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Leading Locally: Alton Community Foundation

In the middle of Oregon County’s rugged natural beauty is Alton, its seat of about 700 people. It links visitors with the Eleven Point River, which was one of the first to receive a Wild and Scenic designation.

Affiliate foundations

Oregon County affiliate serves community needs

Especially in rural communities, school districts are central in the development of young residents and the support of local professionals. That’s very much the case in Alton, which sits nearly smack-dab in the middle of Oregon County’s sparsely populated, largely wooded, hilly and rural Ozarks acreage spread out over nearly 800 square miles.

To support the needs of both local residents and the school that serves so many of them is the Alton Community Foundation, and its nonprofit partner, the Alton R-IV Public Schools Foundation.

The ACF was founded in 2007. To date, it has distributed more than $525,630 in grants to the community, and as of June 2023, holds assets totaling $639,013.

While the school-based foundation primarily focuses on scholarships, how the ACF serves the community has evolved with time. A note of significance came in 2014, when the foundation worked with the Beatles to raise money for the community.

It’s true — but in an unexpected way.

In 1964, the famed music group visited Oregon County for a few days of rest and relaxation at the Pigman Ranch. Photos of the members riding horses in cowboy-style outfits still circulate today. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of their visit, Alton hosted a weekend-long “Beatlemania” event in 2014 to memorialize the famed group.

“We worked really hard to get that information out in a large area,” says Brenda Ledgerwood, president of the ACF. “We had people from other states; various places. We had a big, big weekend.”

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The Alton Community Foundation hosted a Beatles-themed event in 2014 to memorialize the famed group and raise funds to benefit local causes.

That funding helped benefit specific organizations in the community, including $10,000 that went to the local volunteer fire department for needed upgrades.

Today, instead of individual grant rounds, the foundation generally works to make a larger contribution to a community cause. In 2017, the foundation helped support nearby Thomasville, a community which was devastated by the year’s torrential flooding.

“We tried to raise money to help people (recover) from that pretty big catastrophe,” says Paula Miller, the board’s vice president.

Another common-good cause came during the COVID-19 pandemic, when they used funding to create care kits — featuring the likes of thermometers, pulse-oxygen meters, supplements and medications — and delivered them to residents who were battling the virus.

“We ended up taking that grant money and making COVID kits. We’re rural, and people were getting really sick and we were able to bring supplies to people,” Ledgerwood says of an effort that took them many miles in different directions, and which was done in partnership with Faith Inc., a local nonprofit.

“We found ourselves delivering over the whole county. We’d set it on somebody’s car our outside their door and let them know it was there because those things were not available here.”

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Alton is the seat of Oregon County.

That example ties to a significant need in the very rural area: health care. The foundation is working to find new ways to connect resources with locals, especially children. An example is through a new collaboration with Faith Inc., which received $10,000 in grant funding from Delta Dental to provide dental exams to Alton R-IV students.

The ACF works with potential donors to find the best way to leave a legacy. Sometimes that might come through cash, which can seed a donor-advised fund. But there are other ways, too, that people can offer lasting support, such as through appreciated stock, real estate or livestock.

A particular way donors give back to the area is through the aforementioned scholarships, which are distributed through the school foundation to local students each spring. Sometimes those donors are local, while others are folks who may have grown up in the area, moved away, but want to give back to the place that gave them their start.

“They leave a way to provide opportunity for kids,” Ledgerwood says.

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The Eleven Point River, one of the nation's first to be designated as Wild and Scenic, runs through Oregon County.

Looking ahead: Evaluating priories for the future

The ACF is currently in a period of regrouping to see where its help is needed most, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic paused some board activity. It’s also part of an area that is evolving quickly, as new faces move into the area in search of land.

“Small towns, rural areas — it’s difficult for them to thrive. It’s hard for them to survive, much less thrive,” says Rick Johnson, who recently joined the ACF board but has longtime local connections. “I think it’s important for a community not only to thrive, but to survive and be able to pass that on to another generation.”

In their own words

Why do you serve?

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“It was something that we never thought was possible. It never even occurred to me that there was an avenue where people could contribute to the community in this way.”

—Brenda Ledgerwood, ACF board president

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If this kind of organization or any other nonprofit that can promote the area, maybe bring in some resources, it’s important.”

—Rick Johnson, ACF board president

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“I think for me, it’s just helping our community. The resources are out there, we just have to go get them. Maybe we’re also able to connect them to someone else to help meet that need.”

—Paula Miller, ACF board vice president

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