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Heading Outside to Help, Part Two: Stotts City

Coover Regional Grantmaking

Gazebo restoration, community garden represent new chapter in Stotts City

Once described by an Ozarks newspaper as “the flower of Lawrence County,” the town of Stotts City began in the lead-mining haze and days of the late 1800s. Its start led to days when its unpaved streets were lined by the business of everyday life: a feed mill, grocer, hardware store, barbers and banks — more than one of each — and a post office.

More than 125 years later, it’s still home to about 200 people, but a stroll through town shows a place where time has not been kind.

Like a weary greeter, a seemingly vacant fieldstone building marks a spot along the highway where one can turn and enter town. Along its main drag, the remains of buildings besieged by fire, general destruction and the effects of old age now silently say “stay away.”

“In a sense to me, I feel like it’s just been forgotten. We have no businesses here. We have to rely upon the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department to govern things … and they’re stretched thin themselves. We just kind of feel like it’s just easy to hide here,” says Sarah Blankenship, who moved to town in 2013 with her husband, Timothy, when he was called to pastor the local First Baptist Church. Today, he serves as mayor.

“I feel like now there is more of a community involvement — there’s a greater group of people that are here for the good of Stotts City,” Blakenship says. “Maybe it’s because I’m actually more involved myself, but it’s kind of a process of just getting people to realize that there can be hope.

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Stotts City's downtown once had businesses, but remnants of buildings are what primarily remain today.

“People have got to quit saying, ‘Well, it’s a drug town, it’s filled with poverty, there’s nothing that we can do.’ There’s always hope, and there are things that we can do and we have to work towards that. Even if it’s just a small step here or a small step there, it’s progress on moving forward.”

Two examples of that hope are apparent through the restoration of the town’s historic gazebo, and the addition of a community garden. Both are funded by a $25,000 grant from the Coover Charitable Foundation and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks to the Southwest Missouri Coalition of Charities and Community Services.

“We know that a holistic approach to addiction and recovery is what makes (recovery) be lifelong and makes it generational for their kids. That’s why we applied for the grant,” says Rachel Luebbering, executive director with the Monett-based Coalition of Charities.

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Funds from the Coover Charitable Foundation will help restore a gazebo long located in Stotts City's downtown area.

The native-stone gazebo has been a landmark for years and is a “source of pride for those that are from Stotts City,” says Luebbering. Work includes repairing the roof, the existing rock and woodwork, and adding some paint, making it usable once again for concerts and other activities.

Across the street, a park and community garden will soon grow on a grassy area near City Hall. The grant will help cover expenses related to the materials, as well as a picnic table and benches, raised garden beds, soil, seeds, supplies and a greenhouse.

In addition to public use during daylight hours, the amenities will be of specific focus during community events such as town block parties, holiday festivals, and when visitors come to town for its annual tractor pull and Fourth of July celebration.

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Playground equipment and a garden area will be added near the town's city hall.

Their presence, however, is also of support for individuals who are working to improve their lives. The community is home to WhoSoEver Men’s Recovery House, a faith-based men’s sobriety program housed in the town’s statuesque, brick, multi-story former school. Integro Recovery & Detox, a 21-day detox facility, will be built alongside transitional and efficiency housing just down the street, the latter projects led by Luebbering, Collation of Charities and the Stotts City community.

“Then this land is where the detox will be,” she says of an area a few blocks away from the garden and playground which will also include a greenhouse and ability to grow food on-site. “Integro staff wants the people that are in the detox to be able to during the day to be outside and have purpose.”

The new detox facility and housing are needed resources in the area, where Luebbering estimates that more than 2,000 individuals in Barry and Lawrence counties struggle with active addiction. Those who are in treatment in Stotts City will have support in finding stable housing and applying for jobs, efforts that are furthered by the work done while in treatment.

“There’s just a holistic, healthy approach to addiction and recovery of having your hands in the dirt. We will work with residents in local programs to be able to install all of these different ventures and in turn not incur a labor charge, which helps us do more and helps participants build their résumés,” Luebbering says. “We want to be able to let them come back and maintain them, either as a resident of a transitional house, or once they’re out of a recovery program and back with their families, to be able to come and show people what they did. It’s a positive thing in their life that they can keep anchored to.”

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

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