to play the fiddle.

Lavastian Glenn joined the Foundation in November 2018 as its Director, Racial and Economic Justice. She has nearly two decades of experience leading racial and economic justice through community-based problem solving and philanthropic strategy across the South. Most recently, Lavastian served as Program Director at the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation (MRBF) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which works to alleviate poverty and increase social and economic justice in 11 Southern states. There, she led a significant portfolio that brought together funders, community partners, and nonprofits to envision, design, and implement programs that build power, wealth, and racial justice in communities. Recognizing the historic role of the South in the civil rights movement and its ongoing, profound influence on the direction of the nation, she also helped create Grantmakers for Southern Progress, a working group of Southern and national philanthropic organizations committed to increasing investment and attention for structural change in the region.

Lavastian received a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from Wake Forest University and participated in a number of local, regional, and national trainings, including NeighborWorks, the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, Crossroads’ Dismantling Racism, the North Carolina People’s Coalition on Giving, the Southeastern Council of Foundations Hull Fellowship (2007), and the ABFE Connecting Leaders Fellowship (2012). She currently serves on the board of Neighborhood Funders Group and as a co-chair of Grantmakers for Southern Progress, a collaboration of funders that advocates for increased investments in the South for structural change and equitable outcomes for low-wealth communities.