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Phil Hanson: Celebrating commitment to community – and a call to action

The Examiner

For 25 years, Truman Heartland Community Foundation has been bringing people and businesses from our region together annually to celebrate the community servants and philanthropic organizations who make a difference in Eastern Jackson County. In this time filled with crisis’s, distress and divisions, this year’s event was a celebration and a call to action.

Phil Hanson

On Sept. 26, we hosted our 25th Annual Toast to Our Towns Gala, which reminded us of the many ways that philanthropy strengthens our community. Together, with seven local mayors, Truman Heartland awarded the Citizen of the Year awards. Brent Schondelmeyer and Lee Williams were recognized as the Heartland Humanitarians of the Year. Speaks Chapels was honored as the Heartland Corporate Citizen of the Year. Junior Service League of Independence, celebrating its 75th anniversary, received the Heartland Service Award. Adam Kliethermes was awarded the Dr. Paul M. Thomson Professional Advisor Award.

This inspiring group of honorees has devoted countless hours, financial support and resources to help bring about positive change in our community. Although they come from different backgrounds, with unique skill sets and philanthropic interests they are united by their willingness not only to lend a hand to help others, but with the conviction that it is a responsibility to do so. This was a recurring message from our honorees – the privilege and responsibility of giving back to the community.

We also had a call to action from our 2020 Heartland Humanitarians, Brent and Lee. For more than 30 years, the couple has been working behind the scenes to drive community initiatives throughout the region. In their remarks they noted the many ways they are privileged, including race, education, opportunities, the transfer of generational wealth, and extraordinary friendships. They also announced that they have established the Racial Equity Action Fund at Truman Heartland Community Foundation. The fund aims to recognize, identify and address the racial inequities in our community. Led by an advisory committee, which includes a member of Truman Heartland’s Youth Advisory Council, the fund will make grants for the following purposes:

• Support community organizing efforts within communities of color that promote voter registration, voter engagement and community involvement.

• Support racial equity projects identified by the Truman Heartland Community Foundation Youth Advisory Council.

• Support projects that increase the diversity and effectiveness of public boards and commissions.

• Strengthen relationships among Eastern Jackson County residents, particularly across racial and ethnic groups.

• Increase awareness of resources and best practices related to advancing racial equity.

• Increase understanding or our community’s challenges with racial equity and race relations.

• Provide access to stories and diverse perspectives on the lived experience or racial inequity in Eastern Jackson County.

I was very pleased to hear about Brent and Lee’s plans for this fund, yet another example of why they deserved to be recognized as the Humanitarians of the Year. Brent and Lee made the initial gift to establish the fund, and I was pleased to make a grant from my CEO discretionary fund to support this effort.

The Racial Equity Action Fund has already received $19,000 in contributions, and I know many others in our community will also want to support this effort. As your Community Foundation, we are committed to strengthening the community and believe that we have a responsibility, like our honorees, to use our position in the community to promote initiatives that support collaboration to make immediate and substantial changes that will have a long-term impact in Eastern Jackson County and the surrounding communities. If you are interested in making a contribution to the Racial Equity Action Fund, I encourage you to visit Truman Heartland donor-advised fundholders can also make a grant from their fund to support the Racial Equity Action Fund.

Our region is full of diverse and caring individuals. We are deeply grateful that we had the opportunity to come together as a community to celebrate this year’s honorees. My sincere thanks to everyone in the community who supported our 25th Annual Toast to Our Towns Gala. And congrats again to all our honorees.

Phil Hanson is the president and CEO of Truman Heartland Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity committed to improving the communities in and around Eastern Jackson County. Visit or call Truman Heartland at 816-836-8189.