Monday, October 31, 2011

Project Able helps recovering addicts rebuild their lives

I got to know John Oak when he was completing Project Able, a program at the Center of Hope that helps homeless people who are clean and sober get back in the workforce and in their own home. John stopped by to visit me last week and when I told him I was working on a story about meth addiction, he told me his story. He said he started using alcohol and pot when he was 14 and dropped out of school at 15. I’ve noticed that this is the age many addicts get started. John said he moved on to cocaine and acid, started cooking meth when he was 29 and immediately became addicted. His life became a roller coaster ride of incarcerations and rehabilitation programs that didn’t work. But in 2006, he started a prison rehab program called First Step, and began his recovery. I was surprised that First Step didn’t have a spiritual component, but still worked. John said it was the desire to build a new relationship with his father that allowed him to focus on his recovery and rebuild his life. He got out of prison in 2008 and showed up at the Center of Hope “with nothing but the clothes on my back.” He joined Project Able. He went back to work for his old employer, riding his bike the twenty miles from the Center to work and back five days a week. I admire that. John saved up enough money during his two years in Project Able to make the down payment on a new mobile home, where he now lives. Congratulations on your new life, John. You’ve worked hard to earn everything you have. Now it’s time to enjoy it!


Friday, October 28, 2011

In praise of three gentlemen

Last week one of my coworkers told me a story that made me think that chivalry is not dead, that there are men (other than my husband) who are true gentlemen. The story was that after the Women’s Leadership Council toured the Center of Hope, the head of Social Services, Ronn Glosson, stood in the parking lot to make sure the visitors got safely in their cars and on their way. What I didn’t see was that he also stayed in the parking lot until the last female staff member drove away (It was Lindsay and she was checking voicemail and playing with her iPhone, she felt guilty when she realized he had been waiting for her to leave). He went beyond what was expected of him because that’s who he is. I thought I would blog about it as soon as I had a small collection of stories about gentlemen, never dreaming that I’d meet the next one two days later.

A radio show host was recording an interview with last year’s top bell ringer, Samuel Folks. Samuel is 60, soft spoken and mannerly. He revealed that he had been on the first all-black youth baseball team in Tulsa that was allowed in an all-white league. When the interviewer asked him if he had experienced racial injustice, he replied “I’ve found that when you’re looking for racial injustice you’ll find it. When you’re not looking, you don’t find it.” I can only guess that even as a youth, Samuel handled himself with dignity whether he was treated with dignity or not.

My third brush with a gentleman happened the same week at a celebration of Dick Williamson’s 40 years with TD Williamson. Dick is not only on our advisory board, but also on the National Salvation Army board. He also volunteers extensively. His company’s motto is “Integrity, Initiative, Interdependence.” Employees characterize him as a “servant leader,” and I can see that in his humble style and quiet leadership. I first met Dick when he taught a Sunday School class I attended 15 years ago. In eight days, I’ve gathered enough information for a post that I thought would take months to do. Thank you, gentlemen, you enrich life for all of us.


Friday, October 21, 2011

National advocate for the homeless stops in Tulsa

Mark Hovarth was in Tulsa today as part of his tour to end homelessness. Mark is known to social media fans as @hardlynormal and for his blog, Center of Hope Case Manager Gale Baker gave him a tour of the Center of Hope  and lined up shelter guests for him to film. When Mark interviewed several of our guests from the Center, he told them that he is homeless, yet I noticed he was driving an expensive car, was staying at the Hyatt Regency and wearing an expensive-looking jacket, so I asked about it. He said everyone does. He said that people don’t have to suffer to relieve suffering. It turns out that the Hyatt Regency donated his stay and GM gave him his car to help him with his cause. That's so generous!

Mark seemed impressed by the size of the Center of Hope and the scope of our programs. I had read about his many accomplishments with helping homeless people and asked him what he considered his greatest contribution.  He said he never would have expected all the remarkable things that have happened so far, such as someone donating land for a garden to feed the homeless and  a college donating two full scholarships to those facing homelessness.  He said he’s not going to predict because his greatest accomplishment is yet to come. He said he does the best he can with the gifts God gave him and God takes care of the rest.
Safe travels, Mark, come see us again.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Women's Leadership Council

I saw something at the Center of Hope that touched me yesterday. I was at a meeting of the Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) of the Tulsa Area United Way. The Women's Leadership Council is a new organization of business and community leaders who have a passion for improving the lives of those less fortunate in the Tulsa area.

