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Leading Locally: Nevada/Vernon County Community Foundation

Vernon County, in the largely agricultural area of west central Missouri, is home to a span of landmarks from Cottey College, a women’s college founded in 1884, to the White Grill, said to be the birthplace of Suzi Q curly fries.

Affiliate Foundations

Working to serve on the edge of the Ozarks

Vernon County has literally imprinted its story on the history of the world through pressed-tin ceiling tiles, made in its county seat of Nevada, that are shipped all over the world.

It’s also steeped in history as a hub for folks seeking a better life. An example is its Weltmer Institute — a center for magnetic healing in the early 1900s — and as a place for mental health treatment in the context of the day.

In the Civil War, the town was known as the Bushwhacker capital of the country; today, its oldest building is said to be its Bushwhacker Jail. The “Bushwhacker” moniker ties to when Nevada was known for folks who resisted the Union occupation of the border counties. They were the ones known as Bushwhackers — and today, an annual festival has long recognized that local history, which includes the town being burned to the ground in 1863.

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Nevada's Bushwhacker Jail is said to be the oldest building in town, and functioned as a jail from 1860 until 1960. One of few buildings in Nevada not destroyed during the Civil War, it's now open to the public as part of the Bushwhacker Museum.

But in a split from its past, the Vernon County of today seeks a unified future and common goals for the community. It remains a largely agricultural area — but one with growth due to its low cost of living, and location at a central point between Kansas City, Joplin and the Kansas state line.

Fueling positive momentum is also a cause championed by the Nevada/Vernon County Community Foundation.

“I feel like people are catching on,” says Amy Bishop, foundation coordinator for the NVCCF. “I feel like they’re kind of like, ‘Hey, why have we never thought of this place before?’”

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Nevada is the seat of Vernon County, which is located along the Missouri-Kansas state line.

One of more than 50 regional affiliates connected with the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, the NVCCF began in 2020. Despite its recent start, the affiliate has distributed more than $250,000 in grants from its funds to its service region and has total assets of $962,497.

“We just went out and talked to individuals, and told them what we were trying to accomplish,” says Greg Hoffman, president of the NVCCF. “The community was very generous, and we raised $30,000 in a pretty short period of time, just from word of mouth, connections, and the board members participating in raising that additional money.”

The funding has supported causes like those related to children — such as a backpack program that provides food for those in need — and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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One of Nevada's claims to fame is Cottey College, a women's college which dates to 1884.

A key focus of the NVCCF is providing an umbrella for local nonprofits: “That’s been a big help for us because several organizations have come in under our umbrella, specifically because we could provide in the 501(c)3 status,” says Hoffman.

New pickleball courts, tennis courts and basketball courts are also an early project of the foundation, which is supported by a matching grant from the Patterson Family Foundation. The first stage — the outdoor basketball courts — is already underway.

“We, as a board, decided that we wanted to give something back to the community — really kind of establish that we’re here and yes, we can help with 501(c)3s, but also we can help to make our community better,” Bishop says.

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Vernon County remains a largely agricultural area.

Another focus is its giving circle. Called the Phil, it allows community members to contribute an annual amount — dues most recently were $1,000 per individual, $1,500 for a couple and $2,000 for a business — which in turn are distributed to community causes members decide by vote. In 2023, it led to $30,000 in grants to three different organizations in Vernon County.

“We feel like it was a huge success. We were excited, we were new, we just kind of went with it, didn’t look back or think about how it should go or could go,” Bishop says. “I think it was very successful. Now we have 26 members and have a goal of at least doubling that for this next year.”

And those folks — and the greater community — show support when it’s needed most.

“I think it’s a very supportive community for people who just deal with life,” says Steve Russ, a board member for the NVCCF and a local pastor. “I appreciate that. I get to see that happen to a lot of families, different non-recovery-type situations — perhaps they have a sudden loss of life, or cancer. Those kinds of things.

“Our community does a really good job rallying the troops and coming to people’s aid. That’s something I see.”

Looking ahead: Greater awareness and continued growth

Less than three years since its start, a priority for the NVCCF is greater awareness throughout the area, about what the foundation is, but also what opportunities it offers.

“We’re still educating the community about what the Community Foundation is, and what it can do,” Hoffman says. “That’s part of why we wanted to do the basketball courts — something visible, and getting some publicity through the Phil. Then, every year, if we can add another 25 Phil members, that’s 25 more people that are aware of the Community Foundation, and we just keep growing it organically from that.”

Beyond causes and funds, another option leaders of the NVCCF want to share is how they can help local nonprofits, civic efforts and organizations — including ones that aren’t able to accept tax-deductible contributions on their own.

“We’ve been able to open up funds for the Elks, Lions and Rotary so they can accept donations, and they be tax-deductible,” says Hoffman of civic organizations that do not fall into traditional nonprofit status. “I think being a resource in the community is one of our biggest assets, and then having CFO as our back office and resource is amazing. They are truly remarkable.”

In their own words

Why do you serve?

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“I couldn’t have asked for a better place to have my business. I’m just very happy to be able to give back to the community that’s been so good to me.”

Greg Hoffman, NVCCF president

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I grew up here, I went to the same school that my children went to, I ate at the McDonald’s. This is my home. This is everything I’ve always wanted to do. Every single thing that I’ve done in my journey of life has really led me to this point: the connections that I’ve made and the experiences that I’ve had — they’ve all led to this.”

Amy Bishop, NVCCF coordinator

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“I have ties to the recovery community, and so I get to see the folks who don’t have and struggle. That’s kind of my angle of joining — just the opportunity for organizations that might have a hard time getting started or needing an extra $10,000 or whatever to help people. I just thought this would be a really good fit for me.”

Steve Russ, NVCCF board member

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