Hi ya’ll! It seems the longer I stay here in Oklahoma, the more my southern roots take over. I hope all of you are having a fantastic summer, as I have been. One of my part-time jobs this summer is working under the supervision of a Geography professor at Oklahoma University doing research on one of the predominant Native American tribes, the Chickasaw, and how tobacco use impacts their nation.
The reason I mention this is twofold, one being that it has taught me a lot about research methods, which I believe is important for my work on the youth homelessness front, two being that while visiting the small town of Ada, Oklahoma (the capital of the Chickasaw Nation) to conduct some field research, I stumbled upon a youth shelter. At first glance, I was astounded to have found another youth shelter. As many of you probably know, youth shelters here are few and far between.
I asked my team to stop and I hopped out to do some investigating. The building was very new looking and well maintained, but I must say I was slightly shocked to see babies of all ages just sitting on the sidewalks, half clothed, and some crying.
This was the first difference I noted between this place and Bridges (the nonprofit I lived in that takes in homeless youth who wish to continue their education), but after speaking with the director I soon realized there were huge differences between this shelter and the one I had once called home.
This Ada shelter only housed up to eight youth, ages ranging from 0 to 18, and would only accept youth who were checked in by the courts or a parent or guardian. Basically, one has to be a ward of the court or willingly given up by a parent to gain access to this shelter. Another large difference derives from the shelters’ priorities; Bridges’ focus is on education, while the Ada Area shelter’s focus is on providing shelter, no more, no less.
I also have spent the summer working with Debra Krittenbrink, the executive director of Bridges. She and I have been tapping into our inner Batman and Robin by tackling the misconceptions of youth homelessness in our community. Throughout the summer we have spoken to a few organizations to spread the word about the growing number of homeless teens in our state as well as the ways Bridges helps these individuals.
One of these organizations was the student congress of my former high school, Norman High School, which has led to Bridges being selected as the recipient of its annual fundraiser, called Tigerpalooza. This is fantastic news for Bridges and will certainly lead to a more connected and informed community; something both Debra and I are very excited about.
If my working with Bridges and the University of Oklahoma has taught me anything, it’s that information is key. So get out there and spread the word about what you care about, it could bring about unforeseen opportunities.
I’ll be back in D.C. soon, folks, but until then stay cool up there!