Nova Center of the Ozarks Inc. is preparing to move next month to a 15,000-square-foot building that will serve as its new headquarters and largest facility in the Springfield nonprofit’s 30-year history.
The building at 1311 E. Woodhurst Drive is a few dozen steps across the street from its current 10,000-square-foot home for the past six years. The nonprofit, which provides residential, day program, behavioral and employment services for people with developmental disabilities, purchased the building earlier this year for an undisclosed price from Meek’s Lumber & Hardware, said Nova Center Executive Director Cheryl Cassidy.
“When they decided to sell that building, we really wanted it because we love this location,” she says of Woodhurst Drive, which is less than a mile from the Medical Mile on National Avenue.
Interior renovations, such as removing some walls as well as replacing sewer lines, are still in progress, she says. A mid-October move is planned.
Moving is expected to provide more room for staff as the nonprofit seeks to gradually expand service offerings for the roughly 100 clients it serves in Greene and Christian counties, Cassidy says. Clients typically are aided by Nova Center throughout adulthood, she says, noting current clientele ages begin in the early 20s up to 79 years old.
Nova Center was founded in 1992 by a group of parents experiencing a lack of services available for their children with autism, who were aging out of school. Cassidy says the parents reached out to the Missouri Department of Mental Health for help to start a five-person group home, adding Nova Center has contracted with the state agency for funding since the beginning.
Within a couple of years of its founding, Nova Center saw a need to expand services beyond those with autism and began adding clients with other developmental disabilities.
While Nova Center no longer has a group home, it does have 21 residences in the Springfield area it refers to as individualized supported living homes, Cassidy says. They typically are three-bedroom, two-bathroom houses in which two or three of its clients live. They are staffed 24 hours a day and Nova Center employees assist the residents with day-to-day tasks and activities.
“If Tuesday is laundry day, that’s what they help with,” she says, adding over 40 clients reside in the homes.
Staff also make sure clients who wish to be connected in the community can do so. That might mean participating in bowling leagues, a vocational program or volunteerism.
“We recognize that some people, particularly if they’re aging, they don’t want to do all of that. That’s OK, too,” she says. “We focus on the individual and what they want their life to be.”
Nova Center doesn’t own the homes, Cassidy says, adding the nonprofit leases them from local landlords for undisclosed rates and the clients pay the rent. She says the landlords also handle most major repairs, such as roof replacement and HVAC work, but Nova Center uses a handyman for minor projects.
“We take a lot of pride in them,” she says, adding the nonprofit hopes to add a couple more residences by next year.
For Nova Center’s day program, 10 clients come to its headquarters five days a week to participate in activities and learn independent living skills, as well as take community field trips. Cassidy says recent trips included a swim day at a city pool and a visit to The Butterfly Palace in Branson.
A dozen clients are enrolled in the nonprofit’s job services program, which she says began last year and includes career planning and supported employment assistance. With Nova Center’s help, four of them have found jobs with employers including Missouri State University and T.J. Maxx.
In June, Nova Center held the 17th annual Shoot Out for Autism event at Ozark Shooters Sports Complex in Walnut Shade. The event has raised nearly $300,000 since inception, including over $21,000 this year, and is the nonprofit’s lone fundraiser, Cassidy says.
Ozark Shooters manager Jordan Ellings-
worth says his staff handles registration and check-in for participants in the sporting clays tournament, while Nova Center gets sponsorships and supplies volunteers for activities such as a silent auction and raffles.
“What we see here and the dealings that we have with them, it seems like it’s an excellent organization,” he says, adding this year’s event had 140 participants, up from 130 in 2021.
Cassidy admits fundraising is not a strength of Nova Center and needs improvement, as roughly only 2% of its $7.2 million operating budget is from donations. The rest comes from state and federal funding.
“When you’re busy trying to meet the needs of the individuals that you serve, that doesn’t become your primary focus,” she says of fundraising.
Nova Center’s current headquarters doesn’t yet show any signs of an organization on the verge of changing locations. But the moving boxes aren’t far from making their appearance. Cassidy says the pending move should be Nova Center’s last for a long time.
“That’s really our goal and we hope to grow in there long term,” she says. “Our goal is to grow our day program to about 30 individuals on-site. We won’t do that real fast. We’ll incrementally add people as we try to have controlled growth.”
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