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Leading Locally: Carthage Community Foundation

Dating to 1842, the seat of Jasper County is defined by unique historical features including its statuesque stone courthouse, a battle in the Civil War, its location along Route 66 and as home to artists beloved around the world. 

Affiliate Foundations

Carthage-based foundation serves a spectrum of local needs

Carthage is home to more than 15,000 people, but from history to heritage, the community has a variety of distinctive draws that attract attention and visitors.

The town’s history goes back to 1842, as banners around the square remind. The Jasper County seat saw the Battle of Carthage in 1861, the earliest full-scale battle of the Civil War, remembered today with a state historic site.

Days of prosperity came with the marble boom in the 1880s, resulting in “limestone of magnificent color and hardness,” that was used to build the Missouri State Capitol, according to a historical marker.

In more modern times, Route 66 brought — and still brings — travelers to and through the western Ozarks town. Another attraction is Marian Days, a religious festival for Vietnamese Catholics who have come to town annually since the 1970s, temporarily swelling the town’s population by thousands of people.

Visitors also have come through the efforts of local cultural organizations and artists like Sam Butcher, creator of Precious Moments figurines; Andy Thomas, a visual artist who recently created a mural celebrating local culture; and Lowell Davis, whose Red Oak II on the outskirts of town recreated the village where his grandparents once lived.

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A mural near the Carthage square showcases some of the unique history and faces that tie to the town's past.

All of those factors (and more) create a unique community, but they do not eliminate the needs that exist for the citizens who call the town home. That is where the Carthage Community Foundation serves: Since 1999, the foundation has distributed more than $10,418,383 in grants to the community.

“If somebody is wanting to do something with their dollars, it gives them a secure place to do that, which in turn can help for generations to come,” says Board President Stephanie Howard of the CCF, which also extends to giving locals a place where they can contribute to greater causes if they so choose.

The CCF’s work spans the town’s unique history and modern-day priorities. There are grants for needs including food insecurity, historical preservation and the arts. In addition to grants from the foundation’s endowment, the foundation also holds funds for nearly 20 nonprofit partners, as well as the Ruth I. Kolpin Family Donor-Advised Fund, which recently distributed nearly $50,000 to 13 local nonprofits.

Work also focuses on economic development, which is supported by the town’s participation in Growth in the Rural Ozarks. The initiative, 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.

“GRO worked on economic development, which led to a strategic plan for economic development for the whole community,” says Howard.

“That’s been huge for our community, and it’s let us launch a couple of pretty major things. It was from GRO that we were able to get a grant to start an industrial park. Without that collaboration, the building blocks that helped us with that grant would not have happened.”

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Economic development is a focus of the Growth in the Rural Ozarks program. The initiative was originally supported by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

With so much history at their figurative front door, the CCF also has worked to raise the cultural profile of the town’s assets, dating back to before the Civil War through the Phelps House, a historical mansion used for community events, to the Boots Court, a motor court that’s currently being restored and attracts travelers along Route 66.

“You don’t realize how many people come through here until you have a first-hand look,” says Board Member Danny Lambeth, who also volunteers with the Boots Court Foundation. “It’s phenomenal how often you see people from Australia, France, Ireland — just from all over the place.”

Leaders also see the CCF as a network: Both for people who want to support the community, but perhaps don’t know the best avenue, and for connecting needs with funding — even if the CCF isn’t the organization to complete the need.

“It’s been nice to be able to connect needs with other organizations,” says Board Member Kristi Montague, who also serves as a board member for the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. “You’re aware of some needs. But the deeper you dive, you find deeper needs. And then you find other resources — if we weren’t able to grant everything, we’ve been able to give the heads-up to somebody else who’s met that need. That’s been really cool, too, because a lot of those opportunities I didn’t know were out there, and I’ve been here all my life. If I didn’t know, someone else doesn’t know, either.”

Ultimately, though, the board speaks of their role as connectors — involving many others in helping make success happen.

“The agencies that we support are the ones doing the work,” Lambeth says. “You look around the room, and fortunately or unfortunately, we maybe give out 20 grants or something like that per round. You’d like to give out 40 or 50. The people that get that money and then turn around and do the right thing by the rest of the people in the community are really the ones that are to be admired.”

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The Boots Court, a Route 66 motorcourt, is an example of local historical preservation supported by a fund with the Carthage Community Foundation.

Looking to the future: Expanding awareness and growing new methods of support

Increasing visibility — both for applicants and donors — is always a priority for the CCF. Another avenue that the group’s leaders are currently excited about is the launch of Carthage 365, a giving circle to support high-impact grantmaking for chosen causes.

“It’s a way to try and get the next generation excited about giving,” Howard says, noting a general desire by younger donors to be more hands-on in their philanthropic giving. “Carthage 365 is to try and get the new donors to come in. It’s $365 a person, it’s a one-year commitment, and we will vote as a group on what exactly it’s going towards.”

In their own words

Why do you serve?

Kristi montague 4x5

“Four generations of my family currently live here, and so it’s important to me to continue to give back and foster that love of community.

—Kristi Montague, CCF board member

Stephanie Howard Carthage

“For me, it’s the belief in the Carthage Community Foundation. It helps every facet of the community. It’s not just helping one nonprofit. It helps individuals, the nonprofits, as well as the base need in that community.

—Stephanie Howard, CCF president

Danny lambeth carthage 800x800 affiliate president

It’s a real conduit to connect the people that have things that they want to share, and then people that are in dire need.”

—Danny Lambeth, CCF board member

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