After reading up on the Discovery Center of Springfield Inc.’s financial woes, Rob Blevins wanted to help.
He got his chance when the executive director position became available, and in early 2018, he became the third leader of the nearly three-decade-old nonprofit. Prior to his arrival, the downtown center posted annual operating losses totaling nearly $2 million from 2012-16.
“Despite knowing what challenges the center was facing, I said yes,” he says. “Not one paycheck has been skipped — not even my own. We have increased general admission and membership by double digits after years of double-digit declines, and to me, these numbers are the canary in the mine.”
Noting more recent operating results have not been finalized and audited, Blevins says revenue was up 15% during the first half of 2019. Membership grew by 66% during that time compared with the first half of 2018, and a new gallery with a science-themed mini-golf course was added.
“The financial health is stabilizing and we’re growing,” he says. “Being able to take a culture of people that were used to losing and helping them get used to winning again has been humbling while also one of my proudest moments as a leader.”
Blevins also has helped expand the mission of the Discovery Center after getting the green light for nearly $500,000 in tax credits through the Missouri Department of Economic Development. The goal: build and run a science, technology, engineering and math inspired opioid education program. Blevins says the program is designed to teach some 10,000 residents in Springfield and Greene County about the science behind opioids and prescriptions.
“We are the only science center in the world that is trying to help fight the opioid epidemic,” Blevins says. “It is also quite possible that the entire nation will be looking to the Discovery Center’s model for teaching kids about how to use prescriptions and opioids safely.”
A January announcement was attended by Gov. Mike Parson, as well as Elijah Haahr and Crystal Quade, state House majority and minority speakers, respectively.
Haahr says Blevins’ work at the Discovery Center is putting Springfield on the map.
“What makes Springfield unique? It’s the people like Rob Blevins who revolutionize and revitalize one area of our city,” Haahr says.
Formerly vice president of community engagement for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks, Blevins’ passion to help and educate children was born of his own firsthand experiences as a kid growing up in situational and generational poverty.
His mother was a stay-at-home parent of eight children, and his dad contributed the household’s sole income as a repairman. Blevins says he was able to escape the cycle of poverty, and he’s now seeking to pay it forward.
“I have devoted my life to helping kids right here in the Ozarks,” Blevins says.
Ariake Sushi and Robata opened; Great Southern Bancorp Inc. (Nasdaq: GSBC) opened its newest branch in Springfield; and a longtime employee with City Utilities of Springfield went into business for himself with the launch of Van Every Drafting & Design LLC.