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Leading Locally: Bolivar Area Community Foundation

Bolivar, the seat of Polk County, is named in honor of military feats led by General Simon Bolivar in South America. In addition to its focused agriculture industry, the community is home to Southwest Baptist University and Citizens Memorial Hospital.

Affiliate Foundations

The Polk County affiliate has distributed more than $3.6 million

The agriculture-rich, rolling hillsides of Polk County provide a picturesque backdrop to change — both in money, and in action — through the work of the Bolivar Area Community Foundation, which has distributed more than $3.6 million since it was founded in 2003.

“We’re either the number one or number two cow calf producing in the entire state,” says Board President Kelly Parson, who himself also has cattle, of a defining element about the region. “The majority of our growth would somehow be farming, agriculture-related. So definitely agriculture, but small-town, hardworking community.”

In addition to funding programs, initiatives and needs, the foundation’s leaders hope to create something collectively great: A close-knit community where people want to be.

“Our smiles are more than just to smile,” says Board Member Lou Thelen Kemp. “It’s family — bad, good, indifferent.”

The town of Bolivar was named for General Simon Bolivar of South America, whose military feats in the 1800s impressed local residents.

The foundation, based in the county seat but serving beyond the city limits, grew out of the inaugural year of Leadership Bolivar, a program designed to help civic leaders find new ways to serve their community. It inspired foundation founders Don Wollard and Debbie McQuay to begin the affiliate foundation with aims of meeting local needs.

“Don Wollard was the reason I became involved with the BACF — he was extremely persuasive,” says Board Member Lindsey Godfrey. “Even though I didn’t know him well when he asked me to join the board, his enthusiasm was compelling, as was the chance to help build the affiliate. I really enjoy advocating for and encouraging our community's resources.”

“I think one of the priorities Don had was looking into the future,” adds Kemp. “He said, ‘If we don’t invest in this area, our children will be going out and they don’t want to come back because there’s nothing here.”

The first grant the foundation made was for smoke detectors for the Halfway Fire Department, a rural department about 10 miles east of Bolivar.

Bolivar, the seat of Polk County, has around 11,000 residents.

Over time, that support has manifested through school and church projects, local cemeteries, the library, historical society and Community Connections, a local nonprofit networking initiative for service and civic-minded organizations. Because not all organizations have nonprofit status, they can apply for grants and use Community Connections as a pass through to apply for the BACF’s grants.

“We have used them as a pass-through to help some of those organizations that are tied into that networking group,” says Parson.

The BACF also holds more than 50 funds, covering causes from housing to outdoor spaces to scholarships and more for the community that has around 11,000 people but, for many, still feels like a close-knit neighborhood.

“If you want to see somebody during the day, just go to the post office,” says Kemp. “It’s a social network. We find out who’s ill, who needs help, who needs support.”

Bolivar Area Community Foundation's Next Goal: Spreading the word

As leaders in the Bolivar Area Community Foundation look to the future, it’s an ongoing process to get the word out about what the BACF can do for the community, and how organizations and individuals can get involved. At times, that manifests through speaking at Chamber of Commerce meetings and other civic endeavors. At others, it focuses on brainstorming new ways to generate grantmaking dollars — and how to help the community think of the BACF in estate plans.

“Our main goal as a board is to grow our grantmaking fund,” says Parson. “Estate-planning gifts are going to be the best way, and fastest way, to do that and we’re probably lacking in that area of understanding. Everyone that estate plans talks to someone, whether it’s an estate planner or whoever. We definitely want to put that group together and get that idea out there and they can help sell the community foundation.”

In their own words

Why do you serve?

Kelly parson 2018 board

“I’ve been here my whole life, so I would say community support. We love this community or we wouldn’t still be here. Things that we can do to help our community — whether it be call them our neighbors or call them our friends — that's why I’m involved.”

—Kelly Parson, BACF president

Bolivar area 4x5 lindsey godfrey

“I am particularly excited that once a year we have funds to encourage and approve applications for grants from local, small — and not so small — agencies to help them meet local needs. The amount we have been able to grant since 2003 is significant.”

—Lindsey Godfrey, BACF vice president

Bolivar area 4x5 lou thelen kemp

I love that the people on our board are from a varied background. Not all of us are doing one thing and it gives a variety of perspectives.”

—Lou Thelen Kemp, BACF board member

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