Through our interactions with the community, the City Magazine team collaborates with many organizations meeting a need for Jefferson City. From businesses to individuals to nonprofits to volunteer groups, there are an abundance of ways to give dollars, time, and more.

But what exactly are the problems we’re trying to address? What issues are we donating time or money to? We want to explore the landscape of our city’s needs.

Thriving vs. Poverty

A thriving community depends on its economic assets and the ability of our neighbors to meet their basic needs such as housing, adequate nutrition, health care resources, education, transportation, family, and economic security.

In a study titled “The Neuroscience of Poverty,” Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, of the University of Southern California, found that children from the poorest backgrounds showed greater diminishment of gray matter on their MRI brain scan and scored lower on standardized tests. The study’s findings seem to indicate that poverty is one of the root problems of the other crises that can hamper an entire community.

However, Yang adds, “Many things can buffer against these bad effects, high quality schools and relationships with teachers who are teaching kids how to feel about the world, make meaning of their own lives, how to be purposeful and hardworking.

The way in which families are supporting one another and teaching their children how to be resilient and how to change the world for the better and to feel compassion for people. These kinds of values really support and help people over time to be resilient. These studies are telling us to focus on supporting children and families in living in safe and healthy circumstances. Having community and societal supports are changing their biological and physical health, ability to learn and brain development.”

The fact is any one of us can be one step away from having an unmet need: one health care crisis, lost wages, an unexpected catastrophe, the loss of a family member, or even a natural disaster.

Nearly a decade ago, the idea of “pinching pennies” was a reality. Average living expenses rose during the recession and changed the landscape of our community.

In 2008, an average one-bedroom apartment in the area could be rented for $423 a month, a gallon of milk sold for $3.87, and it cost about $34 to fill up a Ford Escort. A service or retail position could earn a full-time minimum wage income of $13,832 annually.

According the Missouri Department of Economic Development, in 2009 alone, the state’s economy lost $4.8 billion, and it lost another $3.2 billion in 2011. Missouri’s unemployment peaked in January of 2010 at nearly 10 percent. Since 2012, the economy has averaged a two percent growth rate annually.

In 2012, there were 36,978 jobs in Cole County, and the unemployment rate was 5.2 percent. State government was the largest employer in the county, at 26.1 percent, with retail, trade, health care and social assistance, and construction following. Today, the labor force is 37,592, and the unemployment rate is 5 percent.

Despite economic growth (albeit slow growth), 13.3 percent of our neighbors residing in Cole County live at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level. In 2016, over 40.6 million of our nationwide neighbors struggled with poverty, and of those, 908,628 were Missourians and 71,581 resided in Cole County. 28.3 percent of jobs in Missouri are in occupations paying wages below the federal poverty line of $24,250 for a family of four, leaving many families feeling like obtaining a decent home is out of reach.

Our Challenges

“The top challenges for Cole County start with income,” says Darin Pries, executive director of Central Missouri Community Action. “When we compare the unemployment rate with the increasing number in poverty and free and reduced [price] lunches, it’s a real issue. It seems that everyone who wants to work is working but too many of them don’t earn enough to meet their basic needs. Second is affordability of quality housing. There are some economical but substandard rent options. Many rental properties do not pass quality standards to release a Section 8 voucher. Third is transportation consistency, which means you can’t get to where you need when you need to be there. You may be okay for a little while, but unreliable or inconsistent transportation creates the crisis of poverty.”

According to the 2017 CMCA Report, the high school dropout rate is decreasing, yet fewer students are attending four-year colleges after graduation. Access to education is limited by transportation availability to and from school as well as the high cost of child care for parent learners. (For more information on CMCA’s programs, visit

Family, Nutrition, and Health

In 2012, 45.3 percent of children were enrolled in the free- and reduced- lunch program in Cole County, compared to 49.4 percent statewide. Ultimately, quality education is an important strategy to reduce poverty, but the reality is that there are significant barriers that exist for low-income students. In 2016, four schools in Jefferson City Public Schools increased their free- and reduced- lunch percentage to 100 percent: Callaway Hills Elementary, Cedar Hill Elementary, South Elementary, and Thorpe J. Gordon Elementary.

