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Leading Locally: Ozark Foothills Regional Community Foundation

Based in Poplar Bluff, the OFRCF serves residents across nearly 3,400 square miles of Missouri — an area about twice the size of Rhode Island

Affiliate foundations

Foundation serves five Missouri counties

A five-county area of south-central Missouri shifts from rolling hills to flat land — but is linked by needs common among rural areas, a number of which are served through the Ozark Foothills Regional Community Foundation.

Representing Butler, Carter, Reynolds, Wayne and Ripley counties, the OFRCF was established in 2011 as the charitable arm of the Ozark Foothills Regional Planning Commission. The foundation has distributed more than $791,837 back to the community and holds assets totaling $2,108,771 as of June 2023.

“We’re a rural area, so financial planners and certain professionals are pretty hard to find,” says Russell French, president of the OFRCF’s board of directors. “We’ve had other boards or other entities that were trying to do similar things. But they didn’t have the administrative support that we have. That is a huge opportunity for us, so we’re a lot more active — and are able to be active — because of that.”

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The Ozark Foothills Regional Community Foundation serves a largely rural, five-county area of Missouri.

Since its inception, the OFRCF has distributed funds to a range of needs — such as transportation, nutrition and improvement of public spaces — throughout the largely rural area.

“Working with the planning commission has helped us identify some needs because we do serve a wide, large region,” French says. “We’re able to connect with certain entities because they’re already working with the planning commission so that helps a little bit.

“We try to have representation from all five counties on the board, so each board member brings something to the table in identifying those needs.”

Some of those needs and organizations the OFRCF has served include Ripley County Resource Ministries, a Doniphan-based group that leads monthly distributions of food, diapers and baby wipes to households in need; the Timothy Foundation, a nonprofit working to establish a food bank in Poplar Bluff; the community of Doniphan, where OFRCF funded improvements to the city park; and through purchasing school supplies for local students.

“I would say that our primary focus has been on providing support to small organizations that don’t have large budgets. We help them provide direct services to the community, mostly to alleviate poverty symptoms, nutritional insecurity and other issues that are common,” says Rebeca Pacheco, a board member of the OFRCF.

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The Naylor Nutrition Center received $14,303 from the Louis L. and Julia Dorothy Coover Charitable Foundation in 2022 to upgrade its kitchen with new equipment.

The foundation can also serve as a connection point between grant opportunities and local organizations. An example is shown through the Louis L. and Julia Dorothy Coover Charitable Foundation, which distributed more than $53,000 in 2022 to improve the services of senior centers in the affiliate’s footprint.

Another point of support is simply by providing an umbrella for local nonprofits. The OFRCF currently holds funds for nearly 20 organizations in the area, which support causes from history to health care.

This support extends to new nonprofit groups as they wait for federal approval on their charitable status. By establishing a fund with the ORFCF and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, nonprofit startups can use the CFO’s 501(c)3 status to receive charitable gifts until they secure their own.

That was the case for Friends of the Carter County Courthouse, whose members are working to restore and transform the county’s former cobblestone courthouse in Van Buren into a welcome center.

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The Friends of the Carter County Courthouse nonprofit group is leading the effort to remodel and transform the native-rock structure into a local welcome center.

“We were not a 501(c)3 when we started our fund, and we were trying to solicit donations,” says Pacheco, who serves as president of the courthouse’s friends’ group. “(Being affiliated with the CFO) was very helpful in our initial getting off the ground and collecting donations in the community. It also made us a little bit more trustworthy, I think, when we were a young, all-volunteer board. To be affiliated with the CFO gave us some legitimacy when we started approaching people.”

Those services are something which board members would like to help spread the word.

“I think it’s important that we let people know what it is,” says Ryan Ainley, who recently joined the board. He became acquainted with its work after his family began the Reese Ainley Foundation in memory of his daughter. “First and foremost, what it is and who it’s for, and then what can it help you accomplish.”

Looking to the future: Increased awareness

As the OFRCF continues to grow, it’s considering new options for fundraising. Board members also plan to continue working with local donors to increase awareness of the foundation and how they can be involved in local philanthropic efforts.

Options include donor-advised funds, which allow individuals or families to distribute money to charitable causes they support; scholarship funds, to help support local students into the future; or by simply contributing to the foundation’s community grantmaking endowment. In addition to money, the OFRCF also accepts assets like stock, real estate and livestock.

There are also individualized opportunities to help, such as a recent moment when an anonymous donor volunteered to match funding for a community project.

In their own words

Why do you serve?

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“It’s kind of a way that I can give back to the community. I’ve lived my whole life here, my parents were raised in this area, and my children all live within the five counties that we’re talking about. It’s a way for me to give back that, without participating in the foundation, I probably wouldn’t be able to otherwise.”

—Russell French, OFRCF board president

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“For me, it’s about building partnerships and collaborations, and just a commitment to bringing as many resources as possible into our region to improve the quality of life for the people who live here.”

—Rebeca Pacheco, OFRCF board member

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“We have a nonprofit of our own, and so I started taking special interest in (charitable work). I never knew this group existed. Once I spoke to them and learned what they were doing, I wanted to be a part of it.”

—Ryan Ainley, OFRCF board member

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