20 Family Advocates: Non-profits making a difference in OKC - MetroFamily Magazine
MetroFamily Magazine

Where OKC parents find fun & resources

20 Family Advocates: Non-profits making a difference in OKC

Reading Time: 15 minutes 

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.”


2. Oklahoma Children’s Theatre

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.”


3. Peppers Ranch

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.”


4. Single Parents Support Network

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 the 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.” p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 9.0px Helvetica}


5. Loveworks Leadership, Inc.

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.


6. Infant Crisis Services

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 Christian-based 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.


8. The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools

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 a 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 collaborative 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.”


9. Special Care, Inc.

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.”

10. Center for Children & Families

The staff at Norman’s Center for Children & Families has worked tirelessly for almost 50 years to heal children wounded by relationship trauma, empower youth to reach their full potential and strengthen families struggling through parenting challenges. What began in 1969 as a shelter for youth awaiting foster care placements has grown into a non-profit providing services like counseling, after-school programming and parenting education.

The organization’s CEO Brandon Brooks recalled his own loving home growing up, but said no amount of love could protect him from adverse experiences.

“When I look into the faces of the children who come in for counseling or join us in the evening for the Boys & Girls Club of Norman,” he said, “I see familiar faces that take me back to my own childhood and motivate me to ensure we are providing the highest quality service and care to our clients.”

And although the organization has helped countless families through challenges, Brooks said there’s still a long way to go in meeting the needs of local kids.

“The metro has made transformative improvements to enhance the quality of life for so many Oklahomans, yet so many still struggle to overcome life’s challenges,” he said. “Concentrated investments in services to help struggling families triumph over abuse and neglect, addiction, poverty, etc. would have lasting impacts on the metro.


11. Sunbeam Family Services

This is one of the longest-serving nonprofits in Oklahoma City, beginning as a home for neglected boys and girls in 1907. In fact, the organization’s CEO Jim Priest noted Sunbeam was providing counseling before the Department of Health even existed and helping local kids before there was a Department of Human Services.

Now, in an era where most non-profits serve specific niches, Priest said he’s proud to represent an organization that takes a holistic approach to all family needs, from infants to the elderly.

Services provided by Sunbeam range from foster home recruitment and infant mental health to education opportunities for young moms and financial help for grandparents raising grandchildren. And while helping so many different people and addressing so many local issues can seem overwhelming, Priest believes everyone should be playing a role in making Oklahoma City a better place for all.

“The thing that’s always on my mind, particularly this year, is how important it is for everyone in the community to lean in with the non-profit community,” Priest said. “Some people have a tendency to say, ‘well, the church will take care of it or the government will take care of it.’ But it’s really a community responsibility to help those in need. People can do that with Sunbeam or the other agencies by volunteering or donating. More than ever we need people to lean in.”


12. Fields & Futures

Statistics show that OKCPS students who play sports are more likely to graduate and have a higher GPA. So besides all the other physical and personal benefits to athletics, they’re a proven motivator to get a kid to school and keep them more focused on attendance and grades. With this knowledge, Fields & Futures Founder Tim McLaughlin is determined to make sure dilapidated athletic facilities or poorly-funded programs are never a barrier to sports involvement for local kids.

Tim and his wife Liz first had a vision for Fields & Futures when they saw the Jefferson Middle School athletic field in 2011.

“How children played on it was beyond me,” Tim said. “We quickly realized it was the rule rather than the exception. Of 42 district athletic fields, very few were playable, yet kids practiced on them and had no reason to believe things would ever get better.”

He decided to rebuild that field and immediately saw an impact in school participation that inspired him to build more. Fields & Futures has completed 20 athletic fields at seven school sites and two more fields are under construction now.

“For the students and families served by Oklahoma City Public Schools, a renovated school campus sends a loud message saying, ‘We care about you,’” he said. “Each new athletic field provides a safe place to play, a place where friendships are formed, a place where kids learn important life lessons outside the classroom.”


13. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma

What parent doesn’t want their child to have increased self-confidence, greater decision-making skills and an improved ability to express feelings? These are all proven results of involvement in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma, a mentorship program that matches positive role models with at-risk children.

Traditionally, children have opportunities for connection with adults at home and in the classroom. But with local public school classroom sizes bigger than ever before and one in 10 Oklahoma kids having a parent incarcerated, mentorship is more important than ever before. Big Brothers Big Sisters has a proven model of one-on-one mentoring that makes a big impact.

“We all know it takes a village,” said Oklahoma City Area Director Jacquelyn Edwards, “and our caring, safe, dependable mentors are here to be part of your child’s village.”

Ninety-two percent of the “Littles” mentored through Big Brothers Big Sisters showed an increase in academic performance in 2017, Edwards reported, just one of many ways the organization is filling the gaps left by family and education challenges.


14. Latino Community Development Agency

The largest non-profit agency in Oklahoma is the Latino Community Development Agency, established in 1991 to meet the needs of the state’s growing Latino population. Today, the organization offers more than 20 programs focusing on education, health and wellness and prevention and treatment.

The organization’s Development Director Mario Medrano was actually a beneficiary of the organization before he became involved.

“What drew me to the mission was the simple fact that it focuses on the major needs of our Latino community in Oklahoma,” he said. “I benefited from our Education Programs while going to high school, so I understand the value of the work our agency does and the impact it has in our community.”

The organization’s programs range from early childhood education and scholarships for high school seniors to child abuse prevention initiatives and health and wellness classes. The organization served locals through 114,000 encounters last year alone and they’re hoping to expand services.

“Oklahoma is becoming more diverse in many aspects by the day,” Medrano said, “and I feel that we can do a better job at embracing our differences instead of using them to create division in our communities.”


15. Parents Helping Parents, Inc.

Talking with a child through a struggle with substance abuse can be a lonely experience for parents. But Parents Helping Parents, Inc.

Executive Director Becky O’Dell believes it doesn’t have to be. The non-profit was established in 2001 to help parents and caregivers of children of any age suffering from substance use disorder.

“I think they offer hope, they offer support, they offer their knowledge because they came through it,” she said of the parents who help others through the non-profit. “They offer that shared experience.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month the country’s opioid epidemic is accelerating, making the need for organizations like Parents Helping Parents more vital than ever. O’Dell feels passionately that everyone in Oklahoma City continue to increase awareness about addiction. The organization serves local parents through peer coaching, chapter meetings, parent phone lines and more.

“Make it okay to talk about this,” she said. “Make it okay for families to not feel ashamed.”


16. YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City

The YMCA is known nationwide as a beacon of family services prompting togetherness, social responsibility and health. Locally, the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City served more than 187,000 people last year through youth sports, exercise programs, swim lessons, camps and more. YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City President Kelly Kay started working for the Y right out of college. Raised by a single parent, Kay said he has a lot of pride in the Y’s mission to serve everyone in the community.

“The thing that’s so unique about the Y is that it truly is ‘for all’ like our mission says,” he said. “We work to make things affordable and I think that’s important.”

Keeping household memberships low-cost, including youth sports programs in the cost of household memberships and offering financial assistance for their popular Camp Classen summer camp are just a few of the ways the Y works to reach everyone, Kelly said. He recalled how his own sons participated in Y sports growing up, giving them opportunities to build physical and social skills and providing him with opportunities to meet other local parents.

Last year alone, the Y provided more than $3.7 million in financial assistance and free or subsidized community programs to more than 35,000 individuals who otherwise could not afford to participate.


17. Smart Start Central Oklahoma

The importance of reading to a toddler may seem like common knowledge now, but without Smart Start Central Oklahoma spreading that message, many parents would still be in the dark about how to prepare kids for the classroom. The organization has helped thousands of children in the past 10 years with its mission to bring awareness to the importance of early childhood education.

