Q&A: How the Northwest Project will benefit Springfield & Drury
The Community Foundation of the Ozarks announced Tuesday that a five-year grant for up to $1.3 million to address poverty in northwest Springfield will be awarded to a partnership led by Drury University, Missouri State University, and the Drew Lewis Foundation. The goal of The Northwest Project is to pilot strategies over a five-year period to help families overcome the challenges that have kept them living in poverty and sustain their long-term success in emerging from those circumstances.
Drury faculty and staff are excited by the possibilities for truly meaningful community engagement in the coming years. We asked Dan Prater, executive director of Drury’s Center for Nonprofit Leadership, and Ryan Gipson, director of Drury’s Office of Community Outreach and Leadership Development, to tell us more about DU’s role in this major initiative.
What is the Northwest Project in a nutshell?
Dan Prater: It’s a large-scale effort to move people out of poverty and into a stronger, more sustainable life. This is in response to decades of seeing groups working on poverty, but with very little change in the poverty rate in our region.
The CFO put out requests for proposals from local organizations that worked collectively to create a systematic process for assisting families. The MSU/Fairbanks/Drury alliance was the winning group. This project differs from previous efforts in that all participating agencies will be required to work in unison with other helping agencies, using consistent forms, and communicating with one another.
The Northwest Project is modeled after a program in Jacksonville, Florida called “1,000 in 1,000.” That project was a collective effort of area nonprofits and civic organizations that moved 1,000 people out of poverty in 1,000 days.
What role will Drury and the Center for Nonprofit Leadership play in the project?
Prater: The Center for Nonprofit Leadership will work side-by-side with Missouri State University’s Center for Community Engagement to provide all evaluation and assessment for the project.
The Drury CNL and MSU CEC team will conduct quantitative and qualitative analysis, providing to funders and participating agencies important information on the families’ progress or lack thereof. This will help explain the factors that caused some individuals/families to succeed, and what caused some to fail. This critical information will help shape future program delivery, giving nonprofit and civic leaders primary evidence regarding their services.
How will the community benefit from Drury’s involvement?
Ryan Gipson: Drury will also be using new community service tracking and marketing software as part of this grant. This will allow us to direct Drury students, faculty, and staff to service opportunities being held by the agencies involved in the grant. But the truly exciting part is that it will also allow us to market those opportunities to the Springfield community as a whole. Anyone in Springfield can log onto the general website, see any service opportunities available, and RSVP to volunteer.
We want to see this tool used across the entire Springfield community so that nonprofit agencies in the area can reach more people who want to volunteer.
What kinds of opportunities will Drury students have to be involved in the project?
Gipson: During the next five years, we will be directing nearly one-third of the service hours that students log through the Community Outreach and Leadership Development Office to nonprofit agencies that are participating in the Northwest Project grant. The grant also allows us to increase our VITA Tax Clinic capacity to help more families.
Anytime agencies have a need for volunteers, we will ensure it is marketed to Drury students. The Community Outreach and Leadership Development office will also plan special large-scale events with focuses in the Northwest area. We will encourage students to use the skills they’ve gained in the classroom to help in specialized areas of need such as architecture students assisting with the Habitat for Humanity projects that are part of the grant, to name just one possible example.
What are your hopes for the impact the project will have on our community?
Prater: We hope this project will have a clear, lasting impact on people in poverty. By providing people with the tools and resources they need, we hope to see immediate and long-term outcomes. Helping people with immediate needs can help them prepare for the future. The ripple effect will be felt by their entire family, and possibly for generations to come.