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Innovative new program helps first-time homeowners clear hurdles

From Pittsburg State University

For the first time in their lives, Chris and Melissa Owens have decorated their own home for the holidays.

And so has another Pittsburg family.

Soon, thanks to a local pastor, a newly formed team that wanted to make a difference, and Pittsburg State University, more families hopefully will follow.

Breaking the cycle

The Owens had always been renters — first in Joplin, where in 2011, an EF-5 tornado picked the roof up off of their house, and then in Pittsburg, where they wondered if they’d ever be able to afford a home of their own.

For a decade, the Owens have worked at Pittsburg High School, where Melissa is a cook in the cafeteria and Chris does a bit of everything, from laundry for athletic teams to transporting students to working in the announcer booth at games.

“They had no problems, they just didn’t have a down payment. They had a car and were paying almost 26 percent interest on it,” said Bishop Walter Simpson, the pastor at Lighthouse Temple Ministries.

Simpson understands the challenges associated with getting a bank loan; in 2008, he needed one for his church. The church qualified on paper with a bank. And then Simpson went to the bank for an in-person visit. He didn’t get the loan.

“It’s difficult,” he said, “when race is involved.”

Simpson talked with local leaders about system barriers, like removing the race category from lending applications.

And, he began brainstorming ways that members of his congregation could become homeowners rather than home renters.

“When people own a home, they don’t move, they don’t leave, they stay and build up a community,” he said. “I needed to find a way to help people get past the down payment, to move from renters to owners, to keep them in our community.”

In return, he said, it would break a bad cycle for those who can never seem to get ahead financially.

In 2020, he found a willing partner in a local business leader who saw the value of his idea.

“The average family net worth for renters is $6,000,” Simpson said, “while the average family net worth for homeowners is $250,000. This is about helping people, but it also makes good economic sense that will benefit the city, the county, the state.”

From his idea of helping people become homeowners, Level Playing Field Homes (LPF) was born.

How it works

Level Playing Field Homes helps do exactly what its name suggests, Simpson said: it levels the playing field by allowing members of the community who may not qualify for home ownership through traditional means to create family wealth.

With the help of financial sponsors, LPF Homes essentially became the bank, with a mortgage agreement signed by the new homeowner at a reasonable interest rate and amortized over an acceptable period of time. If anyone ever skips out, the LPF Homes still has the asset. LPF Homes also helps each participant establish a home equity line to pay off all or a significant portion of their outstanding debt, and to open up funds with which to put new furniture in their home.

In the case of the Owens, chosen by Simpson and LPF Homes as the first participants, doing all of this helped them go from being in the negative about $300 each month to having almost $600 a month left over.

“Financial sponsors, or benefactors, take the risk with the banks and put their credit score on the line for LPF applicants,” Simpson explained. “We are addressing the largest hurdle to home ownership, and that’s the down payment and high interest debt on credit cards, payday loans, cars, and such. We’re showing them how they can afford it by moving money in the right way.”

Then, it goes one step further, and that’s where PSU comes in.

Expertise and resources

“LPF Homes and Bishop Simpson realized the tremendous resources that exist at Pitt State and asked Dr. Scott if the university could help,” said Randy Robinson, executive director of EnterprisePSU.

It’s a division of the university that promotes innovation and growth in Southeast Kansas and provides business support services, including the Kansas Small Business Development Center.

Students and faculty in business, marketing, and other related disciplines have gotten involved. Experts were tapped on campus, from those in Kelce College of Business who can provide advice about taxes, to those in the School of Construction who can provide annual walk-throughs to help prevent repairs with things like guttering, or those in the Automotive Technology Department who can do a free vehicle check once a year.

A structure was given to the program so it can be scaled and modeled in other communities.

A Facebook group was started so that participants could network.

Training began in the form of monthly educational events at Block22 for new homeowners: they can learn how to repair credit scores, and how to set and keep a monthly budget including allocating a portion for future repairs.

“We’re not just getting them in their homes; we’re educating them once they get in there so they can continue to be successful,” Simpson said.

“A growing experience”

Melissa said they were given a price range of affordable homes, and the fourth one they looked at they knew was “the one.”

“It’s so scary saying ‘let’s go to the bank and see if we can get approved to buy a house’,” she said. “But from there on out, it was the smoothest process.”

They’ve gotten to know their neighbors, feel as if they’re beginning to put down roots, and this year put up Christmas lights for the first time.

“The people involved in the LPF Homes program have coached us, and it’s been a growing experience, a learning experience.”

Now, Simpson and Robinson are encouraging other members of the community — individuals and businesses — to participate and help grow the program.

“The number one thing we can do is help people who grew up without any financial literacy mentor, who never learned how to make right financial decisions, who have a renter’s mentality. We needed to figure out how to get above that. What’s keeping them down is credit scores and lack of a down payment,” Robinson said. “But those things are solvable. We can help them solve it.”

Roaring River State Park hosts bald eagle viewing and activities Jan. 8

From the Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Team members at Roaring River State Park invite the public to watch for bald eagles along Roaring River and participate in eagle-themed activities from 3-5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 8.

When water sources freeze in the north, bald eagles migrate south to find food and water. With its constant flowing water and abundance of fish, Roaring River is often frequented by eagles.

