By Taylor Boyd
Last month, long-term Reynolds Homestead employee Sarah Wray began her new position as the organization’s community engagement, partnerships, and programs manager.
Noting that the job was a mix of the right job at the right time and being able to fill a need the organization had, Wray 33, said she decided to accept the position because it felt like a natural progression. It also combines her favorite work-related activities and personal interests like live events, programming, and facilitating discussions and activities.
“It really pulled together an opportunity for me to select some of my strengths and then to be able to pass on some of the other tasks to other folks who might have fresh visions. It gave me an opportunity to pursue some passions that have been developed through my engagement here at the Homestead,” she said.
Because the position is new, responsibilities are still being defined, but Wray said some of the duties will carry over from her previous work with the local school system.
Additionally, “I’ll be able to start supervising other staff and continuing to expand our engagement working with the schools on teacher professional development, afterschool programs, and custom tailor programs with the needs of educators once they contact us,” she said.
Wray also will be working to find ways the Homestead can embody the spirit of collaboration to meet community needs and move community goals and visions forward by building partnerships and collaborations throughout the county.
Because the area is rural, and resources, time, and capacity are limited, Wray said she also will work to find ways to pull them together and “bring people together and help facilitate some of those conversations that lead to action.”
Wray will be responsible for working to expand the AIR Institute partners and programs lists. The Homestead previously held workshops and evolved training sessions under this program.
“We want to expand that as we are the Virginia affiliate for that program, and we want to expand it more locally, regionally, and across the Commonwealth,” she said.
Wray also will be responsible for launching and expanding the Branching Out program, which focuses on experiential education.
One of Wray’s main goals is expanding the Women Impact Virginia program. “So, really just continuing this program and creating some in-person opportunities for women for professional development,” she said.
Stakeholder mobilization is another of her goals. “A lot of times in casual conversation, personal and professional, we’re hearing people that have very similar goals. So, finding ways I can really just bring people to the table to kind of rally behind some of the ideas and decisions and get those off the ground will be a major part of my work for the next year,” she said.
Wray said her short-term goals include launching Bushels and Barrels, a local beer and wine fest that is set to take place in June. The Homestead previously had this event slated for 2020 to help celebrate its 50th anniversary. She also will help with the organization’s celebration to mark its 52nd year of operation.
Wray also wants to work on improving stakeholder communication and begin talks of collaboration projects. “In the next two to three months, I hope to start convening some of our stakeholders and defining some of our smaller work groups,” she said.
Long-term goals include working on strategic one-, three-, and five-year goals for the AIR Institute and seeing how it can be rolled out to the public and expanded throughout the state.
She also will update the Homestead’s strategic plan. “Coming out of the pandemic, we want to make sure the work that we’re doing is in alignment with the needs of the community. So, over the next year to year-and-a-half, we’ll be working on revamping that strategic plan and really trying to set some smaller and smart goals so we can move forward on some of those tasks,” she said.
One of her short-term goals that has the potential to turn into a long-term project is the Critz Community Center visioning process. Wray is currently working to get the public’s input on programs they would like to see the center offer for the schools, teachers, and general public.
Wray believes the biggest challenge she will face is the opportunity for barriers. “We can have thousands of ideas and once we get into the community, we might be told there are other things that need to be addressed,” she said.
To address this challenge, Wray said being able to remain flexible with the needs of the community and the current environment are paramount. She added that putting in the time to really listen and be “cognizant of what people need at this time and acting on that accordingly and letting go of preconceived notions of what might be needed” is the correct course of action.
Wray attended James Madison University (JMU) and received a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies with a focus on early childhood education. She is currently pursuing a M.A. in Urban and Regional Planning through Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
She previously taught pre-k in Savannah, Ga., before returning home and stepping into the role of Assistant Program Coordinator at the Reynolds Homestead. In 2016, she moved into the position of College Access Collaborative, where she served as the regional outreach coordinator.
Wray grew up in Spencer and attended Hardin Reynolds Memorial School in Critz. Her mother still lives in the community. In her spare time, Wray enjoys working with One Family Productions, live music, kayaking, and being outdoors.