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It may seem as though Matthew Jones is never truly off the clock.
In his dual positions as youth specialist at the Missouri Division of Youth Services and as family advocate at OACAC Head Start, there are plenty of demands on his time.
But still, he keeps finding the inspiration for new ways to solve lingering problems.
Jones says it takes patience.
“Working in the field of service, we may not see the result of our work with kids and families immediately. Growth and success is a process for us all,” he says.
He offers an example of a 4-year-old girl who asked him why his skin was darker than hers. After a laugh, he told her that’s just the way God made him and really, he’s no different than she is.
“You may ask how this is a success. In my eyes, I was probably the first person of color she ever met or talked to. The success is showing her that no matter your color or differences, we are all the same,” he says.
Another example is a father who found the courage to ask for parenting advice. The third is a woman who was working on setting goals for herself and her family.
“In our conversation, she mentioned she would like to work with young kids. I suggested to her to apply for a substitute position at our Head Start center,” Jones says of the early childhood education work through Ozarks Area Community Action Corp. “She followed my recommendation, was hired for the substitute position and recently has been hired on as a permanent part-time position.”
As a family advocate at OACAC, he persuaded Pizza Hut to partner with Head Start for a monthly contest. The program rewards children who complete and turn in their homework by awarding two personal pizzas each month. For the Missouri Division of Youth Services, he created a Family Night program in which students and families dine together and participate in various activities.
Outside of work, Jones has served as a youth soccer coach for more than 20 years and has organized community service projects for his teams. For example, they implemented a food pantry at Nixa Head Start and marched together on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Jones also created It Takes a Village Youth and Family Organization, a nonprofit that has provided trips for kids to St. Louis Cardinals baseball games. Its youth football team, the Springfield Ravens, played at the Dallas Cowboys stadium in the Red Zone games and have gone to see a University of Missouri football game. He’s also spearheaded clothing drives.
Now just six years from retiring from his state job, Jones is looking to the future but slowing down doesn’t appear to be part of his vision.
“I hope to accomplish providing a resource center for families, being a sounding board, providing a place where people can grow and feel they are not alone,” Jones says. “I am currently developing a program called Reach 1 Teach 1, which is an early prevention mentorship program. … It is my goal to establish the program in Springfield and then take that model to other communities.”
Downtown flower shop Funky Flaura’s Unique Floral Designs LLC opened; Jordan Valley Community Health Center moved in Republic; and The Jackson Grille got its start in Marshfield.
Matthew (MJ) Jones does an outstanding job connecting with and supporting our OACAC Head Start families as they work towards self-sufficiency! I'm so excited to see him receive this honor and the recognition he absolutely deserves!