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CFO Stories

Springfield City YEP returns to action with focus on mental health

May 10, 2022

Students present $2,500 grants to Rare Breed, Eden Village

After a pandemic-induced hiatus, the Springfield City chapter of the Youth Empowerment Project is back to its good work. On May 10, members Elizabeth Tynes and Avery Swisshelm, both graduating seniors at Springfield Catholic High School, presented grants totaling $5,000 to the Rare Breed Youth Services drop-in center and the Eden Village tiny-home development. The agencies were selected not only for their support of individuals experiencing homelessness, but specifically for efforts to improve the mental health of their clients — a theme for the Springfield City chapter’s charitable focus this year.

“I feel like we’ve seen a lot more issues since COVID happened, especially in our school,” Tynes says. Adds Swisshelm: “We figured that other people in our community are probably struggling with that issue, too.

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From left to right: Elizabeth Tynes, senior at Springfield Catholic High School and member of the Springfield City YEP chapter; Nate Schlueter, chief visionary officer at Eden Village; Avery Swisshelm, senior at Springfield Catholic High School and member of the Springfield City YEP chapter; and Ashley Fleming, program coordinator at the CFO.

In lieu of an April fundraising event scuttled by COVID, the chapter — which includes members from each of the public high schools in town, as well as Springfield Catholic and Greenwood Laboratory schools — assembled and distributed more than 250 mental health bags to their respective schools. The drawstring totes contained a variety of self-care items — tea bags and honey sticks, fidget spinners, small plushies, puzzles and games — for students to use when they’re feeling anxious or depressed.

The mental health focus reflects how each YEP chapter takes its own approach to giving back to the community. As the CFO’s program to teach young people the tenets of philanthropy, YEP has about 30 chapters in high schools across the Ozarks. Each chapter, with support from a school sponsor, plans out its own activities for volunteering, fundraising and giving back to community organizations. For many years, the YEPO chapter in Ozark hosted an annual talent show. In St. James, the local YEP chapter operates the Firehouse Coffee Shop as an afterschool hangout. In the early days of the pandemic, Aurora’s YEP chapter received a COVID-19 Response and Recovery Grant to distribute food baskets to vulnerable community members.

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From left to right: Kathy Westmoreland, youth services coordinator at Rare Breed/The Kitchen Inc.; Bridget Dierks, vice president of programs at the CFO; Elizabeth Tynes, senior at Springfield Catholic High School and member of the Springfield City YEP chapter; Chris Ijames, director of development for the Kitchen Inc.; Avery Swisshelm, senior at Springfield Catholic High School and member of the Springfield City YEP chapter; and Ashley Fleming, program coordinator at the CFO.

While the Springfield City YEP chapter is regaining momentum, the impact of the program hasn’t waned. As Tynes and Swisshelm head off to college, they carry the lessons of community-based philanthropy with them.

“There are a lot more people out there that need help than I realized. I like learning about nonprofits and did a lot of work during my senior year with Lost and Found,” says Tynes, who will attend the University of Arkansas in the fall. “I’d like to get involved like that down in Fayetteville.”

Similarly, Swisshelm says she’s learned to recognize opportunities for ways to help in the community. She plans to study biology at the University of Missouri, perhaps to pursue dentistry.

“A guy came in to speak to our class during career day that worked at Jordan Valley Community Health Center. He had a private practice before, but now helps people who don’t have health insurance get dental care, and I really like that idea,” she recalls. “If I do go to dental school, I want to do something like that.”

By Aaron Scott, Director of Communications and Marketing

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