Imagine you’re a 15-year-old living on your own in Oklahoma City. You don’t know where you’re going to sleep tonight because your parents kicked you out. Maybe you’re able to find a friend whose family will let you sleep on their couch and lend you some clean clothes to wear, but you still don’t have any money for food or transportation.
Night after night rest eludes you because you’re worrying about what’s next. You stumble sleepily through school each day, and your grades start to suffer for it. You don’t know how you’ll meet your basic needs, and you’re anxious about your future.
Serving at-risk youth
Pivot: A Turning Point for Youth was established in 1972 to help kids facing challenges such as these by offering programs and services for homeless or displaced youth including emergency shelter and independent living services, education support and job assistance, life skills training, mentoring and prevention and interventional programs.
Pivot created its Teen Service Board to empower metro teens to help other teenagers in need and to give board members insight to expand their social perspectives, empathy and compassion.
Lilly Roberson and Cydne Swanson currently serve on Pivot’s Teen Service Board, and Norman Markland, independent team leader and Teen Service Board chair for Pivot, says both have been outstanding leaders and outspoken advocates in serving our city’s youth.
“Leadership and community engagement are integral parts of the Oklahoma City community, and these two students have engaged in a meaningful way that helps improve the lives and futures of other youth in our city,” said Markland.
Board members hail from varied backgrounds and schools within the metro, but they come together to serve a common purpose. Some of the board members have been exposed to some of the same issues as the youth Pivot serves, including trauma, racism, poverty, marginalization and mental health challenges. But others haven’t and use the experience to more deeply understand what other young people are facing in their everyday lives.
“We want to help educate students about
how to advocate for those in need, and both Cydne and Lilly have shown a passion for making our community better in this way,” said Markland.
Futures built on service
Swanson, a senior at Harding Charter Preparatory High School, joined the Pivot board because although she was already very involved at school, she wanted to find a way to serve her community beyond the school walls.
“Since Pivot serves youth from 12 to 21 years old, I liked that they wanted to bring in other teenagers so the kids in their programs would have someone to relate to,” said Swanson. “And it’s really opened my eyes and made me more considerate of those around me.”
Similarly, Roberson, a senior at Heritage Hall, joined the Pivot Teen Service Board to get involved in the community. Her family is very active philanthropically and politically, and she wanted to find a way to contribute on her own.
“Pivot encourages us to reach out to our sphere of influence to raise money and advocate for our cause,” said Roberson, “and it’s encouraging to see how willing people are to give of their resources to support others.”
Through Roberson’s fundraising efforts for Pivot, she’s been inspired to see how eager people are to help.
“I wanted to educate myself and understand the bigger picture of our community,” said Roberson. “I wanted to find something that was more than just community service hours, and I’ve found a cause that I’m really passionate about.”
Swanson’s service with Pivot has inspired her to pay it forward. Inspired by a holiday project the Teen Service Board championed for Pivot youth, Swanson is leading a similar effort at her school. Each year, board members raise money to purchase items on the Pivot youths’ holiday wish lists.
“Since this is my senior year, I want to go all out,” said Swanson. “I want to expand my circle of influence by taking what I’ve learned through Pivot and implementing a similar project through my mentorship club at school. I know there are people in need all around us, especially at Christmas, and this is a small way I can help to fill some of those needs, both with Pivot and beyond.”
Swanson hopes to attend an HBCU (Historically Black College and University) to pursue a legal career focused on civil rights and criminal justice. Her dream is to own her own law firm to fight for justice.
“I’ve seen the challenges people and their families endure when they’re facing civil rights issues or stuck in a cycle of incarceration, and I want to use whatever opportunities I’m given to help overcome those challenges and break these generational cycles,” said Swanson
Upon high school graduation, Roberson aims to attend George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and pursue a career in public service and politics where she can combine her experience in community service and advocacy with her interest in public policy and government.
“I think it’s exciting to see how different policies and programs really can have an impact on peoples’ lives and how, in turn, those individuals contribute to the success of our city and state,” said Roberson. “I want to be a part of pushing that forward.”
To learn more about Pivot: A Turning Point for Youth or Teen Service Board opportunities, visit pivotok.org.