The Community Foundation of the Ozarks has awarded a five-year grant for up to $1.3 million to address poverty in northwest Springfield to a partnership led by Missouri State University, the Drew Lewis Foundation and Drury University.
The partnership was selected by a volunteer grant committee through a competitive process that began last fall. Major funding for the grant is being provided by the CFO, the Stanley and Elaine Ball Foundation managed by Central Trust and the Musgrave Foundation.
The goal of The Northwest Project is to pilot strategies over a five-year period to help families overcome the challenges that have kept them living in poverty and sustain their long-term success in emerging from those circumstances. The CFO selected northwest Springfield for this project because much of the area exceeds the city’s overall 25.6 percent poverty rate. In addition, the privately funded Northwest Project will take place in concert with the City of Springfield’s focus on improving public safety, infrastructure and chronic nuisance properties in this geographic area.
The MSU/Drew Lewis/Drury partnership was selected for its vision of using a model that couples family support with neighborhood development and sustainability. This community-driven development model will work to bridge the gaps between people and resources through both case management services and a teamwork approach where program participants will be expected to support each other.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the response we have received from the nonprofit community in our new approach to impact grantmaking,” CFO President Brian Fogle said. “We do feel this group, with its presence in the heart of Zone 1, can help lift many families out of poverty in the next five years. Our hopes are this will become a transformative model for our community, where we will not only address immediate needs, but also help families achieve their own dreams for self-sufficiency and success.”
The Northwest Project will initially be based at The Fairbanks, a newly opened community center in the Grant Beach neighborhood renovated by the Drew Lewis Foundation. Amy Blansit, director of the Drew Lewis Foundation and an MSU faculty member, will serve as project manager. MSU will be the overall fiscal agent and project administrator along with providing professional and student support through its programs in social work, kinesiology, education and others.
A strong consideration in awarding the grant is the proposed comprehensive evaluation process, which will be coordinated jointly by MSU’s Center for Community Engagement and Drury’s Center for Nonprofit Leadership. In addition, Drury’s Community Outreach and Leadership Development Office will manage a centralized, online volunteer service to coordinate participant needs and reduce overlap of services.
“The collective impact of this grant along with a neighborhood that is driven and ready to be engaged will be the cornerstone of our success,” Blansit said. “This is the right time and the right place to not only positively affect the lives of our neighbors, but to show that the community-driven development model can be successful and repeatable. Our hope is to create a system that supports all of the agencies involved in continuing to provide the resources that make Springfield great.”
The CFO encouraged grant applicants to consider a model used in Jacksonville, Florida’s “1,000 in 1,000” project, which has demonstrated success in reducing poverty by emphasizing “pivotal assets” that boost families’ opportunities for success. Examples of these include financial literacy, parenting skills, reliable transportation, affordable housing, quality childcare and others.
The MSU/Drew Lewis/Drury partnership also includes a number of community agencies that will provide resources related to these pivotal assets. These partners are: Ozarks Technical Community College, MU Extension, the City of Springfield, Consumer Credit Counseling, Springfield Community Gardens, Springfield Public Schools, Life 360 Family Services, Habitat for Humanity, Boys and Girls Club, Great Circle-Parenting Life Skills Center, Hand in Hand Multicultural Center, Care to Learn, Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association, Ozarks Regional YMCA and Schweitzer United Methodist Church Jobs for Life Program.
The first step for The Northwest Project will be informational meetings this spring to recruit and evaluate the first group of eligible families.
Families interested in learning more about The Northwest Project can contact the Drew Lewis Foundation at The Fairbanks at 720-1890.
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