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Leading Locally: Ash Grove Area Community Foundation

Despite its proximity to Springfield, the more than 150-year-old community has an identity all its own, one that predates the county’s founding.

Affiliate Foundations

Greene County foundation is establishing new ways to serve

A bustling four-way stop creates a pause for people as they pass through Ash Grove, a Greene County town that was once known for its stop on the railroad — and is still known for its connections with Nathan Boone.

The youngest son of legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone, Nathan Boone moved his family to the newly created county in 1837. He was an influential man of his time, serving as a land surveyor and a delegate who helped create the Missouri state constitution.

Today, the property is known as the Nathan and Olive Boone Homestead State Historic Site and attracts visitors to learn more about a version of life on the Ozarks frontier, land that has set the backdrop for that modern-day town of about 1,500 people.

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Ash Grove is located near the Nathan and Olive Boone Homestead State Historic Site.

That community and surrounding area is served through the Ash Grove Area Community Foundation, the 50th regional affiliate of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. The AGACF was officially founded in May 2020, and has distributed more than $254,747 in grants to the community. It also holds assets totaling $1.1 million as of June 2023.

The foundation is built on local ties. Not only does AGACF serve the Ash Grove community, but also the surrounding area, which includes Bois D’Arc, a small village about 10 miles away. The history is supported by members of the AGACF board, many of whom grew up locally and have deep local roots of their own.

“The fact of what we’ve been able to do in the short time we’ve been in existence, the town wouldn’t have had that kind of money pumped into it (otherwise),” says Jason Whitesell, who serves as vice president of the AGACF. “A lot of that stuff is helping the folks that are in need, whether they’re kids or other people that do have a major need that there wouldn’t have been an organization out there to help them out.”

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Ash Grove is located in Greene County.

The road to the foundation’s creation took years and a number of steps. The first was in Aurora, where Whitesell once worked, and where he saw the success of the Aurora Area Community Foundation. Then, after moving back to the Ash Grove area, he was approached by Tyler Gunlock after completing a leadership program, and suggested a foundation might be a good option for their community, too.

That legacy helps provide a great incentive to support Ash Grove and the surrounding area through the foundation, which has already granted to causes like the Ash Grove Diaper Bank, OATS Transit and Girls on the Run. An additional support for the foundation in its early years is a grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health, which allocates $6,000 per year for the first five years to address local health-related needs.

“We didn’t know to the extent that they really helped people in our community,” says Gunlock, president of the AGACF, of the local diaper bank’s work, which serves more than 50 families monthly with diapers and more. “It’s people who are working but are really, really struggling with all sorts of needs like hygiene; helping them get by with a little bit of everything.”

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In addition to the town of Ash Grove, the AGACF also serves nearby residents, including those in the community of Bois D'Arc.

That local support is also apparent through efforts to build a sense of community. That is seen through Ash Grove’s participation in the Growth in the Rural Ozarks program. The program, founded in 2016 and initially supported by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, offers training and economic-development coaching to towns in an effort to increase local prosperity.

Ash Grove’s participation in GRO — and support from the AGACF — resulted in the re-establishment of a local chamber of commerce, new lighting at a city park and the funding of Project RISE in the community.

“What this foundation did that I didn’t really expect going in was how it helped different entities — that we did or didn’t know were already in Ash Grove — have a joint voice and joint place to meet and start working together,” Whitesell says.

It was for this community leadership that the CFO selected the AGACF as a CFO Affiliate of the Year in 2023.

“We’re getting ready to do some official city planning with SMCOG,” Gunlock says of the Southwest Missouri Council of Governments, an association of local governments and stakeholders. “We’re going through that process now. I’m hopeful like some of that practice will bear fruit.”

Looking ahead: continued growth and awareness

As the AGACF’s board members look to the future, a collective goal is continuing to grow local awareness and participation in the foundation.

“We didn’t want to be in a position where it was like, ‘Oh, we wish we would have established the foundation,’” says Gunlock. “I think we’ve had those discussions where it’s like, ‘Let’s make sure we get this established, and make sure that we maintain, and increase credibility in the community.’ So, when that opportunity does present itself, we’re able to keep that money local.”

“There’s people in the community that could easily make some sort of lasting contribution,” Whitesell adds of opportunities like donor-advised funds and scholarship funds, both of which can be tailored to donors’ interests and preferences.

“The main thing is just long-term sustainability — that when our board members are gone and no longer involved, this entity is still here to help the community that we grew up in.”

In their own words

Why do you serve?

“I’ve bounced around a lot. Then, when I moved back, the saying ‘Grow where you’re planted’ came to mind. I just felt like I had more to give.”
— Tyler Gunlock, AGACF board president

“It’s still home. I may live and work (elsewhere) but I’m an Ash Grove Pirate. It’s in your blood.”
— Jason Whitesell, AGACF board vice president

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