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SOAR Will Celebrate First Year With Open House on December 3

The board of directors of the 31-community and 10-county organization, SOAR – Southern Ozarks Alliance for Rural Development – is celebrating the success of the first full year of operation.
As a focal point for the accomplishments of the organization, SOAR will have an open house on Dec. 3.
According to SOAR President Mary Sheid, the celebration will highlight the activities during the first year of SOAR activities.  The open house will be at the Charles Ferguson Building in downtown Willow Springs beginning at 5 p.m.  According to Sheid this will be a holiday greeting to express our appreciation and to thank others for the successful relationships developed during SOAR’s first full year period of time.
David Norman, of Ava, and vice president of the board points out that it is unusual for a start up group to accomplish so much in its first year. “We have been extremely active.” said Norman.  “We have made giant strides in economic development analysis and in health care education.”  These areas have had a void. The absence of data in the job creation field and of a lack of progress in health care education were evident.  SOAR tackled these problem areas and made some progress.” said Norman
The mission of the organization is to improve the education and raise the income of the population of the 10 counties:  Douglas, Ozark, Wright, Howell, Oregon, Shannon, Texas, Carter, Wayne and Reynolds.  The board of directors is composed of leading citizens from the 31 communities. Participation on the board is entirely voluntary and without compensation. The board of directors meets monthly to engage in the betterment of every aspect of Ozark living.
Some of the accomplishments during the first year:
RURAL SYMPOSIUM: Under the leadership of President Mary Sheid the first Rural Symposium was held at the Civic Center in West Plains.  The symposium was a success. The people attending the symposium were treated to a array of speakers unequaled in this type of setting. The leaders in education, economic development, rural high speed internet, health care, and housing were featured in panel presentations.  Congressman Jason Smith was the keynote speaker at the luncheon.
Judge Duane Benton, of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals was the lead speaker at the plenary opening session. Congressman Smith reminded the audience of the fragile condition of the Washington, D.C. elements of our government.  Judge Benton spoke of the elements necessary for progress and the need for SOAR and this area of the State to have an identity. Plans are tentative for the next years rural symposium.
ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: Begin with the clear vision of what changes need to occur.  Identify public opinion leaders from every community.  Conduct target area feasibility studies to identify regional resources.  Advocate for a business friendly regulatory environment.  Determine regional magnets and deterrents to business investment.  Develop collaborative agreements with business groups, school districts, colleges/universities and civic organization for integrated technology based networking.  Acquire seed money to develop a technology based communication network through innovative methods of finance.  Develop functional databases to share information online regarding prospective employers, prospective employees, job training, educational programs, mentors while maintaining confidential safeguards.
The data was collected and developed by Dr. Jele Diaz through the use of written surveys and face to face meetings. SOAR plans to design a public relations campaign about the mission and vision.  Involve everyone in the network at some level. Encourage the people to talk about the value of education and training, and how that can lead to better employment prospects and increased entrepreneurial opportunities, and finally encourage the members of a community to support local business and entrepreneurial activity.
SOAR supported local manufacturing presentation on aeronautical opportunities under leadership Mike Ennis Economic development Chair.
AUDIO-VISUAL ENHANCEMENTS: Establish and maintain an audio-visual system capable of communicating with each of the 31 communities in the 10 county SOAR region.  This is to be accomplished by a comprehensive system with equipment necessary to facilitate meetings without the need to physically travel for the 60-plus mile radius of the region.
The goal is for any member to communicate with the entire group at any time during the assigned meeting agenda. Another goal is for education sessions to be remotely facilitated and programed to benefit the board of directors.  The use of the audio-visual system is not limited to the board’s use.  Economic development and education functions will use this system.  The system is capable of being transported to remote locations as the need develops under the leadership of Lou Wehmer and Brenda Miller.
Soar High: Under the leadership of the board of directors a coordinated effort was established with several medical and education organizations to establish a learning opportunity for future health care workers at the high school level.  The 31 high schools in the 10 county area have been invited to participate in an unique opportunity.  The Ozark Medical Center will provide the “Project manager” for the program that will teach with actual hands on experience, a group of students from each of the high schools, the basics of health care employment.
Health care is a growing field of employment.  Under the conditions outlined, the program will provide $2,000 and expenses to each high schools to participate.  The schools will engage these interested students in preparatory work for entering the health care field.
EDUCATIONAL COORDINATION: SOAR remains committed to the work of the Missouri Coordination Board of Higher Education toward bringing more educational opportunities to the people of south central Missouri. In addition, SOAR is likewise committed to job training and the educational aspects of improving the job skills of the area.  Higher wages will be the result of a more highly trained job force.  Students should not be subject to driving long distances to obtain vocational education.  SOAR was instrumental in bringing a jobs related seminar with Boeing as the principal presenterfor the machine shops of the area.  The efforts continue with more vocational education the goal.  SOAR held an educational conference in October.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING IM-pROVEMENT: With the assistance of the Missouri Housing Development Commission, efforts are under way to secure housing in two of the communities in the SOAR area.
Cabool and Alton are the target communities with Summersville as an alternative candidate.
Under this proposal two homes will be built on sites selected by the community.  These homes will be rented to low and moderate income families selected by the community and under the guidelines of the M.H.D.C.  Under this tested system the community has the control of the houses and the maintenance and upkeep of those homes.
The homes are of high quality and attractive construction and the families occupying the homes must have sufficient income to meet standards.
Application for these homes is pending and the project is under the leadership of Lea Ann Christopher and Wendell Bailey.
RURAL HIGH SPEED INTERNET: The SOAR board of directors is actively engaged in bringing rural high speed internet capabilities to the entire 10-county area.  The board has held educational meetings with cooperative agendas for CenturyLink Inc. of Monroe, La.  SOAR has applauded the expansion of internet availability to our area by CenturyLink in the past years and encourages expansion by use of the Connect America Funds available from the Federal Communications Commission.
In the same vein, Sho-Me Technologies is completing a back-bone network of fiber optic improvements into our smallest communities.  SOAR will continue to work with providers to bring this essential service to the areas where service is not available and to the under served communities of south central Missouri
While the board of directors of SOAR is a dynamic and constantly changing, the core element remains in place.  Mary Sheid, owner of Physical Therapy Specialist Clinics in West Plains and Mountain Grove, and former president of the Missouri State University Board of Governors; David Norman, Pharmacist and City Alderman in Ava; Katie Bowden, Landmark Bank Officer, Birch Tree; Hon. Chad Henson, County Commissioner, Wayne County; Brenda Ledgerwood, Alton; Hon. Joe Lloyd, Presiding Commissioner of Reynolds County; Jon Smith, Mountain View; Sharon Vaughn, Summersville; Lou Wehmer, Willow Springs; Mike Ennis, Eminence; Jean Coday, Mansfield; Karla Eslinger, Pontiac; Wayne Hancock, Norwood; Kristina Kauffman, Willow Springs; Sharon Marler, Hartville; William Perkins, Koshkonong; David Pointer, Gainesville;  Joe Garrison, Banker and President of the School Board, Couch; Dr. Don Hamby, Dora; Michael Bowersox, Licking; Hon. Rocky Kingree, Van Buren; Matt Pendergrass, Bakersville; Mike Redlick, Superintendent of Schools, Ellington; Frank Stringer, Cabool; Tammy Hathcock, Drury University, Thayer; and Hon. Zack Williams, Mountain Grove.