$3 million donation from Leffen family to fund construction of new Ozark Center for Autism

Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - $3 million donation from Leffen family to fund construction of new Ozark Center for Autism

JOPLIN, Mo.—A generous donation from a Joplin couple will fund the reconstruction of Ozark Center for Autism. Bill and Virginia Leffen donated $3 million to fund the rebuilding of the school, which was destroyed by the May 22 tornado. The new facility, which will be located at 2808 Picher Avenue, will be named the Bill and Virginia Leffen Center for Autism, in honor of the couple.

“The impact of this gift can never be measured,” said Paula Baker, Freeman President and Chief Executive Officer-elect and administrator for all autism programming. “It is impossible to measure the impact of changing a child’s life. Thanks to Bill and Virginia Leffen, Ozark Center for Autism will return better and stronger than ever. On behalf of our staff, our students, our parents, and all of those who have yet to be touched by the school, I offer our most sincere gratitude.”

One of the first babies born at Freeman Hospital, Bill Leffen is an avid supporter of the health system. After his service in the Navy, he spent his professional career in the banking business. A former Chairman of Commerce Bank of Joplin, Leffen spent 25 years on the Board of Trustees for Commerce in Kansas City and St. Louis. In 1972, he served as chairman of the Freeman Hospital Fund Drive, the campaign to raise funds for the construction of a 144-bed, two-story hospital—Freeman Hospital West.

A retired interior designer, Virginia Leffen left her touch on businesses throughout Joplin, Mo., Columbus, Kan., and Pittsburg, Kan. Together, the Leffens have six children, 15 grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.

The Leffen’s donation will enable Ozark Center for Autism to place all its services in a single, state-of-the-art location, including its diagnostic center, kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms, and preschool. This new facility will also feature mock home-environment rooms, a small theater, a kitchen for cooking classes, mock community-experience rooms, and a multipurpose gymnasium.

Planning for construction of the Bill and Virginia Leffen Center for Autism is underway, though a completion date has not been set.

Since opening in 2007, more than 300 students have received treatment through Ozark Center for Autism. Developed in consultation with the Cleveland Clinic Autism Consulting Group, the school provides intensive therapy, vital to unlocking parts of the brain that control functions such as language, emotion, social skills, and interest.

In 2010, the center established a Special Education Center, expanding its therapy services to kindergarten through 12th grade students. In January, Ozark Center for Autism opened the Four State’s only autism diagnostic center, which features the resources of an entire team of diagnostic professionals. This team recommends local treatment opportunities to families once a diagnosis has taken place.

Despite the destruction of the school during the May 22 tornado, Ozark Center for Autism resumed treatment less than one week after the storm. The school is currently operating out of its second temporary facility, located at 3230 South Wisconsin Avenue, Suite D. It will remain in this location until the Bill and Virginia Leffen Center for Autism is completed.

About Ozark Center
An integral component of Freeman Health System based in Joplin, Missouri, Ozark Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services to children, adults, and families in an area that includes more than 450,000 residents from Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Ozark Center continually looks for innovative ways to address the mental health needs of the community and promote awareness of mental illness in an effort to eliminate the discrimination associated with it. For more information, visit ozarkcenter.com or call 417.347.7600.