How United Way of the Ozarks Provides Hope for These 4 Locals

United Way of the Ozarks supports the Council of Churches of the Ozarks and KVC Missouri in bettering the lives of children and families in the Ozarks.

By Jordan Blomquist

Mar 2024

United Way of the Ozarks dedicates itself daily to improving the lives of individuals in the community by fostering unity and support. 


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The nonprofit directs investments to programs that serve as a safety net for families facing challenges and emphasize education. Through their efforts, they connect communities and individuals and instill hope.

United Way collaborates with a variety of partners to develop and implement community solutions. They work with nonprofits across southwest Missouri, including the Council of Churches of the Ozarks and KVC Missouri. These are just two of the organizations changing the lives of parents and children in Springfield, Missouri. While hundreds of people have benefited from these initiatives, 417 Magazine had the opportunity to speak with four individuals who directly experienced the positive outcomes of these programs. 

The Council of Churches Math & Reading Buddy Programs

The Council of Churches of the Ozarks (CCO) Math & Reading Buddy Programs utilize the experience and compassion of caring adults to inspire hope in children through tutoring and mentoring. 

CCO gives volunteers training, resources and support to tutor kindergarten through third-grade students in reading and first and second-grade students in math. Volunteers work one-on-one with students during the school day, boosting their confidence and skills. 

Currently, 288 students are paired with 134 math and reading buddy volunteers. The Reading Buddy Program is active in 31 schools in the Springfield, Fordland, Nixa, Willard and Republic school districts and is expanding to Highlandville and Marshfield this spring. The Math Buddy Program is active in Weller, Pittman and McGregor elementary schools in Springfield. Volunteers must attend training and pass volunteer requirements, including a background check, for the school district in which they would like to volunteer. 

United Way is providing hope and support in the Ozarks.
Steve Montgomery (left) and Vicki Newport (right) play learning games with their buddies through the Council of Churches buddy program.

Steve Montgomery

Council of Churches of the Ozarks Math Buddy

After Steve Montgomery retired in early 2020, it became easy for him to isolate at the height of COVID-19. To become more active, in 2022, Montgomery joined the Give 5 program—a five-week initiative with United Way—where he visited and learned about 22 charitable organizations. Eager to extend his impact, he decided he had the capacity for something more permanent. “I wanted to see the eyes of the person being helped, and I needed something with a regular schedule,” Montgomery says. Math buddies through CCO is a perfect fit. “Student math buddies are typically behind grade level in math,” Montgomery says. “We hope to build an encouraging, consistent relationship with our buddy and use games, activities and lessons to improve their math foundation.” 

Buddies meet two times a week for 30 minutes. Last year, Montgomery had two second-grade boys as buddies, and during their time they counted, wrote numbers and played games. “Each had a purpose,” Montgomery says. “I tried to plan each session to meet the likes and needs of each buddy.” This year, he is helping two young girls, who he says love stickers for a job well done. 

“The teachers, school staff, volunteers and the CCO team love and are passionate about the kids,” Montgomery says. “And I love being a math buddy.”   

Vicki Newport

Council of Churches of the Ozarks Math and Reading Buddy

Many years before retiring as a teacher, Vicki Newport began to feel God pulling at her heart to tutor young students who were falling behind. She has been a math buddy for three years and is in her first year as a reading buddy. Representatives from Council of Churches spoke about the programs at her church. “My perfect opportunity!” Newport says. 

Newport’s buddies come to their sessions with smiles and anticipation of fun and encouragement. She implements interactive stories, stacking cups, varied writing surfaces, a modified game of Dominoes and more into her teachings. “Anyone who has shared that moment when the light of understanding goes on experiences the thrill of teaching,” Newport says. “The idea is that this small infusion of knowledge and success can make a big difference in a child's life.” 

Get more info: For more information, visit or email

KVC Missouri

KVC Missouri was formed in April 2023 when Great Circle merged with KVC Health System. The nonprofit organization boasts a team of 800 compassionate members spread across the state dedicated to empowering families, preventing child abuse and neglect and promoting mental wellness. Because of KVC Missouri’s programs, a minimum of 200 children will receive shelter and basic needs and 5,000 nights of shelter will be provided annually.

KVC Missouri opened the Ozarks Family Resource Center emergency shelter in 2001 in response to the high number of children being placed into foster care with no place to go. In 2006, the Empowering Youth program was established which allowed children to stay at the shelter due to homelessness and/or being unsafely housed. “The program expansion allowed KVC to provide a secure haven to any child needing a safe place to reside,” case manager Rebecca McCammon says. 

Amber Alexander 

After being married for 15 years to a husband who provided financial support for her and their three children, Amber Alexander’s world shifted. 

“The last five years or so, we had been living in hotel rooms,” she says. “At the end of October, the manager of the hotel knocked on the door and said, ‘You know your husband is in jail, right?’” Alexander didn’t know and felt blindsided. She immediately began calling shelters and looking for help. Because her husband was not an imminent danger to Alexander or her children, they did not qualify for any emergency assistance. “That sent me into a mental tailspin,” she says. 

The following day, Alexander took her younger two children—ages 13 and 9—to Isabel’s House, a shelter for families in crisis, and attempted to take her own life. Surviving, she sought medical help and was admitted to a psychiatric ward for 11 days. When she was discharged, she found herself homeless with $1.35 in her wallet.

Alexander immediately began rebuilding her life and secured a job in early December. After the holidays, her children moved from Isabel’s House to KVC Missouri. “I really cannot say enough nice things about the staff at KVC,” Alexander says.  

While at KVC, Alexander’s children connected with other kids facing similar challenges and formed bonds with the caring staff members. They stayed at KVC until Alexander found an apartment and was able to bring them home this year. “[KVC] was there for me when I was in a very desperate situation,” Alexander says. “To have a place where my children were so well taken care of and loved in my absence was such a relief, and allowed me to do what I needed to do to provide them the home they deserve. I am eternally grateful.”

Samantha Jankowski 

When Samantha Jankowski’s relationship with her family grew sour and she faced the possibility of her three children being taken away, she suddenly found herself bouncing from one place to another in a hurry. “I didn’t have a permanent place to live anymore,” she says. “I had lost my apartment and my job.” 

In November, Jankowski reached out to KVC, and within 24 hours, they arranged three beds for her children. “It was very quick, it was very lifesaving,” she says. After arriving, KVC and Jankowski collaborated on goals she aimed to achieve during her children’s stay. She maintained daily visits with her children and even took them on outings. “It was a breath of fresh air to know that your kids are safe,” she says. “I couldn’t have done anything without that program—for sure.” 

At KVC, her children received essential support, including counseling sessions and transportation to school and appointments. “My kids grew to love the staff,” Jankowski says. “They were amazing.” 

With her children under KVC’s care, Jankowski could focus on securing employment and working diligently. In February, she was able to get her family an apartment and move her children back home with her. “It was a great experience because I knew they were safe, they were loved, they had everything that they needed,” Jankowski says. “[KVC] was a pillar of strength at the time.” 

Get more info: Call KVC Missouri’s 24/7 helpline at 417-861-4244 or visit their website,, for more information. 

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