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Bootheel Regional Community Foundation: Cultivating Generosity Beyond the Ozarks

New affiliate supports philanthropy in the Bootheel

Annual Report FY23

Newest CFO affiliate foundation strengthens Missouri’s Bootheel

The landscape is flat in eastern Missouri, a contrast to the rolling hills of the Ozarks to its west. Local soil is so fertile that farming is a key industry — but it’s not for livestock. Instead, row crops like rice, cotton, corn and soybeans meet the expanse of blue that, in the view of blending lines, takes viewers seamlessly from earth to sky.

It’s also a world of contrasts in terms of resources, from significant wealth to great need. Efforts to improve life will now be supported by the Bootheel Regional Community Foundation, officially announced at an event on Sept. 13 at the Bootheel Regional Planning & Economic Development Commission in Dexter, 250 miles east of Springfield.

As the newest regional affiliate with the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, the BRCF will serve as the charitable arm of the Bootheel Regional Planning & Economic Development Commission and will provide philanthropic resources to donors, nonprofits and communities in Dunklin, Mississippi, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Scott and Stoddard counties.

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Founding board members of the Bootheel Regional Community Foundation and representatives of the CFO celebrated the launch of the new affiliate foundation on Sept. 13 in Dexter.

“No matter where you go, there are people willing and able to donate, but maybe they don’t know how to do that appropriately,” says Melissa Combs, director of economic development for Dunklin County and president of the BRCF board of directors. “I hope that we’re able to find donors throughout all of the six Bootheel counties to help make a greater impact.”

“There are a lot of people in the Bootheel who have gone on to do great things, and a bunch of them have made a lot of money outside the area, but family ties are here,” Jim Grebing, executive director of the BRPC and a board member of the BRCF, told those gathered for the announcement. “This gives them an opportunity to pay back or honor their family, their heritage.”

A similar connection helped momentum build for the BRCF’s creation. Plans really began to materialize after a generous gift from Sam and June Hamra, Springfield business leaders and philanthropists, who contributed the initial $30,000 requirement to form the new foundation’s endowment.

Even though the Hamras have long lived and worked in Springfield, Sam Hamra hails from Steele, a community in southern Pemiscot County. Now in his 90s, Hamra recalls the area’s support of his father, himself a success businessman who owned a farm and a store.

“I felt that they helped Dad be successful, so I wanted to help them be successful.”

Sam Hamra

“They’re the ones that helped my dad,” Hamra says of the people around Steele. “He sold cotton and he would take that money and invest it in stocks, bonds and real estate. He would buy up real estate in Steele, buildings, housing, this type of thing off money he made off cotton sales. I felt that they helped Dad be successful, so I wanted to help them be successful.”

Community health is one of the first areas the BRCF will address through grantmaking. In addition to the $30,000 contribution from the Hamras, $30,000 has been granted from the Missouri Foundation for Health. The MFH funding will support grantmaking for health-related needs over the next five years.

The launch of the BRCF is already paying dividends for the region. In November, two $1 million gifts from the estate of James L. Byrd III established designated endowments that will forever benefit the City of Charleston and the Charleston R-1 School District in Mississippi County.

“The generous gifts from the estate of James L. Byrd illustrate the value of community foundations and why the Bootheel Regional Community Foundation has been formed,” Grebing says.

By Kaitlyn McConnell, writer in residence at the Community Foundation of the Ozarks

Learn more Read more from Annual Report FY23

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