Real Moms of the Metro—Gina Darby - MetroFamily Magazine
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Real Moms of the Metro—Gina Darby

by Jennifer Sharpe

Reading Time: 3 minutes 

“Hold up, wait a minute, let me put some reading in it!” That’s the chant shouted by about 50 kids who met daily throughout the summer at the Oklahoma Youth Literacy Program, a summer reading program created by local mom Gina Darby.

“I always try to take care of other people’s needs first,” Gina said, “because I believe that if I take care of other people’s needs, then everything else in my life will come.”

She created the literacy program out of a love for underprivileged youth and a passion for reading. The program provides a fun and safe place for kids to learn throughout the summer months. Kids attend the program and enjoy literacy and math activities and even meals. 

“I believe reading really changes everything,” Gina said. “I see it in my own kids. We read more and then that really impacts a lot of other areas.”

The 34-year-old and her husband of 14 years, Milen Darby, have four children: Milen Junior, 9, Makye, 7, and twins Malachi and Gianna, 5. Gina was born and raised in Spencer, but has lived in Oklahoma City for almost two years now.

It goes without saying that at home, literacy is paramount, too. 

“We incorporate reading in a lot of things,” she said. “I push the importance of reading at a very early age. Of course my kids sometimes complain that we read too much but the extra reading time has made such a difference. I know they’ll appreciate it later in life even if they complain now.”

Gina has an English degree from Langston University and is working on a master’s degree in religion from Oklahoma Christian University. She authored her first book, Crucial Evidence, in 2014. The book features faith-based inspirations and she has a few other books in the works.

Her passion for literature has been a strong influence on her life, as well as her military background. Gina was in the National Guard for 15 years. She retired in 2014 after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. After years of struggling with symptoms and side effects of treatment, Gina decided to handle the illness with an improved diet and strong Christian faith. 

“Now I just pray over my body. I don’t have any regimen but prayer. I don’t have a medicine I take,” Gina said. “It’s my daily walk with God that keeps me healed. I have a pain that is always there, like in my fingers and in my legs, but His grace covers me.”

With her education and military background under her belt, Gina and her husband started the literacy program last summer with the support of Impact Athletics and Kancacha Kids. The program is open to ages 3 to 18 from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays throughout the summer. She plans to provide a free after-school program this fall and spring with the help of sponsors. 

Program attendees have access to educational courses, mentoring, homework help, team-building activities, athletics, field trips and free meals including breakfast, lunch and snacks. 

“It’s beyond just literacy,” she said. “It’s loving on the children, teaching them discipline and structure, teaching them ‘yes ma’am, no ma’am, yes sir, no sir’ and teaching them respect and how to say thank you.” 

Gina recruits sponsors to help keep the program inexpensive, as many of the children she serves are from low-income families. The eight-week program costs about $40 per week. While she does care a lot about academic skills, her main focus is just providing a helping hand to families. 

“It’s important to realize it’s not always about us,” she said. “If your kids aren’t struggling, that’s great. But think about the kids who are. There’s so much room to help other people. If you can, contribute to others who are struggling. If you can’t contribute money, then volunteer your time. There’s a lot of room to help struggling families locally.”

The program meets at Avery Chapel A.M.E. Church (1425 N. Kelham Ave.). Gina is seeking sponsors and financial assistance to expand the program. For more information about donating or enrolling in the program, visit www.okylpokc.org.

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