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Springfield Officials Say Large Grant, Community Engagement Will Free Families From Poverty

Scott Harvey

A five-year, $1.3 million grant aims to help Springfield families struggling to emerge from poverty and allow them to achieve long-term success.

The funding for the Northwest Project is the largest single grant awarded by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. It will benefit a partnership made up of Missouri State University, the Drew Lewis Foundation and Drury University.

“This program is not about helping families get through a bad week, or a moth, or even a season… This program is about helping a family fight their way out of poverty for a lifetime.”

That’s Ken Homan, speaking on behalf of the Elaine Ball Foundation managed by Central Trust Company, which along with CFO dedicated $500,000 apiece to help fund the grant. Additionally, The Musgrave Foundation contributed $250,000.

Tuesday’s announcement took place inside the Fairbanks, a new community center in Springfield’s Grant Beach neighborhood, and where The Northwest Project will initially be based. Amy Blansit, owner of the Fairbanks and director of the Drew Lewis Foundation, says the program will focus on a community-driven development model that will start with a small group of people.

“What we look at is by creating community among a small group we can create a bigger change than trying to bring 300 people together who don’t create those relationships,” Blansit said.

The Northwest Project will be holding informational meetings this spring to recruit and evaluate the first group of eligible families.

In awarding the grant, CFO noted the proposed comprehensive evaluation process to be coordinated jointly by Drury’s Center for Nonprofit Leadership and MSU’s Center for Community Engagement. Mike Stout is the MSU center’s director.

“I really do believe that this is going to be a catalyst that really represents a game-changing moment here in Springfield,” said Stout.

He noted a recent community assessment that found Springfield to be program rich but system poor when it came to addressing poverty. Stout says the hope is that the collaborative approach will lead to a systemic case management process.

“Beginning with the first pilot here at the Fairbanks and being scaled up to other neighborhoods over the course of the next five years, with the ultimate goal of having everybody who’s living in a high poverty part of the community within a half mile of resources to help them become self-sufficient.”

The program will focus on pivotal assets that boost families’ opportunities for success. That includes financial literacy, parenting skills, affordable housing, quality childcare and others.

The MSU/Drew Lewis/Drury partnership also includes over a dozen community agencies that will provide resources related to these projects.

CFO also says in selecting northwest Springfield for this project it will help in an area that exceeds the city’s overall 25.6 percent poverty rate. The privately funded Northwest Project takes place in concert with Springfield’s Zone Blitz campaign to improve public safety, infrastructure and chronic nuisance properties in the northwest quadrant.

Learn more about the Northwest Project here.

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