Grantmakers Challenge Concludes with $22 Million for Children’s Services

Representatives of the five-year ECHO Project accept their Grantmakers Challenge for Children plaque.

The five-year Grantmakers Challenge for Children focused about $22 million from 35 partner organizations to support services targeting the “red-flag” issues identified in the Community Focus Reports for Springfield and Greene County.

The Community Foundation of the Ozarks marked the end of this five-year effort with a program today to recognize contributions and review the impact of this initiative on area children’s services.

In looking ahead to the next steps, Dr. Cristina Gilstrap, facilitator of the Community Focus Report, announced that work on the 2011 report is underway for publication in early fall. The report will provide an updated assessment on a variety of community topics, which can help define community grantmaking efforts.

Several speakers highlighted programs created during the Grantmakers Challenge for Children, including the Isabel’s House Crisis Nursery, the Light House Childhood Development Center, and the ECHO Project that targeted early-intervention strategies at Campbell and Robberson elementary schools in Springfield.

“I think what we’re doing in Springfield is groundbreaking and we hope to replicate it here and elsewhere,” Robberson Principal Kevin Huffman said, in describing the comprehensive counseling and family wellness services developed through ECHO’s partnerships with Springfield Public Schools; Missouri State University; Burrell Mental Health; and the Community Partnership of the Ozarks. The $1 million ECHO Project represents the largest single grant ever awarded by the CFO.

Lynn Tynes, president of the Junior League of Springfield, said the issue of child abuse and neglect was the first priority the League decided to support when it transitioned from a project-based to an issue-based focus in 2005.

“When a home becomes unsafe, the children of our community deserve a safe haven,” she said of the decision to grant $660,000 toward the creation of Isabel’s House to shelter kids from ages four to 12 whose families are experiencing crisis circumstances.

Erica Harris, director of the Light House Child Development Center, said its partnerships with the faith community to use churches that are open during weekdays have helped it expand to a second location with plans in development for a third site. She said the families, who go through a rigorous screening process, are averaging a $5,000 increase in household income and an $8,000 decrease in household debt through the consistent availability of child care and the related family services.

“They know they are signing up for engagement in their child’s future and their child’s success,” Harris said. “We want them to be advocates for their children.”