Giving Tuesday: Keep it local by supporting your community
Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks for the blessings in life. But the holiday is followed by some less introspective, more commercial days designated “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.”
But “Giving Tuesday,” which follows Cyber Monday, is a day during which people are encouraged to look within their hearts and find ways to give back to their communities. For United Way of Central Oklahoma, every day is like a Giving Tuesday.
“United Way keeps it local with our giving 365 days per year, raising money to support 61 local nonprofits whose sole aim is provide social services to those in need,” said Debby Hampton, CEO of United Way of Central Oklahoma.
The organization spends several months each year campaigning to raise funds which are then allocated to its 61 partner agencies to support more than 125 programs that help local citizens in need.
“It’s almost a universal truth that if you haven’t been helped directly by a United Way agency, one of your family members or friends has been,” Hampton said. When you consider the variety of agencies under the United Way umbrella, Hampton’s statement seems quite likely: Homeless Alliance, YWCA, American Red Cross of Oklahoma, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Heartline; the list goes on.
As you consider your holiday gift lists, perhaps giving a gift of support to your community should be added to your list. United Way of Central Oklahoma is still actively raising money to support its partner agencies.
“What could make for a better gift than a donation to support the people of your community?” Hampton said. “Especially on behalf of that person on your list who already has one of everything.”
Here are some stories of young Oklahomans for whom United Way agencies have made a direct and positive life change.
A big horse and a little boy
How a horse can get a non-verbal child talking is one of those mysteries that even doctors can’t explain. But that’s exactly what happened for one Edmond child, with the help of the experts at Coffee Creek Riding Center, a nonprofit that for the past 38 years has provided free therapeutic riding to children and adults with a wide range of disabilities.
“A lot of it is that the relationship with the horses motivates them to work longer and harder while participating in their specifically designed games and exercises,” said Joy Milligan, director of the riding center. “The kids just think think they’re having fun.”
Jessica Everett, mom Isaac who receives therapy at the center, has a hard time sympathizing with parents that say things like “I wish my kid would just be quiet.” When she hears comments like this, she wants to reply, “Try having a kid that can’t talk.”
For the first few years of his life, that was the situation for her son, Isaac, now almost 4. He was diagnosed with childhood apraxia, a condition that interferes with communication between the brain and the muscles needed to use his mouth properly.
As a baby, Isaac had trouble eating and would choke easily. As he grew, his baby-babble became more and more quiet. He also became more and more distraught with his inability to communicate.
“At 1 ½ you could see his little mouth work and he would fall over crying, sobbing, so upset. He was frustrated with himself, he was frustrated with the situation,” Everett said.
One day, Everett said God gave her the idea to try horse therapy.
“Animals really can do amazing things for kids.”
Through a little research, she found Coffee Creek Riding Center, which is located just a few miles from her home.
“It just seemed like this was for him, this was where he needed to be,” she said.
“He loves animals. A horse is big; I expected him to be nervous.”
But he wasn’t nervous. Isaac is all smiles when he’s around his horse buddies. Within a short time, Isaac became so comfortable riding his favorite horses, Jo Jo and General, his words began to flow.
His first word was “Jo Jo” but by the end of the first summer, Isaac said the words his parents had really been longing to hear — “mommy” and “daddy.”
Now, Isaac is a talker. He may speak a little slower than other kids, but that’s to be expected with his condition.
“He will always need to think before he speaks,” Everett said. “Personally I think that’s a good thing. I think more people could stand to do it.”
Finding silver linings
Toni Orel wanted her son Noah to have a man in his life. As a single mother, she knew how important a strong male influence is to a child. So she contacted Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma. That was four years ago. Today, Noah 15, and Lindall Wood, his Big Brother, have formed a bond beyond what Orel could have even dared hope for.
“When we first went to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma, I was looking for someone to teach my son the things a father should teach his son,” Orel said. “But Noah was looking for someone to just hang out with.”
After being matched, one of the first activities Noah and Lindall did was go to Mitch Park in Edmond -- Noah’s class was having an Ugly Bug Contest and the assignment was to find the ugliest bug they could and then write a research paper all about it.
Noah and Lindall spent the day hiking through the trees, rolling logs over looking for bugs and talking to each other about what they liked to do. Lindall told Noah about how he grew up without his dad being around much and how he wished he’d had someone to be a consistent role model.
This was music to Noah’s ears, said his mom; someone who’d had had a taste of feeling alone, without a father-figure.
“I was worried about Noah being teased because he so nonchalantly says that he ‘doesn’t have a dad’ when his friends ask,” Orel said. “Now, he follows that up with ‘but I have a Big Brother.’”
Noah is very proud of the Big Brother who has made a big difference in his life.
“We’ve made a lot of memories and had a lot of crazy adventures,” Noah said of his relationship with Lindall, who is now in his early ’30s, married and with kids.
Noah and Lindall’s most recent excursion was to Roman Nose Park where Noah got his first fishing license. The pair camped, kayaked and cooked their meals over a campfire.
Noah is now making straight “A’s” in honors classes at Deer Creek High School, playing soccer for the school and for OFC (Oklahoma Football Club) in Oklahoma City. (“Soccer is everything to him,” Orel said.) The young man is also an active member at St. Monica Catholic Church in Edmond.
“I love listening to their phone calls and watching them Skype,” Orel said. “Lindall’s wife and boys often jump into the picture to say their hellos.
Orel will forever be grateful to Big Brothers Big Sisters for bringing a man like Lindall into her son’s life, she said.
“My son can go through life knowing that he has a mother that loves him more than the anything but also that he has an entire Big Family that loves him too.
“Their relationship has grown into something I didn’t even know to hope for. Lindall is there for support when Noah is frustrated and there to celebrate his successes. Lindall teaches Noah that there is always a silver lining, that there is good in everything, you just have to be wise enough to look for it.”
For more information, call Heather Warlick at (405) 523-3534 or email Hwarlick [at] Unitedwayokc [dot] org