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Springfieldians commit resources to Nicaragua

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I often say I have the best job in town, and here are some reasons why.

It's heartwarming to hear about Springfield volunteers and philanthropists and agency leaders giving their time, money and brainpower in our community, and sometimes their efforts even extend to Third World countries.

Good friend Anne Johnson just returned from Keith and Karen Jaspers Rainbow Network spring visit to Nicaragua the poorest country in Central America recently devastated by Hurricane Mitch.

This was crippling to a country that has never recovered from a previous natural disaster, an earthquake that destroyed most of the capital city of Managua in 1973. The Springfield group was present for the dedication of a second comarco (mini-village or community), made possible by contributions to the Rainbow Network.

Each comarco provides 15 houses, each holding an average of seven family members representing several generations. The recipient families, along with community volunteers, are responsible for the construction of the houses, with assistance from the Rainbow construction foreman.

Selection of the families is done by a peer family council, based on need.

While there, the Jaspers group also visited a church preschool in Leon funded by the East Grand Church of Christ in Springfield. The local church sends a team to Nicaragua annually to help with its adopted Nicaraguan church's projects.

Closer to home, there is a collaborative effort afoot among local agencies involved with feeding the hungry to benefit from the national Feinstein Foundation's second annual million dollar challenge grant.

The campaign is called March Against Hunger, and every dollar contributed to a participating agency in March will trigger a grant from the Feinstein Foundation. The amount will be determined by the number of agencies around the country participating.

Jim Harriger of Springfield Victory Mission gave me an update on the campaign, and it looks like at least $138,000 was raised locally by the collaborative group, which comprises Springfield Victory Mission, Crosslines, Ozarks Food Harvest and The Kitchen.

This is a splendid example of the kind of collaboration needed to sustain vital services.

And finally, I'll tell a little heartwarming news of my own. Community Foundation made its first grants from its new grant program in which the dollar cap on requests was removed, among other changes. We were pleased to have the opportunity to put the Springfield Skatepark Project in a "Go" position with a $25,000 grant so that construction can begin this spring. The request came under the category of "emergency-out of cycle" because there is a grant pending for the project if construction can begin this spring.

To the kids who have been working three years to raise the money, to City Council who gave $10,000 toward the project, to the pending grantmaker, and to all the individual contributors who brought the drive this far we're thrilled to have the chance to also help the kids of this community have a safe and supervised recreational facility and somewhere to go after school!

While our grant enables the project to begin, additional funds and in-kind donations are still needed to complete the project, according to Annette Weatherman, chief fund raiser and adviser to the skatepark kids.

Note: In my last column, a paragraph was omitted giving details about grants made locally by the William T. Kemper Foundation which is administered by Commerce Bank.

Its gift to Ozarks Public Television was the largest single grant in the history of the station at $250,000, and other significant grants have been made to Dickerson Park Zoo ($50,000), Ozarks Food Harvest, Springfield Community Center, the Discovery Center, Founders Park and the American Red Cross.

(Jan Horton is president and CEO of Community Foundation of the Ozarks. She is proud to be a lifelong volunteer, devotee of the arts, nature lover and environmentalist.)

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