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News & Press: General

Helping Oklahoma Winners Announced

Thursday, March 15, 2018  
Posted by: Tina Biard
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Leadership Oklahoma Honors Oklahoman’s Helping Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY (February 23, 2018) – Leadership Oklahoma sponsored its seventh annual Helping Oklahoma Recognition Program, which recognizes exceptional Oklahoma volunteers from across the state for their service to Oklahoma 501c3 non-profit organizations. The volunteer selected receives $2,500 for the non-profit organization to further the work of the volunteer. This year’s winner is Cheri Heath Fuller. Cheri saw a need in the community and was the driving force behind this non-profit, Oklahoma Messages Project (OMP). Each year, Cheri and their volunteers visit prisons for several months before Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, helping connect incarcerated parents to their children by filming the parent reading a book to their children and sharing a personal message. OMP staff and volunteers then send these videos, along with the actual book that the parents read, to the children in care of their guardians. The kids can hear a positive, loving message from Mom or Dad, followed by a bedtime story that they can read along with every single day. This simple ritual helps these children maintain a positive relationship with their parent(s), while boosting their literacy and self-esteem. Most importantly, it lets the children know that they are loved and not forgotten.

As a veteran speaker, teacher, and author of books for parents and teachers on how to help kids succeed in school and in life, Cheri continues to work tirelessly on behalf of children in our state. After learning that Oklahoma incarcerated more women and mothers than any state in the U.S., Cheri did further research and discovered that there are tens of thousands of children with one or both parents in Oklahoma prisons. Deprived of their primary parent, they struggle with fear (Is Mom okay, or beaten up?), guilt (If I’d been a better kid, this wouldn’t have happened), loneliness and sadness that interfere with their ability to focus and learn in school. If their family was poor, the children live in even more poverty after the primary breadwinner goes to jail and is locked up for years while the kids are shuffled between relatives. These kids have a higher risk for substance abuse, delinquency, and academic failure. Without intervention and prevention programs, they are seven times more likely to be incarcerated than other children. But Cheri knew there was hope and in July of 2010, she founded Oklahoma Messages Project, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. For more information or become a volunteer, visit www.okmessagesproject.org.

One other incredible nominee was honored for his service; Mike Schatz, CASA of Kay and Noble Counties, located in Tonkawa. He received $1,000 for his volunteer efforts in making a true difference in the lives of those most vulnerable; our children. Mike served our country proudly in the United States Marine Corp as a medic and has always given back to his community. He has been a fire fighter and EMT for the City of Tonkawa, worked as an emergency room nurse and FEMA nurse. In 2016, Mike became a trained Court Appointed Special Advocate. His dedication to abused and neglected children goes far beyond the expectations of the CASA program. Mike has advocated for 10 children in the past two years. Not afraid to take on more difficult cases, he has put in over 10,000 miles in the last two years going to visit his "CASA Kids", advocating for appropriate educational needs, assisting foster families in getting needs met for the children. Mike has helped a single mother of 6 (two of her own and 4 adopted children) acquire an adequate home with plenty of space, found them a lawn mower and assisted in advocating for mentors for the children. He has continued to advocate for the best interest of the children even when it didn't match up with what other parties were presenting. Mike has been a true superhero to the children he has served.

In addition to being a CASA Advocate for CASA of Kay and Noble Counties, Mike has been a Red Cross volunteer for over 30 years, is active on the Tonkawa Alumni Association, and is an active part and founding member of a Volunteer Veteran's Group in Tonkawa which works to recognize local veterans. He gives so much of himself without any recognition at all. His giving heart, willingness to serve others and desire to make the future better for others are qualities that make him such an outstanding volunteer.

Other nominees included Gary Armbruster, Positive Tomorrows; Stuart Bell, Calm Waters Center for Children and Families; Susanne Betz, Edmond Mobile Meals; Ann Caine, Oklahoma Hall of Fame; Catherine Divis, Sunbeam Family Services; Justin Few, Pride In McAlester; Tara Harper, Christopher Lane Foundation; Don Harris, D-DENT, Inc.; Molly Jarvis, Big Brothers Big Sisters Tulsa; Judy Love, United Way of Central Oklahoma; Adrienne Watt Nesser, Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice; Robert Painter, Other Options, Inc.; Kristy Payne, Fostering Sweet Dreams; Mary Pointer, Red Andrews Christmas Dinner; Hayley Rose, Susan G. Komen Tulsa; Dr. Cindy Simon Rosenthal, National Education for Women’s (N.E.W.) Leadership; Phyllis Strong, Sunbeam Family Services; Brian West, Mental Health Association Oklahoma; Catherine White, Central Baptist Church of Muskogee; and Natalie Yadon, Be a Lifesaver.

To read more details of the volunteers nominated for this recognition program, go to www.helpingoklahoma.com.

                     

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