Spirit of Support

Posted by Paula Paine on February 13, 2011 in Alumni, "City of Ottawa", "Franklin County"

Relationship - noun

The connection between two or more people or groups and their involvement with one another, especially as regards the way they behave toward and feel about one another

It’s pretty unmistakable as you drive down Ottawa’s Main Street and into its neighborhoods. Businesses and individuals are supporting OU™ in record numbers and proudly displaying “We Support Ottawa University” signs to prove it.

OU’s 2009-10 annual Franklin County Campaign, which was moved from the spring to the fall, generated more than three times the amount donated from the community the previous year, rising from $20,000 to more than $65,000 – an incredible jump during an extended recession.

The change can largely be attributed to a mutual priority placed on building stronger connections between the City of Ottawa and Ottawa University. The result has been a significant growth in the relationship, taking both to a place of greater awareness, respect and involvement.

“In the 2009-10 fiscal year, the Franklin County Campaign, as well as the University’s relationship with the local community, has grown tremendously,” said Brooke Riffel MBA ’02 KS, director of annual giving and Dome Society. “The students, faculty, staff, and administration on campus are truly grateful for everything the community provides for the University, especially the outstanding financial support they’ve given to the Franklin County Campaign. Everyone at the University believes that our relationship with the local community is important. From advancement to admissions, this relationship is growing.”

As a member of Ottawa’s primary medical services provider, Ottawa Family Physicians, Dr. John Gollier is a long-time personal and corporate supporter of the University. “The University does not exist as an island unto itself here in Ottawa,” says Gollier. “Its presence in the community continues to expand. I see the influence in our schools where my kids are read to by OU football players and taught by OU graduates. Many of our civic organizations are led by graduates and faculty of the University. My family enjoys attending sporting events, plays, and other activities on campus. An active and thriving Ottawa University is a good thing for every business, organization and family in this community, and I am proud to support it.” This is evidenced by the “We Support OU” sign that Gollier proudly displays on his front lawn.

Riffel worked with Vice President and Provost Dennis Tyner, Vice President of Advancement Paul Bean, and Director of Ottawa’s Main Street Association Brian Dennis to place the “We Support OU” signs in Ottawa businesses and neighborhoods before students arrived for the fall semester. “The signs we’re giving out to our supporters are a big hit. We’ve even had calls from businesses and individuals wanting to know how they can get one. It makes a huge impact on our students and their parents, as well as people visiting Ottawa, when they see those signs and know the community is behind us!” said Riffel.

Senior Stacey Gorton recently wrote an editorial in The Campus newspaper that demonstrates that impact. “When I drive through the streets of Ottawa and see all of those little golden signs saying ‘We Support OU,’ I am so excited to be a part of that community,” she said. “I am excited to attend a university that is so supported by the community that local merchants are willing to discount valuable services and products to show students just how much they support them and enjoy them in this community.”

Main Street’s Dennis agrees. “The response has been great,” he said. “I think it surprised some of them when we walked in because we weren’t asking for anything. All we were telling them is that there is this relationship we need to build, and we asked them what we could do to make things better. Every business owner that took a sign that day put it in their window before we left their store or shop. OU students are a market that they hadn’t been tapping, and this helped them see the benefit of strengthening the relationship.”

Beyond the Franklin County Campaign, the City of Ottawa is a beautiful, forward thinking and vital community that is home to many OU employees and alumni, and a temporary home to most of our students. So it is only fitting that we concern ourselves with one another’s welfare, partnering together for mutual growth and success. This partnership was taken to new heights during the 2009-10 academic year.

An area of lasting impact involved the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce, who called on President Kevin C. Eichner’s business expertise and leadership to help develop their strategic planning process. Following surveys submitted and compiled by Ottawa University, Eichner facilitated a strategic planning session with 32 community leaders to identify the five key needs the Chamber should address. In November, he facilitated a Community Day during which the various task forces and community leaders presented their action plans for achieving results.

Eichner also shared his business savvy with the community through two Leadership Matters workshops offered free of charge to business professionals during the year, as well as through his bi-weekly Leadership Matters column run in the Ottawa Herald. Working with other community leaders, Eichner continued to facilitate marketing and fund-raising efforts for a community center to be located on University property allocated for that purpose.

Throughout the year, an increasing number of Ottawa businesses donated supplies for University functions, sponsored dinners, provided student and staff discounts, employed students, and provided internship, job-shadowing or practicum opportunities. Many area residents “adopted” OU students to provide them a sense of home, and multiple organizations utilized OU’s facilities for their meetings and events. Other community/college benefits during the year included a myriad of service projects, events, student programming, and value-added instruction.

Clearly the spirit of support is mutual between the city of Ottawa and Ottawa University.