NEWARK, Ohio, December 19, 2016 – Next time someone asks you if Santa Claus is real, you can tell them you believe. That's because Central Ohio Technical College (COTC) student Lalah Mills and 13 other women have been making Santa magic in Johnstown as part of the Ohio Child Conservation League (OCCL) Johnstown Angels and Astronauts group. The women organize several holiday events in the small Licking County town annually. Mills has been part of the group since she was in middle school. However, it wasn't until last year that the 20-year-old realized the impact "Santa" has had on children in her community.
"One of the things we do is put up a mailbox for letters to Santa Claus at Shull's Hardware," said Mills. "Most of the children just sent a list of toys and games they want to find under their tree on Christmas morning. But, last year, a child with autism wrote a letter to Santa and said all he wanted for Christmas was a friend. We wrote him a letter back from Santa and Mrs. Claus and asked others in the community to send more letters to him. The whole community came together, sending him letters and letting him know he had a lot of friends."
In addition to the mailbox, the OCCL Johnstown Angels and Astronauts group organizes the annual Santa Parade, Cookie Walk and Santa House in town. Mills is the youngest member of the volunteer, non-profit organization which has been working in the community for 50 years.
"This year we are rebuilt the Santa House," said Mills. "It was starting to fall apart, so we collected donations from the community and raised about $5,000 to build a new house for the children to come get their picture taken with Santa Claus. It's really great."
Mills is a business management technology major at COTC. She is scheduled to graduate in the summer of 2017. Mills said she used some of the social media skills she learned in class to manage the organization's Facebook page. She uses the page to generate support for the organization's initiatives in the community.
"During this year's Santa Parade, we are collected canned goods to go to the local food pantry," said Mills. "Our goal is to help children in need in the community, and there are many different ways that we do that."
Central Ohio Technical College opened in 1971 and is celebrating its 45th anniversary in 2016. COTC is a fully accredited, public college dedicated to providing high-quality, accessible programs of technical education in response to current and emerging employment needs, as well as encouraging the professional development of students, staff, faculty and administrators to assist them in achieving their maximum potential. COTC is the only technical college in Ohio operating four full-service campus locations: Newark, Coshocton, Knox and Pataskala.