This article appeared in: The Joplin Globe | Author: John Hacker


CARTHAGE, Mo. — In a gesture that could change lives for decades to come in the Carthage School District, Matt and Tracy Flanigan, announced that they will give a $1 million endowment to the local Bright Futures program.

Mark Baker, school superintendent, said this could be the largest donation ever given to the district by individuals.

“We’ve received donations in similar numbers from a foundation but never from an individual,” Baker said. “The Steadley Trust has supported us with great donations like this and bigger, but this is an unbelievable opportunity for our kids and our community. … It’s just inspiring.”

Matt and Tracy Flanigan, in a presentation to the Board of Education, said they think Bright Futures is a valuable part of Carthage schools and the community, and they were honored to be able to give this gift.

“It is our honor and pleasure to be part of Team Bright Futures and the Carthage school system,” Matt Flanigan said. “It’s been important to us for a long time, and we think under Greg’s (Spink) watch, it’s doing some wonderful, special things. We hope this donation will, by chance, encourage other folks to give a little bit or a lot to any of the Bright Futures programs.”

Bright Futures

Bright Futures is a nationwide program that started in Joplin with the goal of bringing together various religious and charitable groups with individuals to meet emergency needs of children in schools when parents are unable to cover those needs. Carthage was one of the first Bright Futures affiliates outside Joplin.

Baker said the program has had part-time directors for most of its existence, but in 2019 the district hired Greg Spink, formerly with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Jasper and Newton Counties, to be the first full-time director.

According to Baker, in the past year Bright Futures Carthage has:

  • Handed out approximately 600 backpacks filled with school supplies at the beginning of the school year and held the most successful “Stuff the Bus” campaign to collect donated school supplies in the program’s history.
  • Sent out 400 backpacks with snacks and food every weekend to children who school officials identify as possibly needing food to supplement their supplies at home.
  • Handed out about $10,000 worth of food and hygiene supplies to children over the Christmas season.
  • Provided 30 donated beds to kids who didn’t have beds before with the assistance of the 40 Winks program at Slumberland stores and the Dream Big Foundation.
  • Replaced 30 pairs of broken glasses for students and scheduled eye exams for another 30 in cooperation with Carthage Eye Care center.
  • Provided winter clothing and coats and dozens of pairs of shoes to children throughout the year.

Baker said Spink and Bright Futures work with the Salvation Army, Crosslines and churches and other organizations as well as local companies to provide for children.

Spink said Bright Futures raised more than $69,000 last year and spent $65,000 on the children in the district.

“What an incredible blessing it’s been to be a part of the Carthage R-9 community,” Spink said. “Our counselors in this district are fantastic, they bend over backwards. I don’t recruit anyone or look for people in need; when the counselors find someone, they refer them to me. We start making phone calls and putting things on Facebook, and I’ve never asked for anything on Facebook for a kid where I didn’t get a response, usually within 30 seconds. It’s amazing how good this community is for taking care of our kids.”

Wanting to help

Matt Flanigan said his wife, Tracy, and daughter Anne were part of the first Bright Futures board of directors before Anne graduated from Carthage High School in 2014. Bright Futures Carthage has been important to the family for a long time.

Matt Flanigan is a retired executive vice president and chief financial officer at Leggett & Platt Inc., and Tracy Flanigan is a retired attorney who served for several years on the Missouri Southern State University Board of Governors.

The couple decided to gift money for an endowment after meeting with Spink to talk about his dreams for the program.

“It’s just amazing the work that happens to support the kids in need in many different ways,” Matt Flanigan said. “… We went to lunch and Greg came in and had a very professional three-page summary of all the things going on, including what Dr. Baker just referenced, and we thought, ‘Wow, this is really special.’”

Flanigan said he understood what Spink was telling them about how difficult it is for a group that relies entirely on donations that’s trying to serve the needs of a community when those needs fluctuate from year to year or even from season to season.

“That’s when he (Spink) said, ‘This is my big dream. We’d like to have a $1 million endowment somehow because that will produce somewhere around $70,000 a year give or take, and every month we could count on that. It would really help us plan and get organized how we’re trying to help these kids,’” Flanigan said.

After the meeting, he continued, “we’re both getting in the car and we shut the door, and Tracy turns to me and says we need to give that wonderful program $1 million because they really need it. Well, after I fainted and awoke, I said you are sure right, that’s a wonderful decision and we need to do just that.”

Spink said he was dumbfounded when the Flanigans told him they wanted to give him a $1 million endowment.

“When they resuscitated me and pulled me off the floor and got me breathing again, I said, ‘What?’” Spink said. “Last year we raised almost $70,000, which is more than we had ever raised in the history of Bright Futures in Carthage, and we spent $65,000.”