The women in WLC are leaders in philanthropy, business and both. Center of Hope director Arletta Robinson took the group of 20 to the second story to see the men’s dorm. It took two elevator rides to fit in the whole group. I was waiting with the women for the second elevator when in walked a couple with two strollers. One stroller held an infant, the other a toddler, a little boy who clearly wanted to be out of the stroller. A woman with our group on the elevator saw the family and looked absolutely stricken. The words “so sad!” slipped out of her mouth before she could stop them, but thankfully, the parents were so busy keeping the little boy under control, they didn’t hear. For the rest of the tour, I saw the same woman fighting tears. Most people don’t know that families stay at the Center of Hope. But when they see that they do, it changes their impression of who we serve forever.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Christmas coming to Sand Springs

Are you in Sand Springs? Do you know someone in need in the area? We will begin Christmas assistance registration on Monday, Oct. 24 and will continue through Oct. 27 from 9a.m.-5p.m. daily. Parents will need to bring photo ID's for all the adults in the household, Birth certificates for each child in the home, proof of all income and expenses and clothing sizes for each child.

We are also looking for a few good Sandites to help us raise vital funds via the Red Kettle Campaign. Volunteers/groups wishing to sign-up can contact Captain Patrick T. Gesner by email at or by phone at (918)245-2237 ext. 1611 to check available dates and times. Individuals looking for some extra cash for the holiday season can also apply to work full-time or part-time as bell ringers for this campaign. The dates of employment will be from November 17th through Christmas Day.
-Captain Gesner

Monday, October 17, 2011

Make Your Mark, Help Feed the Hungry

Did you know that in the U.S., 49 million people go hungry every day? Did you know that, together, people like you and I can make a difference? This week is a national volunteer week for youth and Saturday, October 22nd is Make a Difference Day for all Americans. The Salvation Army and our Boys & Girls Clubs are joining over 1,400 others pledged to help the issue of hunger in America during Make Your Mark Week and Make a Difference Day.

Join us by donating non-perishable food items during a food drive this week, October 16-22nd. All food raised will go to needy families in the Tulsa Metro Area. You can drop off non-perishable food items at any Boys & Girls Club (Broken Arrow, Sand Springs, Sapulpa or Tulsa) or the Area Command Office (924 S. Hudson, Tulsa). Having trouble finding us, call 918-587-7801.

Read more about Make Your Mark Week and  Make a Difference Day.

-Rhonda, Volunteer Coordinator

Baseball team plays Dodgeball at West Mabee

When I reached the doors to the gym at the West Mabee Boys & Girls Club it seemed as if the room could hardly contain the shouts of pure, unbridled joy. And that was just from the grownups. The ORU Golden Eagles baseball team had come to play with the West Mabee kids and there was shouting, screaming and peals of laughter. The game was Dodgeball, but not your mother’s Dodgeball.

The 33 baseball players combined with 22 club kids to form two opposing teams. Then about 20 different colored balls were lined up in the middle of the gym, a whistle blew and it was mass mayhem as both teams rushed to grab a ball and throw it at someone. That’s all I can tell you about the rules. It did seem like one of those games where size didn’t matter, I decided, as one very little girl threw the ball at one very large baseball player. I don’t think her aim was intentional, but the guys in the stands roared with laughter as he winced in pain. I had not realized that ORU sends volunteers to West Mabee every Wednesday to help with their homework. The club’s program director Latrica Baldwin said it was the first time the baseball team had come to West Mabee and the kids loved it. If they had half as much fun as the adults, it was a great afternoon.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Getting clean at the ARC

It is not hard to see why Reggie Kelly believes his greatest skill is working with people. He’s a large, muscular man with a contagious smile. It is hard to see him as the crack cocaine addict he says he used to be, so caught up in the violence of the drug community that he was once dragged on the ground behind a truck for so long that stripped the skin off his body and left him with a crushed ankle. He says his ankle is held together with three pins and his life is held together with a structured lifestyle, accountability to peers who are recovering drug addicts and belief in Christ. In previous posts, I’ve written about meth addiction, but The Salvation Army helps people with all kinds of addictions. Reggie lives and works as a resident manager in The Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC), along with 70 other men recovering from substance abuse.

