20 Family Advocates: Non-profits making a difference in OKC
Learn about 20 non-profit organizations making a difference for Oklahoma City children and families.
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Oklahoma City is home to hundreds of non-profits. These organizations work tirelessly to do everything from shelter local animals to serve meals to the homebound. To celebrate our 20th anniversary, we’re highlighting 20 local non-profits (in no particular order) that have been especially helpful to families in Oklahoma City. We chatted with leaders at each of the organizations to be reminded of the power of serving others and be prompted to do even more for our community.
1. Calm Waters
This organization helps more than 2,500 children and families every year who have endured a loss of some kind. Through free counseling at various programs and schools around the Oklahoma City metro area, this non-profit gives hope to local kids who have experienced loss due to death, divorce, deployment, incarceration, deportation or foster care. They’ve helped more than 27,000 individuals since they were founded in 1992.
“Everybody loses someone they love,” said Calm Waters Executive Director Barbara Butner. “The weekend I attended Calm Waters grief training, one of my dear, dear friends who was like a mother to me passed away. There’s no getting around loss. Someone you love will die at some point in your life and loss is hardest on kids. We just want to help address their grief.”
Looking to the future of OKC’s children, Butner said her greatest hope is that legislators will recognize the huge issue of mental health for kids and address it appropriately. “It’s vital that central Oklahomans recognize mental health is an issue,” Butner said. “It’s not going away. If we recognize problems at an early age and give people help, they will be contributing citizens and will be more equipped later.”
In an era of arts programs being drastically cut from public school budgets, Oklahoma Children’s Theatre is delivering arts experiences to local youth through classes, camps and outreach programs. The Theatre became fully incorporated in 1986 and provides accessible, educational and entertaining children’s theatre and related creative programming to thousands of children in the metro area as well as statewide tours.
“Classes and camps give children an understanding of collaboration, of empathy, of active listening and the opportunity to be wildly and exotically creative,” said Oklahoma Children’s Theatre Executive Director Lyn Adams.
“Tours provide children in rural and underserved communities the opportunity to experience live theatre and for those first timers it blows their minds!”
Although the organization has made a lot of progress in bringing arts experiences to kids, Adams said she’d still like to see Oklahoma City make strides in education.
“If we could find the funding to provide arts educators and experiences either in school or through field trips for every child enrolled in Pre-K though 12,” she said, “we would definitely make OKC a better place to raise a family, to be a family, to be single, to live.”
In nine years, Peppers Ranch Foster Care Community has grown from being home to 10 kids to more than 110. The organization’s mission is to break the cycle of child abuse and neglect and they’re currently expanding to a second Peppers Ranch location to make more of an impact. Peppers Ranch Executive Director Tonya Ratcliff explained what drew her to the mission of the organization was that, as a foster parent herself, she saw the value in providing a whole community of wrap-around care instead of single services. Foster care can be a lonely journey, she said, but living in a neighborhood surrounded by other parents who understand makes a huge difference.
Although Peppers Ranch has already accomplished a lot in serving foster families, Ratcliff said what local kids need now is to hold foster parents to a higher standard.
“Oklahoma has to wrap around the foster care crisis tighter than they ever have before,” she explained. For our next generation to have a better life, she said, foster parents have to work harder than ever to equip foster kids to rise above the life they were born into, she said.
“I’m not telling you this as an executive director, but as a mother of 10. I’ve been there. I’ve walked that road. I’ve seen mental illness at its worse. I’ve seen addiction plague the lives of biological parents,” she said. “I’m not just saying that as I sit behind a desk raising money. I’m saying this as a mom.”
The mission of the Single Parent Support Network is to educate, empower and encourage single parents to successfully raise their families. Through support groups, conferences, seminars and one-on-one meetings, SPSN helps connect local parents to resources they need. Board of Directors Member Trey Whitney said whether it’s a family in need of basic supplies like pots and pans to a parent wanting to learn how to budget or get a better job, the organization can provide a hand.
Whitley remembers his own single Mom working 50-60 hours a week with no support from his Dad. He now sits on the Board of Directors to help others like him and said if something like that would have been around when he was growing up it could have made a big difference for his family.
“Our church growing up had a very good singles ministry and we were blessed with that,” he said. “But having some help with education and college for me, buying a car, things like that, I think absolutely that would have changed things.”
This organization is a Norman non-profit that’s helped more than 10,000 local kids ages 11-14 develop leadership skills and see their potential. In partnership with hundreds of community supporters, Loveworks focuses on leadership and character development, experiential learning, mentorship and community impact.
