Ozark Mission Project is Building Legacies

“It builds character,” Matt Buchanan says of the work of the Ozark Mission Project, a service-driven nonprofit where he serves as the board’s treasurer.  

“You go out there and get your hands dirty and work, but then at the end of the day, you see what you did for somebody and you can see their appreciation. You’re actually impacting their life.” 

Buchanan, EVP commercial banker at Bank OZK, joined the board in January of 2020, but first heard of OMP through a coworker who was on the board herself. Each summer, she took an entire week of vacation to build wheelchair ramps and paint houses. 

“Instead of going to the beach, she would go and lead a service group at OMP,” Buchanan says. “I was like, ‘Wow, this has really got to be something special if you’re spending your own vacation time to go and do something for somebody else.’”


OMP serves needs across the entire state of Arkansas by transforming lives and legacies through building projects. Its largest program, summer missions, aims to organize youth and other groups to engage in Arkansas communities by serving individuals and families, or “neighbors,” who are in need of minor construction and yard work. 

In addition to the physical service projects, OMP’s goal is to meet social and emotional needs by spending part of its volunteers’ time visiting, sharing lunch and, if the neighbor so chooses, a devotional. 

In 1986, Ozark Mission Project began with one camp and 35 participants in Imboden, Arkansas. Today, OMP hosts 12 summer mission weeks for middle and high schoolers, two OMP 101 missions for elementary-aged children and a mission trip for college students. Approximately 1,500 youth and adults participate annually in OMP, serving close to 30 counties and all four corners of Arkansas.

Anyone can sign up for help through a service project, and people from all over the country come each summer to roll up their sleeves, get dirty and serve. 

Once his own kids were old enough and looking for things to do in the summer, Buchanan and his wife encouraged them to join in. It wasn’t long before OMP asked him to get involved, too. 

“It was an easy decision,” Buchanan says. “[They do] a lot of good for the people they serve and for the kids involved. It’s really a good fit.”


“One of the best pieces of advice I was given by an OMP neighbor was to make time to give time,” says Bailey Faulkner, OMP’s CEO. “Making time to give time changes the world, and we see that firsthand.”

The organization hopes to enhance the daily lives of its neighbors and inspire hope by encouraging community builders to put their faith in action while creating lasting friendships, memories and leadership skills, all while deepening each participant’s own faith in God. 

During the summer of 2022, OMP built relationships with 160 neighbors across Arkansas. These neighbors were located in communities within a 30-mile radius of North Little Rock, Little Rock, Conway, Fayetteville, Rogers, Siloam Springs, West Memphis, Wynne and Paragould.

According to Faulkner, there were 290 completed projects, like full wheelchair ramp construction, porch repairs, handrail construction and installation of steps, along with smaller projects like yard work, painting, clean-up and minor construction – adding up to more than 14,900 volunteer hours in total. 

“We do all of our projects free of charge, and that’s made possible through donations and grants. We don’t receive any state or federal funding,” Faulkner says.  

OMP coordinates volunteers both locally and from across the country who are looking for week-long service projects.  

“There’s so much need in Arkansas, and it’s really about accessibility,” Buchanan says. “You have someone who’s homebound, maybe they don’t have a wheelchair ramp, they have difficulty getting in and out of their house, they’ll apply. We have a whole list and then we’ll coordinate what groups we can send to fill that need.” 

Churches, civic groups, companies, families and other teams are dispatched to complete up to five service projects in different communities, lumping requests together to maximize efficiency and giving them time to create real relationships with the people they serve. 

Summer in Arkansas and hard labor outdoors may not seem like the ideal way for anyone — teenager or adult — to choose to use their break, but Buchanan says once a volunteer completes a project, they’re hooked. 

“They’re there on site and the person we’re serving is making cookies and lemonade. … The kids interact with each other. They interact with the neighbor. They get to use some power tools,” Buchanan says. “It’s a really incredible, fulfilling opportunity because they’re doing something completely out of the box.” 

Credit: Jason Masters

In 2022, there were 13 college students, and together with OMP’s five staff members, the team made the summer’s ministry possible, according to Faulkner. The goal of the Summer College Staff program is to equip and empower college students to make a global difference as disciples encouraging disciples.

College Staff serve as a dynamic part of the volunteer leadership teams at every location and are responsible for overseeing the overall experience of the mission week for community builders, neighbors and community partners.

OMP’s Service Scholar program launched last summer and selected one scholar to serve behind the scenes of mission weeks as part of the leadership team and also serve one week as a community builder. 

When teams go out into the community to work, OMP coordinates volunteers in that community who offer accommodations for volunteers.

Board members are encouraged to volunteer, too. Some lead a whole group for a week and are the person on-site with the plans for the ramp and the power tools, and others find places to help by facilitating transportation or snacks, utilizing skills other than construction. Many members, Buchanan notes, are either parents of campers or are former campers themselves.


Just like everyone during the pandemic, COVID made changes to the way OMP operates. Virtual camps included Zoom calls with neighbors, and a new OMP 101 course educated people who may not have been able to get involved otherwise. 

“They still did service projects, but we had to be careful about personal contact and interaction,” Buchanan says. “It was a challenge during that year, but that also sparked some innovation on the staff’s part and on the board’s part.”

OMP 101 is a mini-mission for fifth and sixth graders where participants learn the basics — what OMP is, what it does, who it serves — minus the table saws. It prepares future volunteers for what is to come with a base level of knowledge so they can start to look forward to getting their hands dirty. 

“Strategic wisdom is what got us through COVID, and [Buchanan] was a huge part of that,” Faulkner says. “Those weren’t easy times to serve on a nonprofit board. It is during those challenging times that I saw just how committed our board was.” 

The future of OMP includes expanding involvement to include more civic groups as volunteers, looking to the likes of rotary clubs, corporate involvement, schools and churches to reach a broader scope of volunteers.

“I think there’s opportunity there for a corporation to say, ‘We’re going to put together a 10-person volunteer group and we’re going to bring our kids and we’re going to serve for a week,’” Buchanan says.

Bringing people from across the country to serve Arkansans while focusing on building relationships between the volunteers, neighbors and kids are key components to the difference OMP wants to make. 

Faulkner says Buchanan is the type of leader “that brings a sense of calmness to a situation and has a deep passion for helping those in our state,” both things that are core to the success of OMP. 

“From my side, this is a very tangible way to impact people directly,” Buchanan says. “There are a lot of nonprofits where you’re raising money and then you’re either kind of covering payroll or overhead, and then eventually you know that it does good work and it touches somebody. But OMP, I mean, if you want to see who you’re serving, go to camp, show up on site, introduce yourself and there’s a spot for you.”

Summer by the Numbers in 2022

  • 160 neighbors served
  • 290 projects completed
  • 464 community builders
  • 158 leadership volunteers
  • 1 service scholar
  • 14,904 hours spent impacting lives

Learn more about OMP at ozarkmissionproject.org.

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