Lead For America, Land O’Lakes Place Five American Connection Corps

Lead for America Project


Media Contacts:

Purdue University: Jessica Wandless

Lead For America: Matthew Miller

Land O’Lakes, Inc.: Abbey Shilling

Lead For America, Land O’Lakes Place Five American Connection Corps

Fellows in Indiana

Supported by Purdue University, 5 Fellows will undertake transformational projects related to broadband connectivity and digital inclusion in Indiana

Indianapolis, IN (August 5, 2021) – Lead For America and Land O’Lakes today announced the placement of five American Connection Corps (ACC) Fellows in Indiana. Supported by Purdue University, these fellows will work to increase broadband access and digital literacy and contribute to critical community development initiatives in Ferdinand, Muncie, Richmond, Terre Haute, and Versailles. Over the course of the application window, the program received hundreds of applications from emerging leaders across the country. After an extensive interview process, the Fellows program has selected a total of 50 Fellows to serve as community leaders across the country.

The American Connection Corps is a new, innovative fellowship program focused on bridging the digital divide, led by Land O’Lakes, Inc. and Lead For America (LFA). As part of the national network, ACC Fellows will have access to premiere national training on community organizing, broadband and digital inclusion, and a network of LFA leaders nationwide.

“Lead For America is on a mission to build a generation of civic leaders dedicated to tackling the

toughest challenges facing the communities they call home—and we are excited to bring our Hometown Fellowship model to communities across Indiana, from Ferdinand to Versailles, this year” said Joe Nail, CEO and co-founder of Lead For America. “The coronavirus pandemic underscored the importance of both leadership, and of closing the digital divide in rural and urban communities across America. We are honored to partner with Land O’Lakes, Purdue University, and the other American Connection Corps partners in placing 50 dynamic, and locally rooted leaders in the communities and places that helped raise them. We are committed to ensuring this initiative becomes a pathway home for outstanding Hoosiers for many years to come.”

“Our administration continues to make broadband investment a priority,” said Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch. “The last year taught us high-speed, reliable internet is no longer a luxury, it is essential. New partnerships continue to form to expand broadband services to Hoosiers and these Fellows will help so many leaders continue their collaboration to get this critical infrastructure across our state. We are grateful to the American Connection Corps for providing these Fellows to help us get broadband throughout Indiana.”

“The pandemic brought the importance of broadband to Indiana’s communities into sharp focus. Not only does the state need more fiber, it also needs boots on the ground,” said Annie Cruz-Porter, Indiana Program Director. “The Purdue Center for Regional Development’s Digital Fellows will be uniquely positioned to respond to and drive change in Indiana’s communities. The Fellows will work across a number of projects which may include teaching businesses how to strengthen their online presence, determining digital skills shortages among the workforce, and validating broadband speeds. All of these activities will enable Indiana’s communities to realize their potential.”

“I firmly believe there is a role for leaders at every level to be actively engaged in bridging the access gap to critical digital infrastructure and leveraging economic opportunities for the very communities they grew up in,” said Tina May, Land O’Lakes, Inc. vice president for Rural Services. “And, this is just the beginning – it is our intention that this program will both grow to make an immediate and significant impact and also prove to legislators at the state and federal level that there is a scalable, successful model for community development, which can ensure all Americans have access to this fundamental infrastructure.”

ACC Fellows will serve their home communities in locations nationwide through high-impact, high-urgency two-year placements focused on closing the digital divide and building the next generation of leaders. They will tackle tough challenges facing Indiana, strengthen its civic infrastructure and join a new generation of transformational community leaders. Fellows will also participate in LFA’s national Changemaker Summit, attend quarterly retreats, receive 1:1 expert mentorship, and join a growing community of local leaders.

The inaugural Indiana ACC fellows will be responsible for a variety of duties, including developing and implementing regional digital inclusion plans, raising digital awareness throughout the region, and developing, facilitating, and conducting workshops and trainings.

The Indiana ACC Fellows and their host organizations are:

  • Indiana 15 Regional Planning Commission, Ferdinand
    • Emma Woods: Emma is from Evansville, Indiana and has lived in Southern Indiana her entire life – having faced the digital divide throughout childhood. Emma graduated from University of Southern Indiana with a degree in Political Science. She has dedicated her time to advocacy and community engagement, supporting various efforts through her communications and team management skills.
  • Eastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, Richmond
    • Cory Knipp: Cory grew up in the Chicago area before attending Purdue University in West Lafayette. Cory has supported several non-profits in Chicagoland through his diverse skill set, like providing research for an economic empowerment program on the south side and directing an effort to reduce the use of single-use plastics in Illinois. He has also volunteered at the Food for Greater Elgin food pantry providing support to both Spanish and English-speaking customers of the food pantry during a time of unprecedented demand.
  • Southeastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, Versailles
    • Reneisha Rudder: Reneisha grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and spent much of her time in the South Central Indiana region. She went on to earn her undergraduate degree in Psychology from the University of Louisville and is soon to finish her Master’s Degree in Public Policy and Administration from American University. Prior to becoming a Fellow, Reneisha served as a counselor and mentor for students with disabilities at Genesis Learning Center. Reneisha also served two years as an educator, teaching 8th grade financial literacy and English language arts.
  • THRIVE West Central, Terre Haute
    • Olivia Haworth: Olivia is a 2021 graduate of Purdue University, where she majored in history and minored in English, sociology,and political science. At Purdue, she also was a member of the political science fraternity Pi Sigma Alpha, Relay for Life, Boiler Ambassadors, and Twin Pines Women’s Cooperative House. Following her graduation, she relocated to Terre Haute, where her family has lived since 2018. She hopes to use and improve these skills to invest in West Central Indiana’s digital readiness during her time at Thrive.
  • ECI Regional Planning District, Muncie
    • Gary Thompson: Gary grew up in Franklin, Indiana with his parents and older sister. He recently graduated from Indiana University Bloomington with a Bachelors in Science and Public Affairs in Law and Public Policy, and previously served as a Food Access Fellow with Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard. For his thesis, Gary researched the effects of food insecurity on food access in counties across the United States.