Before I started to work for the Army, I had long been a shopper at the ARC Family Store on 45th and Peoria. I had no idea that when I donated or bought something at the store, I was helping men recovering from substance abuse. The men work 40 hour weeks at the stores, and in the evenings, they participate in Bible studies and a Christian 12 Step Program called Celebrate Recovery. Reggie says he has been convicted of drug-related felonies seven times and served five different prison terms. But unlike the men I had heard about who are court ordered to the ARC, he checked himself in to work out the issues that he said had haunted him since before he first started using alcohol and marijuana at 15. He proudly told me that he has been clean and sober for 10 months. His advice to kids about drug use? “Don’t start. Drugs are not a solution to whatever you’re going through. Get into a church and learn who Jesus Christ is. He is the solution.” Thank you, Reggie, for sharing your story. I wish you the best in your recovery and your life.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Voices of Hope – come back!

In talking with Gwen Bess, another thing I learned is that Voices of Hope is in limbo. You might have seen the story about Voices of Hope on the Tulsa World website. The choir started because some Center of Hope guests wanted a singing group and asked Gwen for help. She found a music director and they used the Center chapel for practice. The choir performed in churches and for a Christmas lunch attended by 600. Gwen said even choir members who are still around the shelter stopped coming to practice. I felt disappointed, but even more disappointed than me is a Jenks High School junior named Michael. He saw the story on the World’s website and had planned to make a film about the choir for a class. He filmed a choir practice in May and it turned out so well that his teacher was looking forward to entering his film in the “Sundance of student film competitions” which Jenks has placed in before. To watch their winning film, go here and enjoy. In the mean time, here’s a message to Susan and Stormy and Big John and Evelyn: Come back to choir. There’s a kid who was counting on you!


Embracing a chatty style

A friend sent me a cartoon yesterday that perfectly captured this stage of my writing career. It was a sketch of an old dog saying “I think it’s time to learn some new tricks.” My new boss, friend and fellow blogger, Lindsay Sparks, asked me to give up my former newspaper-reporter-writing style for this blog, including abandoning some rules in my beloved Associated Press Stylebook. “I’m destroying your world, aren’t I?” Lindsay asked me yesterday. I’m quoting her because it’s also time to give up quotes, according to Lindsay. “According to” is also something you won’t be seeing again on this blog.

One thing keeps echoing in my head, one sentence in “The Elements of Style”, by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B.White, which I had to memorize as a senior in high school. “Do not affect a chatty style.” But another sentence is echoing even more loudly, and it’s from the old dog: “It’s time learn something new.” After all, I don’t want the next cartoon e-mailed to me to be a sketch of a dinosaur – remember what happened to them?


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Center of Hope: Serving without Discrimination

Meth addiction is a real problem, no doubt about it. There are signs and symptoms just like any other disease. According to Arletta Robinson, director of the Center of Hope, it’s impossible to compile statistics about the number of guests at the Center who may be addicted to methamphetamine. The only way Center of Hope case managers know that a guest has used or is using meth is when they ask for help and admit that they use meth. “However, that’s ‘self reporting’, so not even that is reliable,” Arletta said. “We don’t conduct urine testing, because we serve without discrimination. As for looking for physical traits that are red flags for meth use, such as tooth loss, that would be profiling, and we don’t do that.  What if the guest lost their teeth in an accident?” Arletta said.  What we do know is that when a guest self reports meth use and wants help, we work with many different Tulsa agencies, (including our own Adult Rehabilitation Center, ARC) to get them help.  And while the guest is working with other agencies to get help, we offer them food, shelter and a listening ear.

How do the case managers and other staff members at the Center of Hope listen to stories of drug abuse, and disastrous choices guests have made and still serve with compassion rather than judgment?

"It’s a mind frame,” case manager Gwen Bess said. “All of us have made mistakes, made stupid choices. People tell themselves they’re  not going to get addicted. You can’t know what someone has been through in their lives. They have pain and they self medicate. Some survive their past and some don’t.  It takes compassion, objectivity and empathy.  That’s what I mean by a mind frame,” Gwen said.

Coming up next learn about how Tulsa agencies are stepping up to help and what we are doing as a I mean by a mind frame,” Gwen said.