Established in in 1996 by John and Marjorie Hager, the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro (PLFO), aims to foster broad and meaningful citizen participation in community decisions and public policy. By gathering information and deliberating ideas and opinions in a public setting, the PLFO hopes to foster a sense of action in the community on topics that matter to Owensboro.
Perhaps most noteworthy, in 2007 the PLFO rallied 600 citizens together in a We The People Town Hall meeting where community members of all walks of life gathered to discuss priorities and strategies to advance Owensboro.
It is exactly this type of citizen engagement and dialogue that the late John Hager intended when creating the foundation. In a 1996 speech to Kentucky Wesleyan College, Hager said, “The basic idea of democracy is simple. It means that people can and should govern themselves, and that they do not need an elite or special class of leaders or citizens to run their affairs.”
President of the PLFO, Rodney Berry, said, “John always had a passion for community.”
Hager was an attorney by trade, but eventually took over his family’s business, the Owensboro newspaper Messenger-Inquirer as president and publisher. After selling the newspaper, Hager, then 68, was not ready to retire, which is when he and his family established the foundation.
“This community was his career,” Berry said. “He was involved in so many initiatives that improved the quality of life in Owensboro.”
Hager was a strong advocate of an open and accountable government, he was instrumental in the establishment of Owensboro Community and Technical College, and advocated the downtown Owensboro master plan.
Since its creation, the foundation advocated for a number of topics, including economic development, healthcare, and environmental issues. After Hager passed away in July 2013, his children, all board members for the foundation, decided to narrow its focus to youth and education.
“The family wants to make a profound impact,” said Berry.
The Hager children, Sally Hager Wood, Board Chair; Bruce Hager, Board Vice Chair; Susie Hager Alford, Board Treasurer; and Stewart Hager used their own resources in an effort to reinforce the foundation’s mission and make a more lasting impression on the Owensboro community.
The PLFO received 41 grants proposals, representing early childhood education, teacher quality, reading proficiency, children in poverty, and post-secondary education attainment categories. After careful consideration, the PLFO Board of Directors chose six local recipients, awarding $433,500 in philanthropic grants.
An activity and day center for individuals 8 years and older with intellectual disabilities, Puzzle Pieces received $43,000 through the PLFO grant and will be awarded a second grant in 2014 for $35,000. Amanda Owen, founder and Executive Director, said, “We are very unique. We do teach, although it’s not your standard education model. What we do is lifelong education. And for the Public Life Foundation to recognize that is truly meaningful. For us, that’s a home run. Our education matters.”
Owen says that funds will be used for capital improvements to the structure of their existing building and software that will give them surveillance capability, a check-in and check-out system, and a more efficient process of record keeping.
“We can serve more people and serve more effectively,” Owen said.
[tw-divider]The Cliff Hagan Boys and Girls Club[/tw-divider]
Receiving $35,000 in 2013 and $40,000 in 2014 and 2015, The Cliff Hagan Boys and Girls Club was also selected. According to Executive Director Steve Winkler, the grants from the first year will fund a building expansion, including a fine arts center and a cafeteria as well as a van to transport students from after school programs to the club.
“This expansion is desperately needed,” Winkler said. “Kids have been eating on the gym floor.”
In the second year, the PLFO grant will fund the Positive Sprouts program, an initiative to introduce kids to a healthier way of life through community gardens, and a new program to help students ages 12 to 18 with career path decisions, money saving strategies, goal development and college planning. The third year will focus on at-risk students in an attempt to keep them out of the juvenile court system.
A $50,000 grant was awarded to the BOLD Scholarship, an education initiative by the Green Area Community Foundation. This scholarship is for Daviess County residents who are not currently enrolled in a learning institution and are within at least 12 hours of completion of a certificate, diploma or degree. According to Judge Executive Al Mattingly, the BOLD scholarship can be used at Brescia University, Kentucky Wesleyan College, Owensboro Community and Technical College and Western Kentucky University Owensboro and can be used for tuition, books, fees, or any other indirect expenses necessary for program completion like childcare.
“We want to be as non-traditional as possible and help as many people as possible,” Judge Mattingly said. “Once you can engrain the importance of education you change the life of a family for generations.”
This month, two recipients will be awarded $1,000 scholarships each, which will be matched by their respective institutions. The grant is aimed to grow the endowment and scholarships are awarded with the interest from the BOLD Scholarship fund.
The highest grant amount went to the NewTech program, a collaborative effort of Daviess County, Owensboro Public, Owensboro Catholic, Trinity and Hancock County school systems as well as the existing Community Campus initiative. Marcia Carpenter, director of Community Campus, said, “This is an opportunity to catapult education into a new era.”
The NewTech program is an innovative approach to education, targeting the unengaged student population, allowing them to earn high school and college credit in workforce areas like manufacturing and engineering, healthcare and technology.
“We need to be more intentional in how we educate the workforce,” Carpenter said.
Receiving $155,000 in their first year and $218,000 over the next two years, the PLFO will help fund training for teachers in the NewTech program and software and textbooks necessary to run the program, which is expected to reach 400 or more students.
A $50,000 grant for 2013 and 2014 will grow an endowment to help sustain the Imagination Library program of Owensboro. Currently serving 2,500 children, Imagination Library gives free books to local families. Any Daviess County child from birth to five years is eligible to receive books, according to Nancy Roberts, treasurer for Imagination Library.
“Imagination Library gives parents a tool to prepare children for kindergarten,” Roberts said. “Books set up a foundation for reading and learning. It bonds caretakers with children.”
[tw-divider]OPS Reading Camp[/tw-divider]
Lastly, the Owensboro Public School System received $100,000 to develop a summer reading program. Dr. Matthew Constant, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, said one of the largest problems facing OPS students is “summer slide.” Students in poverty begin to slide backward over the summer, especially in reading levels.
“Contextual vocabulary at home is not on the same level as at school,” Dr. Constant said.
Dr. Constant said research has proven that the second grade is the best time to combat summer slide. With the PLFO grant, OPS plans to serve 80 second grade students from across city elementary schools in a six-week camp focusing on raising literacy and reading levels. $80,000 will be granted in both 2014 and 2015 to continue the camp.
“Exciting and ambitious philanthropic opportunities are ahead of us,” Berry said. “The [PLFO] board tried to get to the root of the problem. They wanted to maximize their impact.”
The PLFO will assess the grant initiative over the next three years, but plans to begin accepting grant proposals in 2015. The foundation and Hager family have committed almost $1.3 million to the Owensboro community in an effort to help youth and education.