SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – There are plenty of women in the Ozarks who put others before themselves. Ozarks First wanted to recognize a few of them.
Daybreak reporter David Chasanov spoke with Amby Lewis, Jordana Vera and Saehee Duran.
Lewis is currently working on a prom dress drive for her group, “A Girl Like Me Network.”
“I created an organization for girls, ages 11-19, across the state,” Lewis said. “We’re dedicated to focusing on intercepting negative activities. Just trying to lift and give girls confidence. [We want to] show them a new way, and give them the opportunities that we didn’t have whenever we were growing up.”
Since launching in December, her non-profit has done the following:
- Hosts a table talks every third Sunday of the month (25-30 girls participate).
- Created a mentorship program.
- Launched a magazine called “Empower You” that recognizes girls throughout Springfield, along with small businesses.
- Partnered with “Moms Demand Action,” a group committed to addressing gun violence in America.
- Attended street clean-ups.
- Served at homeless shelters.
60-80 girls have benefitted from the Network so far.
“When I was younger, my mom was on drugs. and my dad was nowhere around,” Lewis said. “When my family wasn’t there, the community helped me. And, it’s only right to give back. I just like to help and be part of a good cause.”
That’s something Vera does on a daily basis. Five years ago, Vera and her best friend Yeni Vasquez co-founded “ALAS,” or Alliance for Leadership, Advancement and Success.
“What we do is help students navigate the world of higher education,” Vera said. “It’s not just for Latino students. Anyone who reaches out to us, we’ll help them.”
It’s a cause they relate to.
“We were at [Missouri State University]. We were isolated. We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t want other people to go through the same things.”
To avoid that, her group offers the following:
- Parent workshops about higher education, financial aid and admissions.
- A mentoring program, where graduates or soon-to-be graduates are paired with working professionals and receive advice.
- Help with submitting a FAFSA application.
ALAS has helped many students, but Vera doesn’t keep count.
“They are not numbers, they are people,” Vera said. “The opportunity that I have to serve people is what keeps me going. Seeing that little light bulb turning on whenever I give [someone] information about higher education, or telling students that they can do it. Those are the things that I enjoy.”
Serving is also an important part of who Duran is. The pastor helped bring CultureFest to Springfield.
“We felt like something needed to take place that is visible and tangible for people to see, and taste and hear that we are a diverse city,” Duran said.
More than 3,000 people attended the 2019 event that different organizations, businesses and restaurants collaborated on.
“The buzz just started to spread out like a wildfire,” Duran said. “We were there for eight to ten hours and some people didn’t want to leave. It was exciting to see and hear. We also did a community survey and found out a lot of people want to do this again. It’s coming back this year.”
Besides also teaching bible theology at Evangel University, Duran serves the community in other ways. She’s a police chaplain at the Springfield Police Department.
“As the only female chaplain, I get to have the honor and privilege to go into the wife’s world,” Duran said. “To sit with them, to process their heartaches, joy and support them along the way. I also feel like I’m a pastor to our community.”
Duran says she wants Springfield to have a multi-ethnic culture center one day. CultureFest is coming back on September 11th.