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Making Our Community Better: Melissa Haddow, Community Partnership of the Ozarks

If you watch television or listen to the radio you’ve probably heard stories or seen images of some of the many poverty stricken communities around the world. It is those same stories of starvation, hurt, motherless children, disease, and even death that often encourage people to courageously donate much needed time or money to people they’ve never met, and places they’ve never been. But what if that same need was in your own backyard ? I’m Chasity Mayes. In this month’s Sense of Community Series we’re focusing on local individuals that are fighting for those less fortunate right here in the Ozarks.

“For the people who work here, this is not a job and it’s not a career. It’s a cause and you either believe in the cause or you don’t. And if you don’t, you shouldn’t be working here, and you won’t last very long.”

That’s the Community Partnership of the Ozarks’ tell-it-like it is executive director Melissa Haddow. She’s been with the Community Partnership of the Ozarks for nearly 17 years, and has been the executive director for the last nine. In that time, she’s seen a lot of people lifted out of terrible situations. The Community Partnership of the Ozarks is the driving force behind a lot of organized events like Community Wide Play Day and Neighborhood Night Out. Many of the organization’s events focus on pre-school children and preparing them for school. However, CPO isn’t only helping people through special events. As a matter of fact, they never stop helping people.

“It is not at all unusual for a homeless individual to appear in our lobby and spend the afternoon. Or come in for a drink of water and we try to guide them for resources. We have many, many very low income or teen moms or homeless moms that appear in here that need food or diapers. Or we were making home visits to ones living in tents and we’d provide them with cribs,” says Haddow.

Haddow says it’s very hard to describe what CPO is all about, but she says there are a few main things that remain constant about the organization.

“I think the basic message is we work in 21 counties in southwest Missouri with families and children and communities trying to strengthen them. We work with population from birth through seniors providing a holistic framework,” says Haddow.

Haddow says that within that framework are three specific groups that the organization focuses on:

“One is in the area of children and child well-being. So we work with schools, we work with pre-school children, we work with parents teaching them about how to take care of their children. We have a division that is substance abuse and violence prevention. And then we have a division that is community and neighborhood development where we really foster the developing of strong neighborhoods and the residents who live there,” says Haddow.

If you’re wondering how this group gets so much accomplished, it might have something to do with its volunteers. As of May 2010 CPO used 6, 617 volunteers who contributed over 37,000 hours. Haddow says it’s the days when you’re able to see the change right in front of you that makes the job worthwhile. There are days, however, that are much more difficult.

“It is very hard because there are still moms living in tents. There are still children who don’t have a crib. There are still young girls who don’t have personal hygiene products and so they can’t go to school or they choose not to go to school. There are still little children who are hungry. I mean the list goes on and on and on. There are still families who don’t have a table and so we tell them you should eat together, but where are they going to do that,” says Haddow.

Haddow will be the first to tell you that CPO thrives off of donations. Those donations include everything from cash and diapers to that dining room table that showed up on the doorstep of one local family after it was donated to the organization.

“One of my staff went out [and] collected this dining room table and chairs, took it to this mom who had a single mom and four or five children who were all eating on the floor. This mom started crying with the table and she said you know, I knew, because we had been working with this mom, she said, I knew that we were supposed to eat together that we were supposed to have dinner together, but she said it's easy for people to tell you to eat together, but if you don’t have a table, it makes it pretty hard,” says Haddow.

Haddow says she still gets choked up over stories like the one involving the table and chairs. She attributes her passion for her job and helping people to stories like that one. It is what has kept her at the organization for so long. She says at its very least, that’s what Community Partnership is all about. They offer real pragmatic help for people who are right down the street. CPO tries to come up with long term solutions for people who are struggling. Haddow says sometimes a short term solution is the best that they can do, but if a long term one is attainable, that’s their goal. They offer everything from parenting classes, to free GED classes with complimentary childcare.

Like many other non-profits, Haddow says helping people has been exceptionally difficult this year because of the struggling economy. But she says in her 17 years with the organization, there has been one major change that should make us all proud to be members of this community. It has to do with the behind-the-scenes collaboration of charities, law enforcement, churches, and other agencies.

“When I go to national conferences and explain how these coalitions work here, they’re amazed that we will all sit together. That we’ll have the sheriff and the police chief at the same table, solving the same problem, together. That we’ll have all these people in early childhood or in the environment around the same table trying to solve a problem without regard to who’s going to get the bigger dollar at the end of the day. People are so impressed by that,” says Haddow.

In the end, it comes down to one thing: people helping people. For Haddow, it’s a passion, a need to help, and love for the organization that drives her 60 hour work weeks.

“This place touches you, and I’m just really thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to be here,” says Haddow.

For KSMU’s Sense of Community Series, I’m Chasity Mayes.