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Dr.Amy Blansit, Shifting Our Community Through Empowerment & Action.
Dr. Amy Blansit is the driving force behind the Drew Lewis Foundation's mission to empower undeserved communities. Amy and her late husband, Drew Lewis, shared a passion for community betterment and took a leap of faith by purchasing the Fairbanks school. Although Drew lost his battle with cancer in May 2013, Amy continues to carry on their shared vision and work towards achieving it.
Her Strong Leadership.
"As a community leader, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist and a professor, Amy Blansit has a career that’s not easy to summarize. She says it depends on the day, but really, what she’s doing depends on the hour. At 8:00 Monday morning, Blansit is creator and founder of Solely Jolie—a line of water-free makeup brush clearing and cleaning pads. By 11 a.m., she’s working on programming at The Fairbanks, the 25,000-square-foot school building Blansit refurbished into a community resource center in Springfield’s Grant Beach neighborhood. By 2 p.m. she’s the board chair and founder of the Drew Lewis Foundation, and by the end of the day she’s project director of RISE, which helps families move out of a life of poverty. She’s driven, stubborn and incredibly hard working, and she doesn’t slow down."
Tapping Into Her Driven Spirit.
Amy Blansit is one of eight kids, but the rising tide of children in the house reached 12 at one point as the Blansits took in more than 150 foster children over 40 years. Her parents are the kind of self-starters who have solar panels and water cisterns. Her dad built the long row house the family grew up in, and if a car broke down, he was the one who would fix it. "Neither of my parents were entrepreneurs or business people," Blansit says. "They were just resourceful."
By third grade, Blansit was already thinking about college. When a class assignment had her write about what she wanted to be when she grew up, Blansit's future resume was impressive. She dreamed of becoming a dentist, a scientist, a doctor, an astronaut, and the President of the United States. “It was hysterical,” she says. “As president, I wrote, people would listen to me when I wanted them to… Maybe. I would reinstate the $2 bill, and the cute thing was, I would let people come talk to me whenever it worked for them.” When tasked with the assignment of writing what she would do with $1,000, 8-year-old Blansit wrote that she would save for college.
Although she hated the rigid structure of school, Blansit thrived within the education system. She moved into a gifted program in third grade and took high school math in junior high. “I’ve always needed things to be fast-paced,” she explains. “Sometimes I wish my mind would have slowed down and I would have played a little more, but that wasn’t me.”
Sitting at the conference table inside The Fairbanks’ library—a 3,000-square-foot co-working space—Blansit is surrounded by evidence of her manic schedule. She’s six voicemails and 50 emails deep, and a group chat with her family landed 26 text messages in her inbox. With less than an hour before her next meeting, Blansit is microwaving her lunch and searching for the spork she’ll use to rush through her meal. This afternoon, her time has been mostly devoted to helping participants of RISE.
Establishing Her Mission.
In 2016, led by Missouri State University, the Drew Lewis Foundation, and Drury University—Blansit's employer at the time, her nonprofit organization and her alma mater, respectively—The Northwest Project, now called RISE was developed and run out of The Fairbanks. The program helps families whose income is below 200 percent of the poverty level. For a family of four, that means living off of less than $49,200. The Project works with each family for a minimum of two years and focuses on 16 key points of stability including monthly budgeting, affordable housing, job training, and health and wellbeing. When Blansit and her team pitched the concept and the $1.3 million grant request to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, she spilled coffee down the front of her dress minutes before presenting. “As luck would have it, I wore a mocha-colored dress,” she says. “The mishap helped me focus on the silly blunder instead of the high stakes ahead.” In the end, Blansit was awarded the grant.
The success of the program is realized through data collection, but the real change is noted in college enrollment, homeownership, and job stability. The community-focused project is just one of many success stories coming out of The Fairbanks. The fact that the school is still standing and thriving is in itself one of Blansit’s success stories.
When Blansit and her husband, Drew, bought The Fairbanks in 2013, the abandoned school was littered with debris. Abused, broken, and trashed, The Fairbanks was 25,000 square feet of unusable space, but Blansit and Drew saw potential. While plotting out plans to turn the building into a community market, a rooftop garden, a coffee shop, and spaces for small businesses, Blansit and Drew were traveling to the Cleveland Clinic for Drew’s cancer treatments. He had been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer in January 2012, and he and Blansit purchased The Fairbanks in February 2013. Only three months after they purchased the abandoned school building, the plan stumbled when Drew’s immune system took a turn for the worse. Just more than a year after being diagnosed, Drew died of colon cancer in May 2013. “It was this moment of, ‘Oh, my God, what have I done?’” Amy says. The broken windows, the debris, and the 2.5 acres of unkempt lawn were now her responsibility.
'The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests." - Epictetus'
'Pursuing the dream she and Drew held was on Blansit’s shoulders. “It was clear this wasn’t going to happen by myself,” she says. She hired Kristina Wilmoth, who was finishing her degree at MSU in health promotion and wellness management and was Blansit's intern. For months, Wilmoth frantically jotted down Blansit’s plans. “I thought she was crazy,” Wilmoth says laughing. “I couldn’t see any of this. I just saw a mess, but there she was in her pencil skirt and pearls, standing on a rickety chair and pulling up the shades so I could see.”
Blansit installed new lights and security cameras, and when her neighbor, Wolf, offered to help, she paid him to haul off debris and mow the lawn while she set her sights on rehabbing the tattered library. “I knew I could figure out how to get 3,000 feet functioning,” she says. “But I knew I didn’t have the money to do all 25,000.” Every grant or tax credit Blansit and Wilmoth applied for was denied. They were too small, too new, too risky. “We just kept going,” Wilmoth says. “In [Blansit’s] mind, if it failed, we would just revamp it and do it again.”
Blansit invited nonprofit organizations and community agencies, including Ozarks Area Community Action Corp., Community Partnership of the Ozarks and the MSU Center for Dispute Resolution, to The Fairbanks to present their services to residents in the neighborhood. Churches and businesses donated furniture, Springfield Community Gardens turned the abandoned baseball diamond into a swatch of vegetables and flowers, and Springfield Brewing Co. Athletics now uses the basement as a bike shop. In 2015, Blansit started the second phase of construction inside the main building and rehabbed the school’s gym, installed a commercial kitchen and opened three classrooms that were used as a daycare. “I think people thought I had millions to fix this place,” Blansit says. “It was quite the opposite. I was an absolute idiot and didn’t know any better. I just knew it was possible.” '
Amy was awarded 2017 Person Of The Year.
Thank You Amy, For Everything.
Amy Serves as the CEO of Drew Lewis Foundation.
As the CEO of the Drew Lewis Foundation, Amy leads the nonprofit she established with a profound commitment to fostering vibrant communities. In her capacity, she provides strategic oversight to the organization's core initiatives and manages The Fairbanks, a meticulously renovated grade school now transformed into a hub for community betterment programs in Springfield's Grant Beach neighborhood.
At the heart of their efforts is the flagship program, RISE, which embodies a community-centric development approach. RISE combines support and empowerment with neighborhood revitalization, addressing the challenges that have previously trapped individuals in a cycle of living paycheck-to-paycheck. Amy established the Drew Lewis Foundation in honor of her late husband, who shared her vision for community improvement through real estate investments. With a strong emphasis on asset-based urban development, the foundation aspires to enhance the quality of life in underserved neighborhoods.
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