Sense of Community

Our ongoing, 10-part Community Journalism series airs quarterly

From poverty concerns to major policy decisions, this series dives beyond the headlines to provide in-depth coverage of issues facing people and organizations in the Ozarks. KSMU's team of reporters come together to produce 10 stories, four times a year. Past espisodes of our Sense of Community series are available below.


In this segment of our Sense of Community series "Becoming American," we hear the story of three-year-old Rainer Swift.  Rainer was an orphan in China before being adopted by his mother, Keely Swift, who owns a coffeeshop in West Plains, Missouri.  As part of his adoption process, Rainer was granted U.S. citizenship upon his arrival in the United States. 

“I don’t actually know anything about his birth family, but Rainer has a very complicated heart,” Keely Swift said.

Na Pham / Used with permission

“I grew up in Vietnam until I was like, 19 years old,” said Na Pham, a new U.S. citizen living in Springfield, Missouri.

Most of her childhood was focused on studying—that was typical, she said, of her young peers.

“We were born, we study a lot, and we try to get in to pass exams to be in colleges,” she said.

Her father was a construction worker—but the work was seasonal, she said. And her mother was a stay-at-home mom and tried several small business ventures out of the house, but the projects didn’t earn much money.

Submitted By John Whitla

“My full name is Christopher John Whitla.  I go by John, but all my processing is with full name, which goes way back to my mom wanting to call me John, but liking Christopher John better.  So forever more, throughout all the Naturalization Process, through the Green Card Process and everything else, it would always be Christopher”, says Canadian born John Whitla, who shares his story of Becoming American, for the KSMU Sense of Community Series.

Submitted by Hilda Lorrando

“You need to do things right if you want to stay in our country”, says Hilda Lorrando.  “It’s a way to show respect and love for the country (where) you are planning to live”, said the recently Naturalized U.S. Citizen.

Hilda Lorrando, along with her American born husband Alan, and their 3 children, lives just outside the SW Springfield City Limits, and in this segment of Becoming American, from the KSMU Sense of Community Series, Hilda Lorrando shares some of the steps she took on the pathway to U.S. Citizenship.

Jessica Balisle / KSMU

For Fayda Pires Bown, the path to America has been unexpected and complicated. It was never her dream to live here.

Bown grew up in the big city of Goiânia, Brazil where she had a difficult childhood. She tells me she had an emotionally and physically abusive mother. By the time Bown was seventeen, she had come to the end of her rope.

Jennifer Moore / KSMU

In 1991, civil war broke out in Somalia. It’s a relatively young country, with only 59 years of independence since British rule. At the time, Abdi Tarey was five years old. His father was in the military and things became very dangerous for his family.

“And my mom said, ‘We have to run to Kenya because so many people has been killed.’ And there was chaos and escalation. The government was fighting. The people were saying that the need to overthrow the president. And then, there was too much killing and looting,” said Tarey.

Randy Stewart

In this morning’s Sense of Community installment, you met Veronica Palit from the former Soviet republic of Moldova. Veronica officially became a United States citizen two months ago at a naturalization ceremony held at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. As it happens, the woman we’re profiling this afternoon was the keynote speaker at that ceremony. 

Photo: Jennifer Moore

Veronica Palit says the question she most often gets from friends and people she meets is, “’Where is Moldova?’ That is the biggest question—‘where is that country?’”

I’ll answer that. Moldova is a small country in eastern Europe, one-fourth the size of Missouri, says Veronica, situated between Romania and Ukraine.  It was under Russian—and later Soviet—domination for many decades. Moldova regained its independent status after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

Diego Brawn via Facebook

Diego Brawn is just 22-years-old, and he’s already living the life he dreamed of while he was a student at Bolivar High School:  Touring with national Christian music recording artists.

The road that led Brawn to where he is today started in Mexico City where he was born.  He doesn’t remember much about the time before he and his sister, mom and dad came to the United States.


Temitayo “Tayo” Bakare is 35-years-old with a family and a job as clinical director of pharmacy at CoxHealth in Springfield.  But her life began thousands of miles away in Africa.  She learned to be on her own at a time when many children in the United States are just beginning to test the waters of independence with their parents close by. 

She grew up in Nigeria and remembers a fun childhood there.

"I'm number two of five, grew up in a pretty large family, had aunties and uncles around," she said, "father died when I was nine-years-old."

Jennifer Moore / KSMU

Many children have escaped the trauma of domestic violence and are living with a parent in the Harmony House shelter in east Springfield. Harmony House serves anywhere between 30 and 50 children at any given time. 

And that trauma can impact a child’s education.

Tony LaBellarte is the Children’s Case Manager at Harmony House. 

Jennifer Moore / KSMU

On Tuesday, people living within the boundaries of the Springfield R-12 school district will be asked to vote on Proposition S, an 18-cent increase to the debt service levy that would fund 39 projects, including renovating and rebuilding several schools.  Proposition S would also make entrances more secure and improve accessibility for people with disabilities.

The list of projects that would be funded was developed by a task force of 30 people across the district.

Michele Skalicky

Lynn Schirk wants unaccompanied youth and homeless families with school-age kids to know:  There’s help through the school district for things like housing, transportation to school, food and other needs.

Michele Skalicky

Teachers have a difficult job:  They’re in charge of a room full of children, with a variety of learning needs, and they’re working to make sure kids learn what they need to learn to move onto the next grade and to do well on standardized tests.  Not only do they have to be effective in helping their students learn, they also must know how to deal with behavior problems and how to meet the emotional needs of the kids in their classrooms.  And poverty can make those problems worse.

Communithy Partnership of the Ozarks

The U.S. Census Bureau points to a poverty rate in Springfield Missouri above 25%, and The Every Child Promise, an initiative launched 5 years ago, continues at the forefront of getting disadvantaged Springfield Public School preschoolers ready for kindergarten.  

In January 2014, co-chair Todd Parnell, announced the launch of The Every Child Promise.