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2018 Men of the Year: Jason Brawner

Barnabas Foundation Inc.

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Last edited 3:18 p.m., Aug. 21, 2018

[Editor’s note: Jason Brawner resigned from his position at Barnabas Foundation Inc. on July 31. SBJ was informed after the Men of the Year publication went to print.]

Jason Brawner says Camp Barnabas attracts employees and volunteers with “hearts of service.” The same could be said about him, the CEO of Springfield-based Barnabas Foundation Inc.

In leading the annual camps for disabled individuals, Brawner says he emphasizes creating a culture where employees can thrive. He implemented an employee morale week every December, for example.

“Our team puts in a lot of hours during the summer months and we want to give them a chance to unwind, be creative, bond with each other and be poured into before the next camp season hits,” he says, adding that the week includes dance-offs, ice cream and paintball. “Opportunities like this have drastically reduced our turnover rate and dramatically increased efficiency.”

Even though Camp Barnabas’ numbers are growing – over 2,000 campers, 3,000 volunteers and 33 full-time employees – Brawner says he makes a point to get to know each employee by name in order to create a family culture. He also spends time with volunteers and visits with campers during camp season.

“I regularly dedicate a portion of my time each week to spending time on the phone with excited campers, listening directly to volunteers’ concerns and pouring into our Barnabas Prep students,” he says.

The organization’s campgrounds are in Purdy and on Table Rock Lake in Shell Knob.

In the past six years, Camp Barnabas’ annual operating revenue has grown to $4.3 million from $1.8 million.

Brawner says it was brought on by increasing fee revenue and donor contributions, in addition to doubling camper enrollment. It also took a lot of outside-the-box thinking.

“My goal is to constantly challenge how we can evolve our mission outside of a summer camp,” he says.

Some of the ways the nonprofit is doing that is through programs such as Barnabas Prep and Barnabas Life, in which young adults with disabilities can increase their skill sets and engage in therapy. Brawner recalls one student from the 2018 class who made exceptional strides.

“He started his time at Barnabas Prep essentially nonverbal,” he says. “With the love and mentorship of the prep staff and Zach’s commitment to the program, he was the chosen commencement speaker for this year’s graduating class.”

In the last eight years, the program has graduated 75 students. There are 20 students currently enrolled and 24 more on the waiting list for the fall.

Brawner also spends a lot of his time in volunteer roles outside of camp. He is a Missouri Army National Guard chaplain of nine years and also coaches the Springfield Lutheran School’s basketball teams for fifth and sixth grades.

At the end of the day, Camp Barnabas is all about influence, Brawner says, and it’s a code he also lives by as he strives to leave an impact on the lives he touches.

“Our philosophy, programs, activities and interactions are designed to break down barriers and show others that their assumptions about people who are different than them are actually just like them,” he says. “We want all those who come in contact with us to leave with a new perspective.”

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