Children living in homes without adequate income to meet their basic living needs face additional challenges such as poor health, inadequate diets, and poor achievement results. According to the 2016 State of the State Poverty in Missouri report, published by Missourians to End Poverty, 11.7 percent of Missourians and 11.9 percent of Cole County residents do not have health insurance. This creates a system in which low-income families often pay out of pocket for health care. A lack of access to medical professionals and financial resources is a continued obstacle to regular physical, mental, and oral health services. 

Food security — having consistent access to enough food for active, healthy living — also continues to be a problem for Missouri families. According to the USDA, Missouri has the seventh highest food insecurity rate in the country, with 16.8 percent of its population classified as food insecure.

And the state was also no exception to a nationwide drug epidemic. In 2016, approximately 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, with 49,000 of those deaths related to fentanyl, heroin, and prescription opioids. In Missouri, overall overdose deaths were up 28 percent from 2015, with the greatest impact in rural communities.

The Resolution

The most remarkable asset of our community is collaboration — the ability to rally together to achieve impossible missions. It takes everyone to attract resources and create innovative solutions to tackle the issues facing some of our most vulnerable neighbors. And their success is the community’s success; Jefferson City can’t thrive if those in need are ignored.

Scholastic Inc. works to better our community with a paid volunteer program. Lori Massman, community development manager, shares, “Employees contributed over 1,400 hours in 2016. It’s rewarding for them to see where their efforts make a difference.”

 As we look across our community, it includes a vibrant cast of heroes and supporting characters that support the most critical needs in our community: Boys and Girls Club of Jefferson City, Special Olympics, Special Learning Center, HALO, Common Ground, Relay for Life, United Way of Central Missouri, and all the other volunteer groups and nonprofit service organizations in our community. Their work is a worthy and rewarding responsibility. Now, how can you get involved to impact the lives of those who need it most?  

Reaching Potential with Boys and Girls Club of Jefferson City

Stephanie Johnson, executive director, Boys and Girls Club of Jefferson City, is one of Jefferson City’s champions for local children. She describes the BGCJC’s journey moving into their new home as a true Cinderella fairy tale:

“We knew we had something special here and wanted to expand our footprint in the community. Boys and Girls Club came from a gas station converted into a home for children; it has always been a special place where children could find a family within its walls.

“In addition to helping children academically, we help many of them meet their basic needs — safety, security, clothing, food, and hygiene items, just to name a few. At the Boys & Girls Club, our mission is to ensure every child, especially those who need us most, reach their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible adults.

“Our program focuses on our three core areas: academic success, good character and citizenship, and healthy lifestyles. We also believe that children need the opportunity to play and express themselves creatively. The new Boys and Girls Club facility in Jeff City gives us the space to execute a well-rounded program.  

“Thanks to a $1.5 million grant funded through Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Center fund, we will be focusing on a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) program for elementary children at the new Railton Center. This grant will also fund an after-school program at Callaway Hills Elementary School. Callaway Hills has one of the highest free- and reduced- lunch rates in the district. The DESE grant will also help provide transportation to take kids home. This will make a huge difference in the rural community Callaway Hills serves.

“Our services are critical. We couldn’t provide them without the generosity of the community. If not for community donations and the United Way, Boys & Girls Club would need to charge every child $750 per school year to cover the gap. The vast majority of families we serve could not afford that cost. We’re blessed to live in a community that understands the value of helping others.”  

The United Way of Central Missouri

A United Way of Central Missouri rally promises to generate an incredible amount of enthusiasm, as well as emotionally moving testimonials. Ryan Freeman, United Way of Central Missouri 2017 Campaign Co-Chair, brings to the position a true spirit of compassion:

“There are challenges and circumstances that some people can’t control, which lead to being homeless, having food insecurities, lacking clothing, and other basic needs. It’s difficult for some to realize that one out of five people in our community have food insecurities.

“My greatest relationship is with a young man I’ve been privileged to mentor. We met just six months prior to his high school graduation at JCAC, where he overcame the loss of a family member, no transportation, and other things I’ve never had to face. He simply wanted to do better. We visited weekly, discussed his goals, and celebrated the milestone of graduation. Today, he is productive and earning an income for his family for the first time.  He was so proud when he was able to open his first bank account because of his new job.

 “Everyone should have a chance — to be lifted up, to feel the support of our community, and to be encouraged that they’re able to overcome their challenges.”