Smart Start Central Oklahoma Board Chairperson Sue Kuntze has been a child advocate for 50 years and said the idea behind Smart Start was to help equip parents with the tools and resources they needed to prepare their children for school.

“When families with no resources send kids to school with a 400-word vocabulary,” she said, “and families with a lot of resources send kids to school with maybe a 10,000-word vocabulary, that gap is too big to close.”

By teaching parents simple things like the value of reading to infants and toddlers, Kuntze said that gap begins to close and kids begin school on the right foot.

“The greatest gift we can give families is empowerment,” she said. “We believe in families. We believe if we support them, that is the single best investment we can make. Helping parents gain the knowledge and the resources so they’re successful in their role as their child’s first and most influential teacher, that is what we do best.”


18. Allied Arts

Deborah McAuliffe Senner remembers being a young girl interested in art, ballet and music lessons. But being the youngest of a family of seven, there was no money for that, she said. Now that she’s the president and CEO of Allied Arts, she’s passionately pursuing making that dream a reality for local kids today.

“I remain a strong advocate for the transformational power of the arts,” she said, “and continue to raise money for those kids and families who lack the financial resources.”

Allied Arts works to broaden support for the arts by raising financial support for cultural organizations, encouraging participation and attendance, advocating for arts education and promoting excellence in the arts and arts management. They have raised more than $63 million to advance the arts in central Oklahoma and currently help fund more than 40 arts groups. They provided 545,000 arts experiences to school children last year, many of them in underserved communities.

Despite years of research showing the arts are closely linked to everything Oklahomans say they want for their children, she said, arts education programs continue to be cut from schools.

“The children of affluent, aspiring parents generally get exposed to the arts whether or not public schools provide them. Low-income children often do not,” she said. “Arts education enables those children from a financially challenged background to have a more level playing field with children who have had those cultural experiences.”


19. The Boys & Girls Club of Oklahoma City

When Jane Sutter volunteered to mentor a third grader back in 1995, she never imagined her short weekly visits would inspire so much positive change.

“What I really learned was what a big difference a little intervention could make,” she said, noting she still has a relationship with the young girl she mentored. “Encouraging, asking questions about school, talking about graduation and college, all give them a vision for what they can see for themselves.”

Sutter is now the president and CEO of The Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County, where she gets to experience the power of mentorship on a much larger scale. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County’s mission is to give local youth graduating high school a plan for the future and the skills to become engaged members of the community. The organization accomplishes that for more than 3,400 club members at four local locations through afterschool and school break programs focusing on academics and character development. The most important thing the organization does, Sutter said, is bridge the opportunity gap.

“There’s a huge opportunity gap for kids who come from situations where they have a lot of extracurricular activities or a lot of support systems in their family and beyond their family,” she said. “I feel like we offer a significant support system and enrichment experiences to close that gap and help all kids reach their potential.”


20. Family Support Network

More than 2,000 children will enter Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) in Oklahoma this year and about 2,000 more will have to visit surgical, medical or pediatric ICUs in Oklahoma. Thousands more will receive a diagnosis of a learning disability, genetic disorder or other special health care need. Through Oklahoma Family Network’s flagship Parent-to-Parent Mentorship Program, the families of these children won’t feel so isolated and overwhelmed during the process.

OFN was first founded in 1996 as an agency focused solely on helping parents with babies born prematurely. But as those babies grew, so did the organization. They now offer programs to help families with a child with a cancer diagnosis, parents who have experienced infant loss and those with children with behavioral health and substance abuse issues.

“Each staff member who works for OFN has a child or young adult with special healthcare needs or disabilities,” said OFN Executive Director Joni Bruce. “Because we have experienced similar situations to those we serve, we were drawn to OFN so we can assist families as they care for their children. Essentially, we want to provide hope when families may feel concerned, frustrated or all alone.”


The needs are great for families in Oklahoma. We’re thankful for these 20 non-profits and invite our readers to support these groups and their causes through volunteering and donating.

more stories

Verified by MonsterInsights