Christmas came early for some local businesses and organizations, with John Coen playing Santa. 

Coen, president of Ottawa Community Partnership Inc., delivered checks last week to some local businesses and organizations in response to grant proposals they made to the Partnership and American Eagle Outfitters. The funds, Coen said, are meant to bolster economic and workforce development in the area through various programs. 

“Workforce development is a huge initiative in our community right now,” Coen, who also is the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer, said. “In order to be able to recruit new businesses that have significant workforces, there have to be people that they are capable of employing once they get here.” 

The Ottawa Community Partnership Inc’s original intent was for the money to be used to build a YMCA for the community. American Eagle Outfitters was one of the effort’s top donors, Coen said. However, when the funds raised were inadequate for the goal, it was determined something else be done with the money to benefit the community, Coen said. 

“The tax credits that AEO took advantage of were economic development tax credits, and because the initial donation was made to YMCA, which was going to improve the amenities of life ... it kind of had to all fit that economic development,” Coen said.

The funds collected in that effort totaled about $100,000, Coen said, much of which was donated by American Eagle. As such, several local organizations received positive responses to their grant proposals, equating to checks ranging from $7,000 to $15,000.

The Elizabeth Layton Center for Hope and Guidance, East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corp, Franklin County Development Council, Communities in Schools, Neosho County Community College, the Ottawa Police Department Foundation, The Ottawa Herald and the City of Ottawa received portions of the funds. Each organization presented different goals for the money, but economic development was at the forefront of those goals, Coen said. 

The City of Ottawa plans to put the funding toward its Forest Park playground project, Wynndee Lee, the city’s director of planning and codes administration, said. This funding puts the city $15,000 closer to its goal of raising $150,000 for the project. 

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” Lee, who wrote the grant proposal, said. “This is a big and great first start for our commitment to the project.”

With a $70,000 commitment from the city, the gift puts playground planners past the halfway mark, Lee said. The new playground would offer both residents and visitors an amenity that would improve the quality of life in the community for families of the workforce brought by employers, she said. 

The FCDC also is pleased with its gift, Jeff Seymour, FCDC executive director, said. The council plans on using the funds for workforce development in area schools, he said. 

“The programs we’re going to use that for is the Day on the Job program in January for workforce development initiatives, so that’s something that we’ve kind of identified as a key structural component of any initiative here,” Seymour said. 

High school students will tour health care, private sector, public sector and manufacturing facilities in the county to prepare and inform them on the workplace that they might face after graduation. 

“We really appreciate American Eagle being willing to reallocate that money in a way that is being useful to the community,” Seymour said. 

Communities in Schools and Neosho County Community College also plan to use the funding to support several workforce development programs. Communities in Schools works with high school students in preparation for job interviews and training. Neosho’s Partners in Change program is an eight-week intensive program that focuses on life changes, attitude adjustment and job skills for people deemed at-risk for not being able to be hired, Coen said. The program has a 70 percent success rate at placing graduates in jobs. 

The Layton center also plans to use funding for playground equipment, Coen said. The funding given to ECKAN has been allocated to support the organization’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day festivities. The Ottawa Police Department Foundation has planned to use the funding to continue its drug abuse awareness program DARE camp. 

The Herald plans to use its $7,000 in funding to provide a web space, as well as a print product, to both obtain and submit videos, news and coming events. The intent, the proposal written by Meagan Patton-Paulson, Herald Connections editor, states, is for the OHZONE project to help the community, specifically youths and young adults, stay involved and up-to-date with the goings-on and latest trends in Ottawa and Franklin County. The Herald has partnered with numerous other entities in the community, including Ottawa University, Ottawa and West Franklin high schools, Ottawa Recreation Commission, Franklin County Young Professionals and the Ottawa Youth Arts program, to broaden the OHZONE project’s range and impact.

American Eagle’s foundation board reviewed the grant proposals and ultimately made the decision about which organizations received funding, Coen said. Although the money wasn’t used for a community center, Coen said, the overall outcome was positive. 

“They chose all local groups, and so we feel very good about that,” Coen said. “So all that money they had originally donated for our YMCA project ended up benefiting our local organizations. We’re very pleased.”