Since 2010, local women have generously been donating to The Cookie Jar, a fund within Benton Community Foundation. They gather annually on the first Thursday of November to celebrate their philanthropy, enjoy fellowship, and award grants that impact children and/or women locally.
    This past Thursday, Cookie Jar members and their guests gathered at the Benton County Country Club to do just that. Welcomed by Cookie Jar Member Laurel Strasburger, guests then heard a report back from last year’s top grant recipient. Toni McGowen and Megan Lyons represented Hope Springs Safe House. The domestic violence shelter, located in Attica, was able to paint and add furnishings to the historic home to ensure that families feel comfortable in their surroundings.
    Before dinner, each of the members in attendance were recognized and each received a small gift in appreciation of their generosity. In this 9th year of the Cookie Jar, 129 local women became members through their gifts of $100 (or more). While half of their donations were added to a permanent Cookie Jar fund, the other half was to be awarded in grants Thursday night. A pool of 10 applicants had been narrowed to four finalists who were on hand to share their stories.
    Benton County Health nurse Deb Johnson and Gail Lange spoke about the Benton County Health Department’s plan to offer classes to women and girls in the community.  Classes are planned on self-defense for women and babysitting for young girls seeking to become well-trained.  Plans also include a mother/daughter bonding class called Canvas and Cookies.  This opportunity provides time for mothers and daughters to work together to complete a painting and spend special time together.
    Megan Doyle, Cameron Budreau, and Sydney Payne were representatives of Benton Central’s Never Be Alone Program.  This after-school mentoring program is provided to qualifying junior high students who are paired with junior and senior mentors.  From stimulating games, baking, and crafts, to career speakers, homework help, and new friendships, students are able to grow mentally, socially, and emotionally from their involvement with the program. Never Be Alone Program also strives to help provide students with the necessities they lack at home, including winter clothing and hygiene items.
    Otterbein Public Library’s Program Coordinator, Addalee Farmer spoke to Cookie Jar Members about weekly program offerings focused on educating and empowering women. Beginning in 2019, weekly programming will focus on topics of women’s health and fitness, finance, self-defense, motherhood, technology, home management, and small business.  Women and girls will learn skills needed to make themselves more marketable in the workplace, more efficient for their families and their communities, and how to become healthier for themselves.
    A pilot program at Prairie Crossing was represented by Evan Snethen and Marissa Rosenbarger.  Lego STEM Club introduces 4th grade boys and girls to STEM using Legos and engineering concepts to create working designs.  Meeting once a month, the idea is to take Lego building beyond the causal play use of themed kits into making things that actually work in the real world by applying concepts related to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  Benton Central Engineering teacher Mr. Weitlauf was also on-hand to speak about the growth of the Engineering program at the high school level and the importance of sharing the STEM concepts at the elementary level.
    Members were given the hard task of voting for their favorite organization to receive the top grant award. Cookie Jar Member Jayme Buchanan presented the Cookie Jar grant of $4,500 to Benton Central’s Never Be Alone Program. As finalists Benton County Health Department, Otterbein Public Library, and Prairie Crossing’s Lego STEM Club each received $1,500 as well.
    Membership is now open for the 2019 Cookie Jar; several of the guests made the decision to join before they left on Thursday night!