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Leading Locally: Houston Community Foundation

Centered in a largely agricultural area, Texas County’s seat of Houston began in 1857. The community still celebrates the late Emmett Kelly — who grew up locally and became a clown of international fame — with a park named in his honor and a festival every spring.

Affiliate Foundations

Texas County affiliate serves the seat of Houston and the surrounding area

It all began with a grant to the Texas County Library. That $200, celebrated with a giant check and note in the newspaper, was made in 2007 and less than a year after the Houston Community Foundation’s official start. Since then, more than $500,000 has served locals starting in Houston, but radiating out through the greater Texas County area.

“When there’s a good cause in this community, this community steps up to help,” says Board Member Jim McNiell. “That’s been one of the things with the Houston Community Foundation — we’re trying to look for those areas where we can help others and give our resources out to help those needs.”

The funding benefits the community through grants and scholarships — on the latter, the foundation's board members choose three students to support annually — and through events, such as the Emmett Kelly Clown Festival, held in memory of one of the town’s most famous sons.

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Houston's Emmett Kelly Clown Festival honors the late famed clown who grew up in the area.

“We’ve been working more on making people aware of the opportunities to get funds to help their organizations,” says Board Member Dee Dee Dunn, giving the basketball tournament as an example. She also shares efforts to help spread the word about available grant funding, and future work to educate potential donors about possibilities for leaving a local legacy.

“Now we’re kind of switching and connecting with people who might establish a grant or scholarship and talk to them about the benefits of that and what we can bring to the table to help them with that,” Dunn continues. “It’s really interesting to get people to think: ‘Okay, this community that has been so good for you and has helped to get you where you are. What do you want it to remember you for?’”

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History lives in downtown Houston, where murals showcase parts of the past.

The HCF’s annual fall grant round benefits local organizations, which in the past has included the Texas County Food Pantry, and the local efforts of the Child Advocacy Center. When the Melba Performing Arts Center — built in 1938 as the Melba Theater and restored in 2017 — needed repairs after a hailstorm years ago, the HCF also helped provide funding.

“It’s been refurbished, renovated, and events are held there,” says Board President Ross Richardson of the landmark in Houston’s downtown district.

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The Melba Performing Arts Center is located in downtown Houston. After flooding damaged the facility, the HCF provided funding for its repair.

A native of Texas County, Richardson moved home after retirement and became one of a small group who helped revitalize the HCF a few years ago after a period of dormancy. In 2022, he was chosen for the Stanley Ball Leadership Award, an annual honor bestowed by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks on one of its affiliate presidents.

From his position, Richardson has also helped develop relationships with local nonprofits and common causes. Just one example takes the HCF back to its roots: The affiliate recently shared its support for the construction of a new county library branch in Houston.

“We were one of 15 entities that wrote a letter of support to the state to get funding for the library. We work like that, too,” says Richardson. “We’re truly blessed with our group. We work together and we seek common goals.”

A current example of that collaboration is seen through the aforementioned basketball tournament. Years ago, it was suggested that a donation bin be placed during the event to collect nonperishable food items for the Texas County Food Pantry. It was such a success that it led to lasting change.

“The schools worked with us on having that donation site there year-round,” Richardson says. “That’s another benefit that we have with the food pantry is the collection of foodstuffs.”

Looking forward: Expanding awareness

As the HCF’s members look to the future, a goal is expanding local awareness and understanding of the affiliate’s presence, as well as the opportunities it offers for both giving and receiving support. 

“I think giving — something that will outlast you — appeals to a lot of us established families like mine,” says Board Member David Keeney, who has deep local roots. 

That sentiment leads to a goal: Educating local residents about options for donations — and the fact that they don’t need to be made by cash or check. Some of that education will be done at future information sessions, while other conversations will happen one-on-one. 

“We’ve got a lot of farmers out there, and we need to share that you don’t need just money to donate, you can donate a cow, you can donate a horse, you can donate land,” Richardson says, a fact of relevance in the largely agricultural area. "I think there's a lot of people out there that would like to leave a legacy in Houston, but just unaware of what avenues they have."

In their own words

Why do you serve?

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“We’re truly blessed with our group, and we work together towards common goals.”

—Ross Richardson, HCF president

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“I saw where I had some talents I could bring to this board. I also liked that hopefully some of these younger women, other women, would see that women can be on a board like this as well. I like that.”

—Dee Dee Dunn, HCF board member

Houston cf portraits david keeney

“This was kind of an opportunity for me to kind of give back, and I just felt that need. I think, in this community, we feel that’s important.”

—David Keeney, HCF board member

Houston cf portraits jim mcniell

“Locals see the good work, but they really don’t know what we’re all about. We’re reaching out to people to educate, and I see that as very important. I just see the program growing, and I’m glad to be part of it.”

—Jim McNiell, HCF board member

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