Near & Far: Giving Back - MetroFamily Magazine
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Near & Far: Giving Back

by Erin Page

In the midst of the holiday hustle, it can be refreshing and rewarding to consider how your family can focus on the needs of others.

With a plethora of opportunities to give back in the metro, families can choose to support the causes that most resonate with them. If making a forever difference in the lives of children is at the top of your priority list, learn how you can serve and give to support babies and toddlers in the metro through Infant Crisis Services or shop and learn about other cultures to support students in Ghana, Africa.

We hope giving back, in whatever form works best for your family, will become your favorite holiday tradition of all!

Near: Infant Crisis Services

For 35 years, Infant Crisis Services has been providing diapers, wipes, formula and other necessities to metro babies and toddlers in need. Since 1984, the nonprofit organization has fed and diapered nearly 300,000 little ones, but the statistic remains that one in four Oklahoma children are at risk of going to bed hungry each night.

Childhood hunger is much more than rumbling tummies. According to Infant Crisis Services (ICS), 85 percent of a child’s brain develops in the first three years of life, which makes meeting kids’ nutritional needs in that timeframe critical. Dr. Reid Hebert at OU Medical Center says failure to fill that need creates long-term deficits that cannot be reclaimed.

Currently, ICS offers children through age 4 five visits in the child’s lifetime. At each visit, a child receives a week’s worth of diapers and formula or food, plus clothing and other essentials as they are available. The number of visits has steadily increased over the years, starting at two and finally standing at five visits for the last decade.

But armed with startling nutrition statistics and a constant request from clients and partner agencies for more services, the nonprofit organization will make a huge leap in 2020. Starting Jan. 1, ICS will offer four visits a year, per child, until he or she turns 4 years old. Instead of five visits, a child could potentially receive services up to 16 times in his or her life, a 300 percent increase in visits.

“We know that any time a parent is struggling to provide for their child, it feels like a crisis,” said Miki Farris, executive director and co-founder of Infant Crisis Services. “We don’t want parents to wait until they reach a breaking point. This change will set families up for security and success.”

Clients have often had to ration their visits for worst-case scenarios, watering down formula to stretch it further or leaving a baby in a diaper longer than normal because they’re almost out.

“They won’t have to ration as much,” said Farris of the new visit strategy. “We’ll know that for four weeks of the year we’ll be there when they need us.”

In addition to the organization’s main campus at 4224 N. Lincoln Ave., Infant Crisis Services has two baby mobiles that travel around the metro to reach families in rural areas.

“The need is incredible,” said Amanda Howell, communications manager for Infant Crisis Services. “There is a higher poverty rate in rural areas plus lack of access to services. Our dream is to have a fleet of baby mobiles to reach even further.”

About 5,000 babies and toddlers have been served through the baby mobiles in 2019, most of those brand new clients to ICS, compared to 12,000 children at the main location. But the staff and board know they have the ability to provide resources to more.

“We have the capacity to hold more product,” said Farris of the nonprofit’s warehouse, “and we want to ensure we’re serving as many babies as possible.”

That 300 percent increase in services offered means a vast increase in fundraising. If all the projected visits are taken advantage of, it will cost Infant Crisis Services an additional half a million dollars in 2020.

“We have the first quarter of 2020 covered, with $105,000 raised, and we’re working hard on the rest of it,” said Farris. “We’re asking for larger amounts on grants and going back to donors who’ve participated with us in the past.”

ICS receives no federal funding, existing solely on the donations of individuals, businesses and private grants and foundations. Metro families have been one of the organization’s greatest sources of support. In addition to providing monetary donations, families can host diaper or formula drives and donate gently-used clothing or toys their children have outgrown.

Families can also give back by volunteering. Kids ages 10 and up can volunteer at Infant Crisis Services with adult supervision, stocking the baby clothing boutique or packaging diapers and wipes for clients. Church and community groups made up of kids and adults can schedule a time to serve together as well.

