Led by Missouri State University, the Drew Lewis Foundation and Drury University—Blansit's employer, her nonprofit organization and her alma mater, respectively—The Northwest Project is run out of The Fairbanks and 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 10 key points of stability including monthly budgeting, affordable housing, job training and health and well-being. 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.
Since starting a year and a half ago, The Northwest Project has worked with 46 households living in the heart of the Westside, Woodland Heights, Grant Beach and Robberson neighborhoods. Six participants have enrolled in college for the first time with more scheduled to enroll in January; others have entered into a program to purchase homes in Grant Beach, completed their HiSET—the alternative diploma for out-of-school youth and adults—and found stable jobs. The community-focused project is just one of many success stories coming out of The Fairbanks. The fact that the school is still standing is in itself one of Blansit’s success stories.
When Blansit and her husband, Drew, bought The Fairbanks four years ago, 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. It was while at the Cleveland Clinic that Blansit read up on Springfield’s zoning codes, but 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 hers.