This program is free and open to the public. Participants should dress appropriately for the weather, and bring water and snacks. Participants are encouraged to bring binoculars and spotting scopes to get a closer look at these magnificent birds.

The public is strongly encouraged to follow social-distancing guidelines and be proactive in protecting themselves and others.

Roaring River State Park is located seven miles south of Cassville on Highway 112 in Barry County. For more information about the event, call the nature center at 417-847-3742.

For more information on state parks and historic sites, visit Missouri State Parks is a division of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

New Data Reveals med schools’ true impact on primary care workforce

From Kansas City University

More meaningful data is now available for measuring primary care impact from our country’s MD and DO medical schools, focusing on numbers of graduates who five to seven years following completion of their training are practicing direct patient care in primary care fields. Previous assessment relied on counting those entering primary care residency training — many of whom may never enter the primary care workforce. According to this detailed assessment, Kansas City University (KCU) ranks 9th in impact for the nation, with 40.5 percent of physician graduates practicing direct patient care in primary care fields.

A recent scientific article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Health Forum highlights this critical shift in data source and methodology, which was derived from a collaborative study between the Robert Graham Center of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the Fitzhugh Mullan Institute at George Washington University. The study’s measure of primary care impact drew on objective data using the American Medical Association Masterfile training history data and practice geography.

“We are extremely pleased with these efforts to more accurately capture true primary care impact from our nation’s medical schools,” said Marc B. Hahn, DO, president and CEO of KCU. “We’ve long known of our College of Osteopathic Medicine’s strong standing as a leader in contributing to the primary care workforce, and we appreciate the authors identifying the full contributions of many schools that were largely hidden in past non-scientific surveys. Everyone from students interested in entering medicine to elected officials will now have a much truer picture of the difference individual medical schools are making in addressing the growing demand for primary care physicians and improving the health of our region and nation.”

The study’s authors focused their effort on U.S. News and World Report’s overall “Best Medical Schools: Primary Care” category largely because of the ongoing erosion of the primary care physician workforce and because of some schools’ specific social missions. The American Association of Medical Colleges projects a shortfall of between 17,800 and 48,000 primary care physicians by 2034.

A large body of research has shown regular access to primary care to have the greatest overall impact on the health of our populations, including lowering rates of general morbidity and mortality, infant mortality and mortality from specific conditions, such as heart disease and stroke; and decreasing medical costs.

The results of the study are also responsible for the addition of three other new medical school rankings by U.S. News: Student Diversity; Graduates Practicing in Medically Underserved Areas; and Graduates Practicing in Rural Areas, as well as changing the source data and weight within the publication’s global “Best Medical Schools for Primary Care” ranking. Thirty percent of that score is now based on graduates practicing primary care after residency training, rather than on those who are just entering primary care training.

With more than 10,000 physician alumni practicing throughout the country and around the world, KCU has distinguished itself as a national leader in the education and training of osteopathic physicians. This new ranking aligns with KCU’s mission of “improving the well-being of the communities we serve” and its emphasis on increasing access to health care where it’s needed most.

U.S. 166 expansion in Cherokee County begins in January

From the Kansas Department of Transportation

The week of Jan. 3, the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) expects to begin work on a project to expand a six-mile section of U.S. 166 in Cherokee County.

A four-lane expressway will be constructed between the U.S. 166/U.S. 400 and U.S.166/K-26 junctions. The roadway will taper to two lanes south of K-26 to the Kansas-Missouri state line. The project includes the construction of interchanges at U.S. 400 and K-26.

The four-lane section will be built on an offset alignment south of the existing U.S. 166. U.S. 166 traffic will not be affected during the early project phases, which include equipment staging, clearing and bridge work. KDOT will provide updates on highway closures and detours as work continues. The expanded U.S. 166 alignment and interchanges will be open to unrestricted traffic by late May 2024, weather permitting.

KDOT awarded the construction contract of $54.8 million to Emery Sapp & Sons of Kansas City, Mo. Persons with questions may contact KDOT Construction Engineer Kyler Farmer, (620) 308-7617, or Public Affairs Manager Priscilla Petersen, (620) 902-6433. Check KDOT’s updated traveler information website,, for more road condition and construction details.

USCellular opens new state-of-the-art store in Joplin

From U.S. Cellular

To better serve the Joplin community, UScellular has opened a newly remodeled, state-of-the-art store at 1630 S Rangeline Road. Customers can now shop for the latest technology from Apple, Samsung and Google in a high-engagement layout.

“We are excited to welcome the Joplin community to our newly remodeled store to speak with our tech experts about finding the right plan and devices for their needs,” said Teri Twyman, retail area sales manager for UScellular. “Our customers are always at the forefront of our decisions, and this store was designed with them in mind. We will continue to invest in the latest technology to make sure our customers have access to the best devices and plans to stay connected wherever they are.”

The new store was built with modern features and allows customers to personally interact with the technology and devices on display. It has a large 2,208 square-foot showroom and features multiple areas where customers can have hands-on access to the newest devices, smart home solutions and consumer electronics from popular national brands.

UScellular invested $108,000 in this store and it employs eight associates. It is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, contact the store at (417) 439-7600.


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