Officer Ali Jaffery with the Norman Police Department sits on the organization’s advisory board and sees first-hand the impact Loveworks has because his own children take part in the organization’s after-school program.
“I am confident that Loveworks offers stability to families by teaching children responsibility, accountability and leadership,” he said. “Since Loveworks is an after-school program, it is utilized as an additional education program for children after the school day is over. As a police officer, my role with Loveworks helps me connect with youth and maintain a positive relationship.”
Jaffery works with the Juvenile Intervention Program and other police department initiatives geared toward local youth. He believes positive role models make a tremendous difference in the lives of young people and hopes other organizations can follow the example Loveworks has set as a positive force in shaping the next generation.
What started out of a Sunday School class in 1984 has now served almost 300,000 local babies and toddlers with life-sustaining food, formula and diapers.
“I think every parent would agree that nothing is more stressful than the thought of not being able to provide for your child’s needs,” said Infant Crisis Services Executive Director and Co-Founder Miki Farris. “At Infant Crisis Services we are able to alleviate that stress from the families we are privileged to serve. We love being able to provide hope for the families that we are helping.”
Farris drew from her personal experience to start the organization, she said. Raised by a single mom whose hard-earned paycheck never seemed to stretch the entire month of needs, she was motivated to help other struggling families. With one in four children in the state living in poverty and facing food insecurity, she’s had thousands of opportunities to meet the needs of others.
Farris said that even though Oklahoma ranks 36th out of 50 regarding the well-being of children, she’s proud to have raised her four kids in a community that provides so many opportunities and services for kids and has enjoyed serving alongside so many other non-profits meeting local needs.
7. Shiloh Camp
On 40 wooded acres in northeast Oklahoma City sits Shiloh Camp, a place where inner city kids gather every summer for an unforgettable Christianbased camp experience. Shiloh Camp’s mission is to build confidence, teach, train and model Christ’s love to local kids.
“The inspiration of Shiloh is the respite for kids in difficult situations,” said the organization’s Executive Director Stephan Moore. “We are trying to provide such a dynamic environment for them to be loved on, cared for and encouraged and help them see the value and potential on the inside of them.”
About 500 kids ages 8-16 gather for the camp each summer and more are served year-round through other programs and leadership experiences. Stephan’s hope for the future of Oklahoma City’s youth is that Shiloh Camp will be just one of many ways for kids to be encouraged and educated.
“We need to take that next action step,” he said, “and really create the opportunity and environment for our kids to thrive and grow and be ready for the next phase of life.
There’s no question education has become one of the most politicized and controversial topics in Oklahoma City over the past few years. And thankfully The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools is one organization that has stepped in to address key strategic areas to help an underfunded, floundering system.
“OKC has done amazing things the last few decades and it has happened because of focus and working together for the common good, with common vision,” said the organization’s President and CEO Mary Mélon. “Public education is complex and has become highly politicized. The community working together strategically is the only way we will make change for our kids.”
With 52 percent of the OKCPS student population being Hispanic, The Foundation provides financial and academic support to OKCPS bilingual paraprofessionals earning a teaching certification. The organization also has a partnership with donorschoose.org to help local teachers fund classroom initiatives and a program to help retain newly certified teachers. Mélon acknowledged The Foundation is just one part of a comprehensive solution that needs to surface to solve local education problems and she hopes the community can find a way to take a collaborate approach to public education and public health moving forward.
“Generational poverty can only be changed through education,” she said. “Our kids are capable of so much and they deserve all opportunities for a rich educational experience.”
When Pam Newby’s daughter was diagnosed with leukemia as a toddler, she knew there would be a lot of challenges. But she never imagined she’d struggle to find a quality preschool for her because of parents’ fear that her daughter’s condition was contagious. Out of that experience, Newby built Special Care, a childhood education center with on-site therapeutic care and top-notch care for kids with and without special needs.
When asked about the most important thing Special Care provides to the hundreds of families they serve, Newby said “peace of mind.”
“Knowing you have someone in the trenches with you,” she added. “We’re going to be here. We’re not going to set limits on what kids can accomplish. We’ll provide a safe and loving environment to help kids grow to the best of their abilities, whatever those abilities are.”
The 400-person waitlist proves Special Care provides a sought-after service. And while Newby said she’s thrilled with the thousands of lives her staff has been able to change, she’d love to see more local programs develop to help kids address the increasing mental health needs and behavioral challenges.
“Unfortunately what we’re seeing with kids who come to us even typically-developing is a lot of mental health needs and behavioral challenges,” she said. “Through divorce or incarceration or whatever, kids have a lot more to deal with in their early childhood years and there are not a lot of resources for them.”
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