Deamber Brand, parent/volunteer, leads Sunshine Elementary School’s Cents of Pride program. Brand has been selected as the Hauxeda’s first “Citizen of the Year.” Students at the school accrue digital scrip enabling them to purchase “wants, needs, or essentials” from the program’s store. New shoes are one of the most popular selections for students. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

To read this story, please sign in with your email address and password.

You've read all your free stories this month. Subscribe now and unlock unlimited access to our stories, exclusive subscriber content, additional newsletters, invitations to special events, and more.


“Got ya, Dr. D.”

No matter how wild it gets or how often plans change, Deamber Brand never fails to say those words to Tracy Daniels, principal of Springfield's Sunshine Elementary School.

It starts as Brand walks with her kids to school, asking Daniels how something can be made easier. Daniels will throw out an idea or two, and Brand is on it. But plans often change quickly in an elementary school — Daniels will mention the change, but Brand never gets disappointed with the alterations.

“We’ll just pivot,” Brand says. “Got ya, Dr. D.”

“She says that every single time, no matter what I say,” Daniels said. “That is such a reassurance to me, because she is so positive and willing. I can count on her support, and to never get frustrated when things change.”

Deamber Brand, right, parent/volunteer, leads Sunshine Elementary School’s Cents of Pride program. Brand has been selected as the Hauxeda’s first “Citizen of the Year.” Brand is pictured with the school’s principal, Dr. Tracy Daniels. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Brand is the coordinator of the Cents of Pride store at Sunshine Elementary, but her volunteer work for the school has expanded beyond that organization’s goal.

Her willingness to work hard, her determination to accomplish goals, her skill at finding bargains and her attention to making a difference for Sunshine’s students drew high praise from her colleagues.

Brand has been named as the Hauxeda’s inaugural Citizen of the Year. She will be honored alongside other recipients on May 15 at the Daily Citizen’s Distinguished Citizen Awards. Other recipients include:

  • Retiring Missouri State University President Clif Smart will be honored with the Distinguished Public Service Award.
  • Brian Fogle, the recently retired president and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, as well as the nonprofit Care to Learn, will be honored with the Catalyst for Good Awards.

Tickets may be purchased up until noon Friday, May 10, through Eventbrite.

Brand was selected from 30 nominations submitted by Daily Citizen readers. In addition to the recognition, she will receive a $1,500 grant from Volt Credit Union to support Cents of Pride. 

“Usually she is one of the first ones to show up and unload a truck,” said Kelly Baldwin, executive director for Cents of Pride. “She always has a smile on her face. She is a fabulous person. I wish the world were full of Deambers.”

Deamber Brand, parent/volunteer, leads Sunshine Elementary School’s Cents of Pride program. Brand has been selected as the Hauxeda’s first “Citizen of the Year.” Students at the school accrue digital scrip enabling them to purchase “wants, needs, or essentials” from the program’s store. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Brand, 43, is a lifelong Springfield resident. She attended Williams Elementary and Pipkin Junior High, graduated from Central High School, then earned a bachelor’s degree in literature from Missouri State University.

She and her husband, Jason Buchek, have two daughters — Lucy, who is in fourth grade, and Cora, who is not yet old enough to attend.

Cents of Pride is a group that collects donations ranging from shoes, toothpaste, non-perishable food and other “needs,” while also collecting “wants” like scooters, bicycles, refurbished laptop computers, video game systems and toys. The items are used to motivate good behavior in the 13 Springfield schools where Cents of Pride stores operate. 

All of those schools have student populations in need, Baldwin said: They all have at least 60% qualification for free or reduced-price lunches, but most of them are in the range of 80-90%. Cents of Pride serves about 5,000 students.

Its structure is aimed at providing for students' needs and boosting self esteem, while also teaching personal responsibility and fiscal literacy. Students earn “bucks” for good behavior, then spend them on rewards at the end of the month, when their school’s store opens for a few days.

Baldwin said Cents of Pride helps teach saving skills to kids in families that may not get the opportunity to save much money.

“Kids have to save for those more expensive things, and they can earn only 10 a week,” Baldwin said. “It takes two or three months to get something like a bike. Because a lot of our kids are growing up in a house where money may be tight, that’s not a behavior that is getting modeled for them.”

Dr. Tracy Daniels, left, principal at Springfield's Sunshine Elementary Schools, says she can always count on Deamber Brand to adjust and “never get frustrated when things change.” (Photo by Jym Wilson)

The Cents of Pride program has been running since 2010. Several of the schools have formalized relationships with bigger groups, such as churches, Baldwin said. Sunshine Elementary, however, does not have any outside partners.

What it does have is Brand running it, Baldwin said.

“I don’t have to check on her store,” Baldwin said. “It’s being run right. She knows all about having nice items, and she has a great relationship with the principal.”

Superpower: Extreme bargain hunter

“I love kids,” Brand said. “They really get it. They get life. They are honest.”

Brand started with Cents of Pride about five years ago, when her daughter Lucy was a kindergartener. Brand identified immediately with its purpose, she said, and she enjoyed seeing kids not only get what they needed, but experience a thrill over getting what they wanted. 

She really appreciates when kids get that same thrill over getting something for someone else.

