Rural Youth Empowerment Fellowship

Program Overview

The Rural Youth Empowerment (RYE) Fellowship is a paid 10 month skill-building and leadership development program for LGBTQ young people in rural areas of North Carolina. The program supports RYE Fellows to successfully execute a social justice project serving rural communities while developing skills in community organizing and nonprofit management.

Over the course of a year, a cohort of RYE Fellows will attend weekend leadership institutes in different locations throughout the state, build a meaningful relationship with Equality NC and attend organization events, participate in monthly cohort calls, work one-on-one with community mentors, and develop and implement a change-making project in their region. Fellows will receive a monthly living stipend, travel funding, and access to funding for their independent projects.

The RYE Fellowship cohort meets online on a monthly basis, and Fellows will have opportunities to attend in-person gatherings several times throughout the year.

Learn More about the RYE Fellowship

In order to be eligible for the RYE Fellowship, you must be between the ages of 18 and 26, identify as LGBTQ+, currently live in North Carolina, and live in or have deep ties to a rural community. Fellows must be motivated and able to work independently. We are committed to cultivating a diverse cohort of fellows. As such, we especially welcome applicants from underrepresented backgrounds, including but not limited to: Black and brown folks, people with disabilities, DACA or undocumented folks, individuals from lower income backgrounds, first generation college/community college students and recent graduates, and/or people living with HIV/AIDS.

RYE Fellowship applications are currently closed and open again in August 2024. If you are interested in the fellowship opportunity, fill out our interest form to learn more and get connected.

Questions? Check out the FAQ below. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, send us an email at

Program Components

Equality NC‘s RYE Fellowship provides a cohort of young adult LGBTQ leaders in rural areas with the following resources and opportunities:

Leadership institutes & workshops

These workshops have two aims: 1) to educate Fellows on intersectional social justice and 2) to help Fellows acquire skills in community organizing and nonprofit management (i.e. grant writing, budget writing, event planning, etc.). Workshops will be led by ENC staff and representatives from partner organizations whose work incorporates an intersectional social justice lens.

Monthly cohort video calls

Fellows will participate in monthly cohort meetings to share progress on their individual projects, exchange ideas and suggestions, and receive additional guidance from Equality NC staff.

Mentoring from a community leader/organizer

Fellows will be paired with a mentor with expertise related to each fellow’s project. Mentors will provide ongoing support throughout the year, providing feedback on fellowship project components and connecting Fellows to professional networks. Fellows will also develop strong relationships with the broader ENC staff and access as-needed coaching from the ENC team.

Fellowship funding

As compensation for their time and participation in the program, Fellows will receive a monthly living stipend of $1,000.

Each Fellow will also receive funding to help with associated project costs which may include cost of supplies, printing, food for meetings, travel, etc. In addition to covering project costs, Equality NC also pays for Fellows’ transportation, accommodations, meals, and registration for each of the leadership institutes and all corresponding fellowship events. Fellows are responsible for maintaining expense records and providing receipts.

Professional development

Fellows will have access to professional development opportunities and to serve as representatives of the organization alongside ENC staff members. Previous Fellow cohorts have attended the national Creating Change conference and traveled to Washington, D.C. to share their stories with their representatives in Congress. Fellows may also be invited to participate in conferences, meetings, or other events and storytelling opportunities that align with their personal and professional goals.

Additional opportunities

Throughout the year, Equality NC will invite Fellows to share their stories on social media and through ENC newsletters. Fellows will also have opportunities to attend major Equality NC events, such as the annual Gala and other large-scale gatherings.

Independent projects

Equality NC staff and Fellowship mentors will work closely with each Fellow to support them in creating a community-based social justice project.

Examples of project focus areas may include, but are not limited to, access to healthcare, developing resources for rural communities (particularly Spanish-language resources), starting support/discussion groups, elections and voting rights, field organizing, combating substance abuse, domestic violence, high incarceration rates and the school-to-prison pipeline, engaging faith communities, organizing LGBTQ events (prides, film screenings, town hall meetings, etc.), K-12 school staff education, advocating for inclusive policies and laws, etc.


Who is eligible to apply?

The RYE Fellowship is open to LGBTQ+ folks ages 18 through 26 living in rural North Carolina.

What counts as rural?

The fellowship is open to North Carolina residents who are living outside of major city centers (i.e. Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, and Asheville are examples of major city centers). Individuals living in smaller towns and communities throughout NC are eligible.

If I am not currently living in a rural community but am from a rural community in NC, can I apply to develop a project for my rural community?

If you have strong ties to a rural community in NC, you are eligible for this fellowship and we invite you to apply. However, all projects must focus on rural communities (i.e. if you are from Hendersonville but living in Durham, your fellowship project should not be geared towards Durham LGBTQ+ communities).

How do I apply?

Fill out our interest form to be notified when the next round of applications opens in August 2024.

I’m not eligible for the RYE Fellowship, but I want to get involved. How can I help?

There are many opportunities for ENC supporters to contribute to the RYE Fellowship program. Would you like to offer your skills and expertise as a mentor to one of our Fellows? Can you offer spaces for us to host events and meetings? Can you donate snacks or meals to our program? Do you want to contribute to our Fellow stipends? Send us an email at

What if I don’t have a fully formed project?

The RYE Fellowship is designed to provide all of the tools and support needed for Fellows to design and implement a community-based project. You do not need to have an existing project or idea for a project in order to apply – just a passion for creating change and an interest in exploring and addressing issues that you see in your community.

How do the monthly stipends work?

Fellows will receive a monthly stipend as a direct deposit from Equality NC. Final stipend amounts will be determined by funding available and the number of selected Fellows, but each Fellow will receive a stipend of $1,000 monthly. The stipend is considered taxable income.

Is this a job? How much time will I spend in RYE programming?

The RYE Fellowship does not require you to track your hours like a full-time job might. However, we do expect Fellows to dedicate around 15 hours a month to Fellowship-related activities. Each Fellow will participate in a monthly cohort call, coaching with a dedicated mentor, and additional time working on their independent projects.

Previous RYE Fellows

Read about former RYE Fellows and their projects here.