United Way of Central Oklahoma Awards $159,700 in WayFinder Innovation Grants; Kicks off Annual Campaign

United Way of Central Oklahoma awarded $159,700 to Mental Health Association Oklahoma and Urban League of Greater Oklahoma City through the second annual WayFinder Innovation Grant program. The grant announcement comes as United Way kicks off its annual campaign to raise funds for 56 Partner Agencies throughout central Oklahoma.

“At a time when our community is experiencing unprecedented challenges, United Way is grateful to support two groundbreaking programs that will address significant, unmet needs in Oklahoma City,” said Debby Hampton, United Way of Central Oklahoma president and CEO.

Launched in 2019, United Way’s WayFinder Innovation Grant program encourages local nonprofits to develop new and innovative approaches to health and human service challenges in central Oklahoma. Finalists were invited to pitch their ideas in a ‘Shark Tank’ approach to a panel of community leaders, who selected two projects for funding in 2020.

Mental Health Association Oklahoma will receive $100,000 for its Mobile Medical Intervention program that will provide episodic medical care to individuals experiencing homelessness, as well as residents in supportive housing units through Oklahoma City’s first street medicine team. The program will employ a Licensed Practical Nurse and collaborate with community health partners to improve access to quality and appropriate care and mitigate expenses that would otherwise be occurred by emergency and hospital systems.

“The Mobile Medical Intervention team will serve a population that can be very costly to our healthcare system,” said M.J. Clausen, director of Oklahoma City operations for Mental Health Association Oklahoma. “By treating these clients with dignity and respect, the team will provide much needed medical advocacy, bridging the gap between vulnerable individuals and the health care system.”

Urban League of Greater Oklahoma City will receive $59,700 for its ‘Real Talk, Brother’ program that will train local Black barbers to become mental health advocates for their clients and partner with mental health professionals to build a culture of emotional health for boys and men of color. The program will equip Black youth and adults with mental health strategies and coping skills, and help remove the stigma and barriers to treatment.

“Historically, communities of color experience unique and considerable challenges in accessing mental health services,” said Dr. Valerie Thompson, Urban League of Oklahoma City president and CEO. “Black barbershops have long provided a safe place for cultural conversations, and the ‘Real Talk, Brother’ program will help Black men and boys express their feelings openly and honestly to someone who looks like them.”

The 2020 WayFinder Innovation Grants were announced just as United Way of Central Oklahoma begins its annual fundraising campaign. The campaign, which also includes the State Charitable Campaign and the Heart of the City Campaign, raises funds to support 106 health and human service programs at 56 Partner Agencies throughout central Oklahoma. This year’s campaign is led by co-chairs Judy Love with Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores and Mike Turpen with Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbison & Lewis.

“While COVID-19 has made this a very challenging year, we’ve been encouraged by many companies and individuals who have already stepped up and increased their support of United Way,” Mike Turpen said. “I believe that empathy is making a comeback, and just as United Way Partner Agencies have gone above and beyond to provide critical services to those in need throughout this pandemic, so are many generous donors in our community. That’s just the Oklahoma Standard.”