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Five Questions: Morey Mechlin

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Morey Mechlin manages Care to Learn’s chapters, which are in Springfield, Ozark, Nixa and at Ozarks Technical Community College. The organization meets the immediate needs of school children, helping to supply items ranging from toothbrushes and clothing to vouchers for laundry services or transportation to doctor appointments. In the first two years of Care to Learn, Mechlin said the organization has fulfilled more than 25,000 requests. The 2010 budget for the Springfield chapter is $80,000.

Q: How does your career experience help in your role at Care to Learn?
A: Prior to this, for 10 years, I was executive director of the Foundation for Springfield Public Schools. I obviously worked very closely with the school district and the teachers and the principals. I have had opportunities in the community, served on the Mayor’s Commission for Children and as past president of Junior League, and I’ve been on the (Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce) board. I saw the growing need of poverty, what poverty is doing to our community. I have an interest in relieving that.

Q: Even though you haven’t been working for Care to Learn from the time Service World Computer Center co-founder Doug Pitt started it in 2008, you had a role in its beginnings. How did that come about?
A: Doug and I were both serving on the chamber board at the same time. The chamber does a wonderful thing as you are leaving the board. … They give every member an opportunity to talk about something that’s meaningful to them. … I took my five minutes and I talked about poverty. … I said, “Close your eyes, and put the image of your children and all their friends in your mind. Then put half of them in a wheelchair.” Everybody opened their eyes, and I said, “Poverty is handicapping our children. It is as debilitating as any disease, it limits their ability to achieve in their school. It has long-term ramifications.” Doug said he went home that evening, and he just couldn’t get it out of his mind.

Q: You knew the need going into this. Were you still surprised at the number of kids needing help?
A: It’s overwhelming. From the smallest need – a toothbrush so children don’t have to share – we’ve had a request for eyeglasses, hearing aids. They fall between the cracks. It’s not covered by their insurance, and they can’t afford it themselves. We have a lot of people right now between jobs, hopefully, and they need help.

Q: Is need among local students contained in particular areas of the city or more widespread?
A: If people think that poverty only exists in certain neighborhoods, they are not aware of what really is going on in this town. We have requests from every single school in town. Yes, some of our schools have more need than others. Some of the schools on the north side of town are at 80 (percent) and 90 percent free and reduced lunch. But it’s everywhere. And we want to help every single student who needs it. The good news – and there is good news – is that people in the Ozarks respond. People will surprise you. I ask for money, and I’m always surprised when somebody gives you a large check. Somebody you don’t expect will say, “Here, take care of it.”

Q: Care to Learn got its start with financial backing from Morris Oil Co. owner Jim D. Morris and the Jolie-Pitt Foundation and an anonymous donor. Have you ever met Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie?
A: I met Brad several years ago when he was in town helping the Boys and Girls Club with the premiere of “Meet Joe Black,” but unfortunately, I have never had the privilege of meeting Angelina.[[In-content Ad]]

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