“We had a donation of great yarn, so we made some craft baskets. We bought some crochet needles and put them with the yarn,” Brand said. “Almost every month, this one little boy bought the yarn for his grandma. He’s a fourth grader, and that’s an age where you would think they’d pick a basketball or something. But he always got yarn.”

Deamber Brand says students often buy shoes and other things to address basic needs, but she appreciates when kids get that same thrill over getting something for someone else.  (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Another child saved up to buy a friend roller skates, she said. Basic needs are popular — shoes fly off the shelves, Brand said. Shampoo, conditioner, soap and toothpaste are also big needs.

Keeping that store’s shelves stocked takes a special kind of person, said Lindsay Tobin, who nominated Brand for the Citizen of the Year Award. It takes someone with a big heart and a sharp nose for shopping.

“I have seen her magically transform $40 into sacks full of groceries,” Tobin said. “She’s passionate about the kids and loves them all. She just has a way of being able to talk to them and find out what it is they really need.”

Brand loves putting her bargain-hunting to good use. She calls it her other superpower — being able to find items at low prices and putting them to good use. A full set of “Harry Potter” books, that turned out to be a big draw, was found on clearance for $3, for instance.

“I will dig through a box and throw it in the back of the van,” Brand said. “Sometimes my foyer looks ridiculous. My husband is really patient.”

Volunteering hat always on

While some people focus and concentrate between different efforts, Brand’s volunteer hat is always on. And her determination inspires others, Daniels said. Brand was one of 15 volunteers honored in May 2024 by Springfield Public Schools for all her work. 

Running the store is not easy. At the end of each month, Brand leads a team of herself, her mother-in-law and her aunt — “rock stars,” Brand calls them — and displays all the items she has collected, from things in storage to new items she found over the last month.

The Sunshine Elementary School store doesn’t have its own dedicated space, Daniels said. Because the school is at capacity, the store’s previously dedicated space had to give way to instructional space. That means the stash is completely unpacked, displayed then put away. Every month.

The loss of that room is one of the best examples of Brand’s indefatigable, invincible attitude — “Got ya, Dr. D.”

Deamber Brand, right, parent/volunteer, leads Sunshine Elementary School’s Cents of Pride program, and is always a cheerleader for the school, says the school’s principal, Dr. Tracy Daniels, left. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

“I know it can be a point of frustration to move things around a little bit, but she doesn’t ever get frustrated,” Daniels said. “She knows that if we make a change, it’s for the good of the school and the good of the students. She is always a cheerleader and advocate, no matter what.”

Brand said she is motivated by both the teachers and students she meets. The teachers are phenomenal for their dedication to days that can be long and grueling at times, she said. The students are also working hard — learning isn’t easy, she said.

That fuels her determination. When she sees such hard working kids going without basic necessities, it fuels her desire to help even more.

“You see kids without real shoes, and I don’t know how you can see that and not want to do something about it,” Brand said.

Daily Citizen’s Distinguished Citizen Awards

The Daily Citizen’s Distinguished Citizen Awards will be presented during a reception May 15 from 4 to 6 p.m. in The Gallery at the Gillioz Theatre. A limited number of tickets are still available. General admission tickets are available for $50, with VIP Tickets (which include an added $50 donation to support the Daily Citizen’s nonprofit mission) available for $100.

Reserve your tickets today through Eventbrite.

The presenting sponsor of the Daily Citizen Distinguished Citizen Awards is Great Southern Bank. Supporting sponsors are Pitt Technology Group and Volt Credit Union, with added support for the event through a strategic partnership with the Gillioz Theatre.

Volt Credit Union

About the award

The Citizen of the Year Award is designed to recognize an “everyday” citizen of Springfield who exemplifies good citizenship through one or more of the following traits:

  • Active participation as a community volunteer or providing public service.
  • Active involvement in voting and encouraging others to vote.
  • Staying informed and helping others avoid misinformation or disinformation.
  • Taking responsibility for solving a community problem.
  • Promoting respect for the law, government, justice, freedom, equality, peace and the common good.

People serving in elected office, or seeking elected office, were not eligible for selection (although some were nominated by readers). All of our award recipients were selected by the Daily Citizen’s Board of Directors.

In addition to Deamber Brand, other nominees for the Citizen of the Year were:

  • Rob Baird
  • Shawna Baron
  • Andrea Brady
  • Dominique Nki Calloway and Amanda Snead
  • Rev. Kenneth Chumley
  • Thomas Douglas
  • Chuck and Jody Dow
  • Erin Godwin
  • Renee and Mark Grantham
  • Jonathan Groves
  • Brandy Harris
  • Monica Henderson-DeVore
  • Jon Herbert
  • Craig Hosmer
  • Danielle Kincaid
  • Corey Kilburn
  • Niki Kiruki
  • Alina Lehnert
  • Christie Love, Holly Madden and The Connecting Grounds
  • Judith Martinez
  • Brian Mattson
  • John Moore
  • Dee Ogilvy
  • Chance Parish
  • Kyler Sherman-Wilkins
  • Kai Sutton
  • Gabriela Verdugo Johnson
  • Becky Volz
  • Liz Wertz

Joe Hadsall

Joe Hadsall is the education reporter for the Hauxeda. Hadsall has more than two decades of experience reporting in the Ozarks with the Joplin Globe, Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine. Contact him at (417) 837-3671 or More by Joe Hadsall