Mar 30, 2022

College of the Ozarks hosts 2022 S. Truett Cathy Poverty Summit

POINT LOOKOUT, MO. — The Keeter Center for Character Education at College of the Ozarks hosted the 2022 S. Truett Cathy Poverty Summit on Friday, March 25. The Summit has taken place at College of the Ozarks for over a decade. Special presentations provided inspiration and the backdrop for area educators, business leaders, community members, and students to learn and share. The free event was held in the Royal Oak Forum in The Keeter Center.

The itinerary for the day included a welcome by Dr. Sue Head, vice president for cultural affairs and dean of character education at College of the Ozarks.

“College of the Ozarks is proud to take a leadership role in hosting the annual S. Truett Cathy Poverty Summit as a gathering space for ministries, agencies, schools, medical professionals, and churches to learn about the latest efforts to alleviate poverty,” Head said.

Shalae Harris, state network director for Unite Us (Kansas and Missouri) and Tyler Long, co-founder of Transformation Ozarks, gave presentations at the Summit.

Harris shared about an effective collaboration and communication tool used across the country to foster collaboration among non-profits. Through Unite Us, community members can build and scale a coordinated care network, track outcomes together, identify service gaps and at-risk populations, and empower members of the community to take ownership of their own health.

“There is impressive work being done in the Ozarks around poverty and sincere and hardworking efforts,” Harris said. “The need that was realized from the summit today was the need for greater and widespread collaboration. We believe that Unite Us can help build the infrastructure for the collaborative communication and to help the community build a unifying infrastructure for a network in the SW MO area to serve the community more efficiently and effectively to bring a healthier Ozarks region.

Long spoke about a new organization, Transformation Ozarks, which is a collaboration of area non-profits, including Ozark Mountain Country Cares. Transformation Ozarks unifies and rallies the efforts and resources from all streams of influence in the community to bring about real and enduring change for the people who live in the Ozarks.

“The streams of influence are business, faith, media, education, healthcare, sports, arts, government, and we've added one in our area, non-profits,” Long said. “Our goal, again, is to get two to three representatives from each of these streams. We want to get as wide of a perspective as we can, as many voices in the group as possible because we all have a sphere of influence and we all have the ability to rally, group, and unify people towards action.”

During the Poverty Summit, A progress report was given based on “A Roadmap for Action on Poverty,” which was first presented at the 2020 Poverty Summit. Since the last meeting, concerned community members came together to form Ozark Mountain Country Cares, a non-profit organization. Edd Akers serves as executive director and guides the efforts of community members who serve as work group “champions” and focus on the five areas of concern in our region:

•               Sustainable Employment/Jobs

•               Affordable Housing

•               Life Skills and Training

•               Reliable Transportation

•               Mobilizing a Caring Community

The work group champions lead groups of passionate residents who want to help address these issues.

“Today we heard from various community leaders who serve as work group champions addressing the difficult issues in our community, including the need for affordable housing, reliable transportation, developing job skills, and sustainable employment,” Head said. “The fifth work group focuses on mobilizing a caring community. We also learned about the Unite Us platform to connect the non-profits, schools, and medical professionals and Transformation Ozarks initiative, which includes a visit by #1 bestselling leadership expert John Maxwell on May 10.”

Head said it is important for C of O students to be exposed to these types of discussions regarding poverty in our region.

“I was thrilled to see C of O students in the audience and was touched that during the Q&A eagerly asked how they could get involved,” she said.

A firm foundation

Research states that that most successful way out of poverty is through education and relationships. On average, over half of the children in Taney County qualify for free and reduced lunch, and in some districts, the number is closer to 90 percent. In keeping with the College of the Ozarks founding mission of helping those in need, The Keeter Center for Character Education has taken a leadership role in education churches, community members, ministries, teachers, and helping agencies with effective strategies for reaching out and lifting up those in the area who are stuck in generational and situational poverty.

The first S. Truett Cathy Poverty Summit, hosted by the Center in February of 2007, drew a crowd of nearly 500, despite the snow. Since then, the Summit has served as a learning model over the years for over 2,000 participants and continues to provide opportunities to gain understanding and practical tools for helping our neighbors in need more effectively.