Applications for the summer teen volunteer program for ages 13 to 18 open Dec. 1, and applications for the Teen Associate Board, which recently crossed the million dollar threshold in donations raised since the board’s inception, will be available online in July 2020.

Kids of any age can take a tour of the facility when bringing in donations to better understand exactly how they are helping others. Learn more at www.infantcrisis.org.

Far: PAMBE Ghana

Halfway around the world at the La’Angum Learning Center in Ghana, Africa, more than 250 students from various local villages are engaged in their schoolwork, thanks to PAMBE Ghana, a partnership between a dedicated group of volunteers in Oklahoma City and communities in northern Ghana. The center, whose name means “many hands make light work,” opened in 2008 with an innovative education model for bilingual children from pre-K through sixth grade.

“English is the national language in Ghana so school is presented totally in English,” said Patti Tepper-Rasmussen, PAMBE Ghana board member and owner of Learning Tree Toys, Books & Games in Oklahoma City. “But many of these children live in small villages and have never heard English.”

When they can’t understand their schooling, it’s no surprise many students drop out quickly. In contrast, the PAMBE Ghana model starts schooling for pre-K students in their own language, gradually teaching them English until they are fluent in both their learned and native languages by fourth grade.

The founder and head of the La’Angum Learning Center is Alice Azumi Iddi-Gubbels, a Ghana native who spent several years in Oklahoma City, teaching at Westminster School, earning a master’s degree in early childhood education from Oklahoma City University and becoming certified in Montessori teaching in preschool and lower elementary levels. Since, Iddi-Gubbels dreamed of opening a Montessori school for children in her village in northern Ghana.

Iddi-Gubbels and a group of dedicated metro area volunteers brought that dream to fruition, presenting the idea to Ghanian villagers who believe a quality primary education is essential for both their students’ success and community’s sustainability. After a year-long planning process, with funding raised by PAMBE Ghana and villagers building the facility, the center was opened. Teachers are hired from surrounding villages, paid by PAMBE Ghana, which also provides professional development and classroom materials.

The La’Angum Learning Center’s retention rate is 100 percent, remarkable considering what the students go through to attend.

“They have to walk three miles and carry their own water to school,” said Tepper-Rasmussen. “It’s quite a commitment.”

But the students show up anyway, eager to learn. About a quarter of the school’s budget is funded every year by a Global Market held in Oklahoma City, offering a plethora of fair trade goods made by artisans from around the world.

“We buy products either from fair trade organizations who can ensure artisans are paid fairly, working in safe conditions and assisting with quality control, or directly from the artisans themselves,” said Linda Temple, PAMBE Ghana volunteer and Global Market manager.

Iddi-Gubbels returns every year for the market, bringing with her Ghanian baskets and fabrics made in the villages near the school. Nativities from a wide variety of cultures are popular with shoppers every year, as are jewelry, kitchenware, artwork and scarves. The market includes a collection of unique gift items for kids, like friendship bracelets, wooden puzzles, drums, rattles, crocheted frisbees, hacky sack balls, piggy banks, finger puppets, hats and gloves and stuffed animals.

“I have met a lot of these artisans and this makes all the difference in the world in their lives,” said Temple. “Having the means to make an income allows them to remain in their communities.”

In its eleventh year, the Global Market will be held on the first floor of 50 Penn Place from Oct. 29 through Dec. 24, open Tuesdays through Fridays from 12 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Families are encouraged to browse or shop the market, an engaging opportunity to teach kids about other cultures and select holiday gifts that have a triple impact, as Temple says, pleasing the recipients, supporting the artisan and funding the school. Each gift purchased comes with a card that can be passed to the recipient explaining where the gift came from and who it helps.

The market is staffed entirely by volunteers, who enjoy answering questions about fair trade, the artisans and the school. Photos throughout help shoppers see the very lives they are impacting with their support. Learn more at pambeghana.org.