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Leading Locally: Douglas County Community Foundation

The rectangular Douglas County has just one incorporated town — Ava — which was founded in 1871. One of the largely rural county’s claims to fame is the Glade Top Trail, a 23-mile-long scenic byway constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s that comes alive each fall in blazing hues of color.

Affiliate foundations

Douglas County foundation, based in Ava, serves throughout the largely rural area

Local connections were part of the mission of the Douglas County Community Foundation before it was even formed in 2003.

The DCCF began after the sale of the Greater Ozarks Information Network, the area’s original internet service provider.

“Four of us got together — I worked at the school as the computer coordinator — and wrote a grant to MORnet, with the University of Missouri - Columbia, and we received that grant for start-up fees and one-year salary for an administrator,” says Steve Sellers, a DCCF board member. “We were a dial-up network that slowly blossomed over six months into a profitable organization. That was the first and only internet service available.”

After about three or four years in service, the GOIN Advisory Board received an offer to purchase the company, which was sold and ultimately netted $94,000.

The search began for a 501(c)3 organization which could invest the money where it would do the most good for the community. Janice Lorrain, one of the GOIN board members, invited a representative from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks to speak to the GOIN board. They decided to become an affiliate and the DCCF was born.

The GOIN board members became the charter board members of DCCF. Lorrain served as president for all but two of 20 years until her passing in 2022.

Over its 20 years of existence as an affiliate of the CFO, the DCCF has distributed more than $464,177 in grants to the community. The DCCF has grown into an organization that supports a wide range of initiatives and activities in the rural area.

It’s based in Ava, a town of about 3,000 residents and a landmark in the largely rural Douglas County.

“Douglas County is 800 square miles, and Ava is the only incorporated town in the county,” says Bill Henry, a DCCF board member.

Interest from its endowment supports grants that are distributed annually to causes throughout the county. Some recent initiatives include OATS Transit, which provides transportation to the rural general public, senior citizens and people with disabilities; the Lions Club; and the 4-H livestock show.

The group also has supported the Pioneer Heritage Festival of the Ozarks, a weekend of old-time demonstrations, crafts and skills-sharing, which in 2023 was held Sept. 29 and 30. That effort also inherently helps highlight another of Douglas County’s claims to fame: It’s held at the Missouri Fox Trotter Horse Breed Association World Headquarters and Showgrounds, located on the edge of Ava.

“We do a little bit of everything,” says Michelle Bristol, president of the DCCF.

However, it all goes back to personal connection and commitment.

“My roots run deep in Douglas County. We’ve been five generations here,” says Sellers. “Teachers in high school here instilled upon me to volunteer my time as much as I possibly could to help people.”

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The Ava Farmers Market is a weekly draw on Saturdays during most months of the year.

The DCCF works to publicize other forms of grant funding, such as through the Louis L. and Julia Dorothy Coover Charitable Foundation.

In 2023, two Douglas County-based groups received more than $46,000 in Coover funding to improve outdoor spaces: The City of Ava applied for funding to install a two-bay swing set and ADA-compliant play equipment at the municipal park, and the Douglas County Council on Aging to add accessible, raised community garden beds for seniors to grow produce. Two years prior, the DCCF distributed $10,000 to local groups to help with recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another example of collaboration is through donor-advised and scholarship funds held by the DCCF, which allow locals to have a direct impact on the community. The list includes the Ronnie Lee Yocum Memorial Fund, from which support for an annual youth photography class is held in connection with the Ava Area Art Guild and Gallery.

“After it was all done and the winners were selected, there was a get-together at the art guild,” says Diana Middleton, vice president of the DCCF.

Looking ahead: Greater awareness and understanding

Even though the DCCF has existed for 20 years, there is still a need for greater local awareness and understanding of its role and opportunities, its board members say.

“I think it’s important that people know what we actually do and what we have done,” says Salgado, sharing that, just recently, a local person asked what the DCCF is and its purpose.

“I think we need to promote that — promote what we have done for the community — in a big way.”

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The Douglas County Community Foundation Board of Directors

In their own words

Why do you serve?

Michelle Bristol: “I love being able to give money to any organization where the funds benefit others; whether it’s kids, adults, breast care, animals, it doesn’t matter to me. Helping our community by granting funds to local 501c3's means a lot to me.”

Diana Middleton: “I’ve only been here about five years, and it gives me an opportunity to get to know more about the community and more people in the community.”

Dick Salgado: “I’ve gathered from the people that we’re associated with that everybody in our group is really wanting to help our community. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Bill Henry: “By using the Community Foundation, we were able to get that money in funds; we know it’s going to be there and it’s available for scholarships and stuff for the community. That’s why I got involved.”

Kim Woods: I like the idea that local people are making choices about things locally. We can actually go see the grant applicants, see what’s being done with it, and be good stewards of the money.”

Steve Sellers: “It’s all about the community. People are awesome here, and people in this group — from Day One — have been the best people to work with.“

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