Children's education programs emerged as the big winner Friday as Eastern Jackson County non-profit organizations gathered for lunch. A legacy gift by Vernon Carl Jelley Jr., M.D. will ensure that programs for the area's youth will benefit for years to come.

Jelley was a longtime Blue Springs resident who “believed in contributing to the greater good of the community,” according to the Truman Heartland Community Foundation. The former orthopedic surgeon died May 29 at age 69. He entrusted the foundation with his initial gift of $1.6 million for use to meet the most important needs in Eastern Jackson County.

At the foundation's 18th annual grants luncheon, more than $170,000 in grant awards were given to 46 Eastern Jackson County organizations.

The new charitable foundation was announced at the luncheon, coinciding with National Community Foundation Week, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Independence.

“Education was very important to him,” said Gloria Smith said of Jelley. “He was always learning, even after retiring from his practice. He would enroll in classes just to learn more.”

On top of his continued education, Jelley also taught adult swim courses, became a substitute teacher in the Independence School District, volunteered as a tutor for the Boys and Girls Club in Independence and mentored for Big Brothers and Sisters of Kansas City, Smith said.

“Dr. Jelley said, ‘Education is the cure to all that ails us,’" said Liz McClure, who was a good friend of Jelley.

Jelley had a provision in his estate to support local charities, which led to the creation of The Jelley Family Foundation Endowment. The endowment will provide $80,000 to support children’s education programs in 2014. “And that’s only a portion of it,” added Smith. Future donations will be awarded once the estate gift is finalized, according to Truman Heartland President and CEO Phil Hanson.

“He always had a heart for kids, especially ones with special needs,” Smith said.

The grants awarded Friday were made possible thanks to 18 charitable funds, said Hanson.

“Of the funds listed, seven were created by donors with gifts from their estates to support their philanthropic goals beyond their lifetime,” he said/

Grant recipients ranging from community betterment intiatives to health and welfare programs received funding for causes such as customized play equipment for disabled children at McCoy Park, providing weekly meals to area needy and homeless families and a program that places recent college graduates to advise both Raytown South and Van Horn High School students and their families on navigating college finances.

“Grant funds were for specific areas and purposes that were chosen by the donor’s interests,” Hanson said. “It was a great turnout today, and several local causes benefited as a result.”

According to Hanson, charitable funds are established by both individuals and institutions whether as living donors or through wills. These funds can be created with a variety of assets including cash, real estate, stock and artwork.

“Many of the grants awarded today are made possible because of legacy planning,” added Hanson. “It’s this kind of legacy and forward thinking that makes a signifcant difference and impact on our community.”