By Sarah Gooding

The Morning Sun

Christmas came early for many not-for-profit agencies in Southeast Kansas Tuesday evening as they received grants to help with their missions in the community.

A total of 48 grants from five different funds were awarded as the Community Foundation of Southeast Kansas trustees, grant recipients and others gathered to celebrate the work being done in Bourbon, Cherokee, Crawford and Labette counties and to learn more about what the different nonprofits do.

"The buzz all around our displays over here is always exciting and high-energy," said Cathy White, executive director of CFSEK.

Each grant presentation celebration is exciting for the Foundation, which is in its 13th year.

"I think this is our 13th grant ceremony," said Wendell Wilkinson, president of the Foundation Board of Trustees. "I think tonight is going to be a nice, heartwarming evening."

"It's fun to give people hope. It's fun to give people assistance," he continued.

Over the 13 years, the foundation has done a lot of that, with a total of 821 grants issued totaling $8.2 million.

"We continue to work hard to have growth," Wilkinson said.

Grants then were issued from the Rita J. Bicknell Women's Giving Circle, the Rita J. Bicknell Circle of Friends, the Future Fund Giving Circle, the Rosalie Manley Endowed Fund Grants - Basic Human Needs and the Community Foundation General Grant Youth Activities.

The funds will do everything from helping feed children during the summer to helping prevent shaken baby syndrome to buying camisoles for women after mastectomies.

Jennifer Monje, with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Crawford County, said one of the grants the organization received will help make the TRYathlon event safer with better equipment.

"We actually got a grant for safety equipment for the Get Fit TRYathlon," she said, adding that the funds will purchase vests, flags and signs for the course.

Alan Roberts, the chairman of the education committee at the Miners Hall Museum, was excited that that organization received funds for an educational program that will operate out of a donated trunk brought from the Old World.

In the program, artifacts that students can handle will travel from school to school, which could also lead to increased foot traffic at the museum.

The Pittsburg Community Garden will adding improvements with its grant.

"We're making nine raised beds," said Marissa Troth, adding that this will help with soil conditions and fewer weeds. "The soil mix is what is so expensive."

And, the Crawford County Sheriff's department will be encouraging students to buckle up with the SAFE (Seatbelts Are For Everyone) program that began locally and is expanding across the state.

The program was awarded $4,000, much of which will be used for incentives for good behavior. Students sign pledge cards promising to buckle up and each month are eligible for gift card drawings. Additionally, seatbelt checks show that numbers of high school students buckling have increased from 68 percent to 86 percent.

The list also contains many other projects from agencies including Angels Among Us, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Crawford County, Bourbon County Emergency Assistance Center, Center for the Learning Tree Institute (Greenbush), Catholic Charities, Children's Advocacy Center, CLASS LTD, Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, Crawford County Sheriff's Office S.A.F.E., Creating Assets, Savings & Home, Elm Acres Foundation, ENACTUS, Family Resource Center, First Christian Church/Pittsburg Community Garden, First United Methodist Church - Wesley House, Horses of Hope, Kansas Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Labette County, Kansas Children's Service League, Labette Health, Live Well Crawford County, Lowell Milkin Center, Miners Hall Museum Foundation, Mother to Mother Ministry, Pittsburg Public Library, Pittsburg YMCA, Restorative Justice Authority, Ronald McDonald House, Salvation Army, SEK Humane Society, Special Olympics, USD 246 Northeast - Arma Mastery Connect, Vie Medical Clinic, Visioning A Healthy Bourbon County and Women's Resource Center of Southeast Kansas.