Reeds Spring Student Highlights the Value of a Vibrant Rural School

Julie Leeth (right) with CFO's Rural Schools Partnership presents a DVD copy of "Hats, Pies and Fiddles," as well as $100 check, to Sophia Greenwalt, organizer of Reeds Springs Middle School's Hat Day program.

If ever the character of an entire town could be summed up by one of its youngest citizens, Reeds Spring, Mo. is wonderfully represented by 13-year-old Sophia Greenwalt.

A 7th grader at Reeds Spring Middle School, Sophia has spent the last two school years orchestrating a monthly “Hat Day,” which has rallied her fellow students around philanthropy and community-building. Sophia put together a PowerPoint presentation and presented the idea to the school. The idea – in which students are allowed to wear any type of appropriate headwear one day a month (hats are usually against dress code) – is facilitated by the Reeds Spring School Foundation and supported by school administration, faculty and staff. It is truly a community effort.

“I just wanted to help people, and we never get to wear hats during school,” Sophia said. “I just thought it would be cool to have everyone take part in it.”

“Take part” is putting it mildly. Since September 2010 Hat Day has raised more than $13,000 for local charities, including the local Humane Society, Ozarks Honor Flight, Shop With a Cop and the school’s backpack program for students in need of food options at home.

On Friday, Jan. 13, Sophia was honored for her efforts at one of the school’s Character assemblies. The Reeds Spring School Foundation and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks’ Rural Schools Partnership presented her with a $100 grant to put towards a future Hat Day’s collection total. The school was also treated to a special screening of “Hats, Pies and Fiddles” a short film produced by the Rural Schools Partnership to help illustrate the importance of rural school foundations. Hat Day is one of the film’s case studies, and Sophia one of its stars.

“Hats, Pie and Fiddles” is just one element of a joint effort between the RSP and the Rural School and Community Trust’s Center for Midwestern Initiatives to help promote rural school foundations as vital parts of a school district’s (and a community’s) financial and social support system.

Sophia’s mother, Nettie Greenwalt, was in attendance at the surprise check presentation, and said the ceremonial big check is now hanging on Sophia’s wall. She also said the school foundation and administration, led by Table Rock Lake Community Foundation and Reeds Spring Schools Director of Public Relations Jim Holt, has been instrumental in the Hat Day program’s success.

“I want to give a whole lot of credit to Mr. (Jim) Holt,” Nettie Greenwalt said. “He is Sophia’s biggest supporter.”

About the Rural Schools Foundation Toolkit

As Sophia’s story helps illustrate, education is the lifeblood of small communities, and rural citizens must do all they can to support their schools, teachers, and students. Establishing an active and effective school foundation is an important step in ensuring rural school sustainability. To this end, the Community Foundation of the Ozarks’ Rural School Partnership and The Rural School and Community Trust’s Center for Midwestern Initiatives have collaborated on the development of a comprehensive rural school foundation toolkit.

The toolkit has three primary features:

1. The film Hats, Pies, and Fiddles explores how three small-town school foundations engage students, teachers, and donors in creating a culture of school-centered philanthropy. This ten-minute film was shot by Missouri filmmaker Brandon Goodwin and highlights efforts in Reeds Spring and Alton, Missouri, and Fox (Rural Special School), Arkansas. DVDs are available upon request and the film is featured online.

2. A booklet, Building Rural School Foundations: A Blueprint for Stronger Rural Communities, has been published and is available online and in print. Produced by Missouri graphic artist and photographer Aaron Scott, the booklet provides action steps for establishing a rural school foundation as well as a donors’ guide on how to make charitable contributions. In addition, school foundation success stories showcase the Ozarks communities of Conway, Bradleyville, Chadwick, and Hartville, along with Wessington Springs, South Dakota.

3. A School Foundation Building website has been constructed in conjunction with the Center for Midwestern Initiatives. The site includes the aforementioned film and booklet, and it provides current examples and stories of the good and important work being done by school foundations from throughout the Midwest. The site’s blog provides readers with an opportunity to share their personal stories and submit materials to the site. Click here to view the CMI’s school foundation building page.

These efforts have been made possible by funding from the Philanthropy Initiative, a capacity building grant program of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.