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Leading Locally: Finley River Community Foundation

The Christian County seat of Ozark was incorporated in 1888. Today, the river-anchored community is home to multiple historic bridges and what was the last-operating commercial water mill in Missouri.

Affiliate Foundations

Ozark-based foundation has distributed more than $4.9 million in grants to the community

Like the river for which it’s named, the Finley River Community Foundation helps bring life through its mission of grants, scholarships and service. Since its inception in 2001, the FRCF has distributed about $5 million to Ozark and eastern Christian County, a figure which has helped combat food insecurity, domestic violence and dental care for children.

“If you want to leave a legacy, plant a tree. That’s kind of what we’re doing: Planting trees,” says Elise Crain, a founding FRCF board member and its president elect, figuratively of the group’s work.

Those “plantings” often support local students. In addition to grantmaking that supports the Ozark school district and other programs for youth, the FRCF holds more than 15 scholarship funds.

Finley river hero 2

The Ozark Community Building was a project of the Works Progress Administration, and finished in 1933. Today it's home to the Christian County Historical Society and the Finely River Art Gallery.

Among its other efforts, another area of emphasis is Ozark’s Youth Empowerment Project chapter, which helps high school students learn about philanthropy. An aspect of the project is an annual grant round of about $2,000 — tied to an endowment that students help build — to benefit youth-focused organizations in the community.

“My whole point was the need to teach kids how to become philanthropists,” says Karen Miller, who is also a founding FRCF board member, a retired teacher and former CFO Board officer. “Then they’ll go off to college and later come back to Ozark and join the Finley River Community Foundation, or maybe they’ll join a community foundation wherever they are.”

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The Finley River runs through Ozark, where the town's former mill — the last commercially operating mill of its kind in Missouri — has been repurposed as dining destination at Finley Farms.

In 2023, the FRCF will distribute about $16,000 in community grants. It also has more than 80 funds under its umbrella for a wide variety of community projects, ranging from preserving the past to planning for the future.

Just one example of the causes it supports is its Impact 100 Ozark Fund, a giving circle that has contributed to causes including education, water quality, local history, parks and libraries.

“In seven years, they will have given away $358,000,” says Jackie Barger, an FRCF board member who helped found the giving circle. “That would not have happened unless there was a nonprofit vehicle such as the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and its Finley River affiliate."

Another fund under FRCF bringing change to town is the Friends of the Garrison Spring. Now owned by the City of Ozark, the beloved Ozark spring was purchased with grant funding and will ultimately be opened for public and educational use.

It’s all part of looking to the future: For Ozark, and for future generations who call it home.

“We’ve really become ingrained in our community,” Crain says. “It’s where we live.”

Looking to the future: A capital campaign for endowment growth

Work is currently underway on a capital campaign to find at least 50 donors to contribute at least $250 to the FRCF’s endowment fund.

The push is an effort to raise money — which will ultimately result in more to distribute from its endowment — but also fill a gap left after a longtime event held in connection with other community groups was canceled in 2023.

The gap in fundraising the event has pinched, but also brought opportunity.

“We’re focusing on endowment growth, and I think we have a really cool opportunity to educate folks about endowments,” Barger says. “This campaign will help us help others understand the perpetuity aspect, and it also gives us an opportunity to grow.”

In their own words

Why do you serve?

Finley river cf portraits elise crain

“I think over our 22 years now, we’ve broadened the horizons of a lot of community people to understand and see a bigger picture than what’s going on between now and dark. We’ve expanded a lot of horizons of board members and helped them develop and grow and be significant parts of the community in other ways.”

—Elise Crain, FRCF president elect

Finley river cf portraits jackie barger

“It’s personal on a couple of levels: Family and opportunities for kids, but then also helping nonprofit organizations succeed and flourish. All of those things are important to me.”

—Jackie Barger, FRCF board member

Finley river cf portraits karen miller

“A big chunk of my reason is because I have a scholarship. I always try to say to students, ‘You’re getting this money. Now, when you are in a position to do so, you return the favor to somebody else. You also start a different scholarship.’”

—Karen Miller, FRCF board member

“For me, personally, it’s just a way to give back. I don’t have the money to give (large donations). But we have the ability to give a grant. It’s very warm to be able to do that. But we do work for it — it’s not like we just sign the check.”

—Janis Creek, FRCF board member

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