“Broadband access and bridging the digital divide has been consistently brought forward by our counties in the region as a priority need,” said Lisa Gehlhausen, Executive Director of Indiana 15 Regional Planning Commission. “This need was highlighted significantly through the course of the pandemic. We are excited to partner with the American Connection Corps, and we welcome Emma to our region to help us find solutions to addressing this important issue.”

“EIRPC is focusing its attention on the attraction, retention, and development of talent for our regional economy.  The pandemic has really driven home the importance of access to high-speed, reliable internet service for all aspects of our daily lives,” said Ken Paust, Board Chairman of the Eastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.  “We are so excited to have been selected to host an American Connecting Corps Fellow to help us address broadband access issues in the region and to begin to make progress on digital inclusion initiatives.”

“We at SIRPC are honored to be selected as a host for the digital fellowship program.  Our digital inclusion plan, developed with the assistance of the Purdue Center for Regional Development, is nearing completion.  We are thrilled for the opportunity of adding a digital fellow to our team!” said Southeastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Susan Craig.

“Digital access and literacy are necessities for full participation in the modern economic and civic landscape, and our communities must address the digital divide to fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and build resiliency for future shocks,” said Thrive West Central Executive Director Ryan Keller. “We are so excited to welcome Olivia Haworth through our partnership with Lead For America and the American Connection Corps, and believe she will play a vital role in promoting broadband access and digital inclusion in West Central Indiana.”

“The ECI Regional Planning District exists to build strong and modern economies for our counties. Broadband is absolutely critical to that mission, and we are very grateful to the American Connections Corp for providing us a qualified fellow like Gary,” said ECI RPD Executive Director Bill Walters. “He clearly has a passion for the communities he works with, and I think his experience working to reduce and educate on food insecurity will serve him well as he does the same for the digital divide.”

The American Connection Corps is led in conjunction with Lead For America (LFA) and funded through the support of 20 additional partner organizations, including: Land O’Lakes, Heartland Forward, CoBank, Tractor Supply Company, Microsoft, Mayo Clinic, Ariel Investments, Scoular, CHS, Zoetis, Tillamook, Accenture, University of Minnesota, the American Farm Bureau Federation, Midwest Dairy, Purdue University, Partners for Education, CentraCare, Common Sense Media and University of Illinois Extension.

For general information on the ACC, please visit: https://www.lead4america.org/american-connection-corps

About Lead For America

Lead For America (LFA) is a national nonprofit that helps outstanding young people become civic leaders. LFA seeks to direct homegrown talent where it’s needed most — in towns and counties where challenges outpace resources available — often in rural and under-resourced communities. Through their flagship two-year paid Fellows program, LFA has funded and placed over 100 Fellows in over 80 communities and 30 states in newly created positions in their home communities since 2019, and plan to have 100 additional Fellows starting in 2021. Combined, LFA Fellows have leveraged more than $17 million for their communities and impacted the lives of more than 13.5 million people. Lead For America’s national headquarters is located in Dodge City, Kansas.

About Purdue Center for Regional Development
The Purdue Center for Regional Development (PCRD) seeks to pioneer new ideas and strategies that contribute to regional collaboration, innovation and prosperity. Founded in 2005, the Center partners with public, private, nonprofit and philanthropic organizations to identify and enhance the key drifvers of innovation in regions across Indiana, the U.S. and beyond. These drivers include a vibrant and inclusive civic leadership, a commitment to collaboration, and the application of advanced data support systems to promote sound decision-making and the pursuit of economic development investments that build on the competitive assets of regions. Learn more at https://pcrd.purdue.edu/.

About Land O’Lakes, Inc.
Land O’Lakes, Inc., one of America’s premier agribusiness and food companies, is a member-owned cooperative with industry-leading operations that span the spectrum from agricultural production to consumer foods. With 2020 annual sales of $14 billion, Land O’Lakes is one of the nation’s largest cooperatives, ranking 219 on the Fortune 500. Building on a legacy of more than 99 years of operation, Land O’Lakes today operates some of the most respected brands in agribusiness and food production including Land O’Lakes Dairy Foods, Purina Animal Nutrition, WinField United and Truterra. The company does business in all 50 states and more than 60 countries. Land O’Lakes, Inc. corporate headquarters are located in Arden Hills, Minnesota.