September 07, 2023
Students in the Ozarks are back to school – some without basic resources like shoes that fit or classroom supplies. Thanks to the generosity of community donors, The Silver Dollar City Foundation’s Care For Kids program recently sent more than $155,000 to 14 school districts in Stone and Taney counties to ease those burdens, with even more funds coming later this fall.
Care For Kids, which has donated more than $2.3 million to area children since it began in 2006, is funded through generous contributions from Silver Dollar City, White Water, Showboat Branson Belle, and Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, which has made significant donations to the program over the past decade.
Each year, funds are divided among the school districts based on the number of students enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program. It’s up to educators to decide how the money is spent since school staff observe and understand the children’s specific needs.
Administrators say acts of kindness made possible by Care For Kids impact their self-worth. Dr. Michelle Collins, principal of Branson’s Cedar Ridge Elementary, sees it happen all the time.
“A sweet student who has treaded the waters of difficulty felt defeated as she was – once again – sent home with head lice,” Collins recalls. “In an effort to come alongside the family and support her needs in the moment, we were able to access Care For Kids money immediately. This quick action option had her family equipped with treatment supplies and everything needed to eradicate this recurring barrier to her learning journey and further help the child avoid shame or embarrassment.”
Dr. Brian Wilson, superintendent of Hollister schools, agrees that financial support from the Silver Dollar City Foundation gives educators “boots on the ground” options to combat negative experiences affecting students. A teacher in his district noticed a child was being picked up in a car that had the back window and side window busted out. The windows were covered in plastic but the temperatures outside were getting cold.
“The teacher noticed that there was also an infant seat in the car,” Wilson explains. “The teacher called the counselor who then contacted the parents. The parents knew the importance of their middle schooler participating in school activities but did not have money to pay those fees and fix the car. Within a matter of days, a local business replaced the windows at cost. Safety, security, and a sense of belonging were addressed when the district was able to meet the needs of another and express our love for them.”
A total of 4,039 students received assistance through the program last year. Needs included clothing, shoes, meal programs, vision, dental, prescription, or other medical needs. Many students also received help covering the cost of school sports, field trips, and graduation expenses. The funds can also assist families with necessities such as rent or utilities.
“This world can seem so cruel and complicated for children when they face struggles beyond their control,” says John Baltes, president of Silver Dollar City Foundation. “When our community steps up to fill in the gaps for them, children witness that agape love that is like a beacon of light during their darkest days.”
Silver Dollar City Foundation will release another round of school grants this fall through the Hope Grant. The Hope Grant will be awarded based on feedback from school superintendents about unmet needs such as food and access to early childhood education that the Foundation might address.
School leaders say Care For Kids helps students, who once felt invisible, feel valued and cared for. The sense of community that emerges from the partnerships is something all parties can be proud of.
“In the heart of our neighboring communities, the power of generosity transforms a time of distress into an era of hope thanks to a pillar of good, faithful service – The Silver Dollar City Foundation,” Collins says. “The legacy of Care For Kids funds serves as a reminder that even in the darkest times, a single act of kindness can ignite a spark of change that brightens the lives of so many.”