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One Part of the Grantmaker's Challenge for Children: The ECHO Project

In this segment, we look at one of the numerous projects funded through the CFO's Grantmakers Challenge for Children: the ECHO project.

I'm Jennifer Moore. Welcome to "Making A Difference Where You Live," our quarterly series focusing on how philanthropy and volunteerism meet the needs of the communities around us. Support for this series comes from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

Today on Making a Difference, we're looking back over the past five years at the “Grantmakers Challenge for Children.” That was a five-year effort that addresses several so-called “Red Flags” in our community—many of which dealt with children. The challenge was issued by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, or CFO; and it was met by 35 different organizations, funds and families who, collectively, gave over 22 million dollars to meet these needs.

Today, we’re going to focus on just one of those projects within that overall challenge; the ECHO project. ECHO stands for Enhancing Children’s Health Opportunities, and CFO provided 1 million dollars over five years to fund this project, which had several facets.

“Generally, Campbell is the site of about 200 students, and I have a 95% poverty rate. With a high poverty rate come some interesting challenges that come with the kids, and educating them," says "J." Anderson, principal at Campbell Elementary School in central Springfield.

Springfield Public Schools received part of that money to put full-time counselors in Title-One schools that only had a part-time counselor.

At Campbell Elementary, that counselor is Dr. Scott Morrison. When we talked on the phone Friday morning, he already had a list of nine students who had come to him that day saying they needed to talk.

"If they have a big issue, sometimes that may hang with them for 30 minutes, an hour, or an hour and a half. And then, academically, they’re behind by that much,” Morrison said.

And today’s elementary school counselors, he said, put out a wide range of fires in kids’ lives, especially in schools with a high poverty rate.

"I can help some of these students who are, maybe, weepy when they come to school because they’ve had a fight with a brother or sister, or maybe their families are in turmoil. We have students who are classified as homeless. So we have a lot of issues going on that we don’t think about. And when they enter these doors…as adults, we’re pretty good at leaving our emotions on the doorstep and them attempting to focus and function appropriately, or professionally. Students have a hard time doing that,” Morrison says.

ECHO also allowed Missouri State University students through the Institute for School Improvement to come tutor kids after school and collect data on intervention programs like this one.

It also let clinicians from Burrell Behavioral Health spend time in the schools doing play therapy with the kids.

And another part of ECHO has been the evening parenting classes that it helped fund.

[SOUND: Children playing on Robberson Elementary playground]

Here at Robberson Elementary School, which is the other Title-I school involved with ECHO, the kids are living it up on the playground. Inside, LeeAnn Camey is busy preparing for another round of parenting classes. She helps coordinate the classes through the Community Partnership of the Ozarks.

The classes allow parents to come learn about relationships, love in the home, and budgeting.

“Like right now, we have a family who lives at the Missouri Hotel. The child goes to school here, and they walk from the hotel to come here for the Parent-Ed class,” Camey said.

Parents and kids share a meal first, then childcare is provided free of cost while the parents attend the class.

"We have seven kids,” says Mary Lee, who’s attended three sets of the free classes.

Most of her seven kids are aged seven and under. She stays at home with them while her husband works two jobs—one at a hardware store, and at nights as a pizza delivery man.

[SOUND: Young children playing with blocks]

On this day, she’s brought two of her younger children, ages three and four, to the school because she’s brought cupcakes for her 1st grade daughter’s birthday.She says the parenting classes have allowed her and her husband to get on the same page when it comes to parenting, and that they’ve taught her how to have more patience with her kids.

“Well, I think sometimes we expect more out of our kids than what they’re able to give. And I mean, they are just little. They are only capable of doing what they can for their age. Sometimes we expect them to grow up a little bit faster than they should. And so I really think it’s just helped us realize that they are kids, and we need to instill the best skills into them that we can so they can grow up to be good adults,” she said.

The ECHO project was one of dozens of projects funding through the Grantmakers Challenge for Children.

The overall effort was created to address the red flags found in the Community Focus Report from several years ago.

Now, local organizations are looking ahead to the next Community Focus Report, which will identify current red flags and blue ribbons in our community. That report is expected to be released in early fall.

This has been Making a Difference Where you Live. I’m Jennifer Moore.