Skip to Main Content
CFO Stories

Leading Locally: Joplin Regional Community Foundation

The largest community in Jasper County gained fame through its location on Route 66 and Bobby Troup’s song by the same name — but it’s only one point of significance in its story, which dates to 1873

Affiliate profiles

Joplin affiliate unites local philanthropists for community causes

Joplin regional cf leading locally 16x9 4

Joplin, a city of more than 50,000 people on the western Ozarks, dates to the 1870s and is crossed by Route 66.

It was digging that built Joplin, a city near the Missouri-Kansas-Oklahoma state lines, when the zinc mining industry quickly grew the town into a city in the late 1800s. In a tragic twist of irony, nearly 150 years later, it was the destruction of a horrific tornado that led new generations to choose to build Joplin back — even better than before.

That mission ties in with the Joplin Regional Community Foundation, one of more than 50 affiliates of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. The JRCF’s founding in 2006 put infrastructure in place to accept contributions and grants for the city’s rebuilding after the devastating EF-5 tornado tore through town on May 22, 2011.

For some, that effort wasn’t only a common goal. It was a mission.

“Great organizations came in and volunteers came in — but I think there was this pride that ‘We’re not just going to sit around and wait for people to come in and save us. We’re going to help each other, get back on our feet, make a difference and rebuild,’” says Bryan Vowels, a board member for both the JRCF and the CFO. “I remember it was like we would be doing a disservice if we didn’t rebuild our community better than it was before to honor the 161 people who died.

“I think there’s a readiness with the community that says, ‘Hey, we’re not better than other people. But, by God, we can do this together.’ I think that does go over to philanthropy as well.”

Joplin anniversary 16x9

In May 2011, an EF-5 tornado destroyed much of Joplin. The decade-plus since has led community members to rebuild Joplin even better than it was before.

Since its inception, the JRCF has distributed $59 million back to the community, and has nearly 150 funds under its umbrella. The Joplin-based affiliate serves the communities of Webb City and Carl Junction through an annual grant round.

Beyond those grants from the affiliate’s endowments, it also has another means of giving back: The Philanthropic Society, or the Phil for short. The giving circle allows community members to contribute an annual amount — dues in 2023 were $2,500 per participant — which in turn are distributed to community causes members decide by vote.

To date, about $800,000 has been granted throughout the community via the Phil since its inception in 2019.

“The Phil is completely member driven,” says Pete Ramsour, foundation manager for the JRCF. “We try to have fun doing it.”

Ramsour also notes that despite the Phil’s success, there was a desire to expand — and use the high-impact giving model to develop new philanthropists in younger generations.

That desire led the JRCF to start Launch, a program in Joplin, Carl Junction and Webb City high schools. The JRCF allocates up to $10,000 for each school, which is distributed for local nonprofit causes — also based on students’ voting — and carries a match requirement.

“Our deal is if they raise $5,000, we’ll match it as much as $10,000,” says Ramsour.

Joplin regional cf leading locally 16x9 8

The Harry M. Cornell Complex for the Performing Arts opened in 2022. More than $19 million was raised through a capital campaign for its completion, which was administered through multiple funds held with the CFO and the JRCF.

The JRCF has also been a means to community capital projects, such as the Harry M. Cornell Complex for the Performing Arts. More than $19 million was raised through the capital campaign, which was administered through multiple funds held with the CFO and the JRCF. The arts facility opened in late 2022, and is home to Connect2Culture, Spiva Center for the Arts and the Beshore Performance Hall.

Another example is Jasper County CASA, which opened its new local headquarters in 2023. Others include the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s medical and dental campuses in Joplin, which are operated in partnership with Kansas City University.

“Growing up in Joplin, I think we always had a sense of community,” says Logan Stanley, president of the JRCF. “But I think in many ways what the tornado did indirectly was expand our horizons to better than we ever expected.

“It’s just really expanded what’s possible for our community, and then once that takes off and it gets some momentum, then all of a sudden, nothing is out of the realm of possibility. I think that flows to the philanthropy side as well. You just have to give people that vision or that hope or maybe an idea.”

Looking to the future: Expanding ways to be involved

Success through The Phil and Launch have led the JRCF to expand its giving-circle structure once again: This time, to Missouri Southern State University, where a version of The Phil launches in the fall of 2023.

These efforts are part of a mission of increasing awareness and opportunity for the next generations of philanthropists.

Another effort on the horizon is the JRCF’s Celebration of Philanthropy, an event that will recognize the good work being done locally, as well as the people helping make it happen through a hall of fame.

“We want people to be able to look up to mentors and say, ‘Wow, look at what George Spiva did,” says Vowels, speaking of the late local philanthropist who helped establish Joplin’s first arts center in 1958. “Look what all these great leaders have done in the past.

“The more successes we’ve had in the last 10 years, we start believing that we really, truly can change the world around us. We’ve got to start with the kids and then go all the way up.”

In their own words

Why do you serve?

Nancy Good 4x5

“I’ve been a part of the community for a long time and done a lot of things. Serving on the board gave me the window to focus what I wanted to do, and what I was dreaming of for our area. And I was getting close to retirement age, and so it was a place to hang my hat and be involved.”

—Nancy Good, JRCF board member

Louise Secker 4x5

“I was really excited to be on the board because I had seen the good work they were doing. It was meaningful for me to help make those decisions and educate the community about possibilities.”

—Louise Seeker, JRCF vice president

Logan stanley 4x5

“It really created an opportunity for me to give back. What I’ve learned from this is how impactful the work is that we’re doing — not only the foundation, but also support with our local nonprofits. It also really been such a part of fulfilling my purpose to make this community better. And then to do it with such outstanding people really is the cherry on top.”

—Logan Stanley, JRCF president

Bryan Vowels Portrait 4x5

“Being part of an organization that focuses on making a difference for the community — in the broad sense — is awesome.”

—Bryan Vowels, JRCF board member

Support our mission by becoming a donor today.

Donate Now