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Jodi Cline
2017-2018 Adult Program Chair
Class XXVI and Lifetime Membe

Class 31’s session on Social Service and Mental Health was held in Tulsa on February 9 – 10, 2018. The first goal of the sixth-class session was to provide an overview of both publically funded and non-profit social services in Oklahoma aimed at relieving hardships associated with poverty and reducing incarceration. Other goals were to examine mental health and substance abuse issues in Oklahoma, including their effect on the criminal justice system, and to consider the roles played by race and bias as they relate to the issues above. The program started early with an exciting line up of optional activities, including a Black Hawk helicopter ride with the Tulsa Air National Guard and a tour of Black Wall Street.

On Friday, the class traveled to the Mental Health Association’s apartment housing to hear social service experts discuss the issues of poverty, mental health, and alternatives to prison. Next, the class visited the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma for lunch and a tour. There they participated in the Poverty Challenge, a role-play activity coordinated by several agencies that simulates the process individuals navigate when they seek out services to help them with their needs. From there, the class went on to tour the Gathering Place, visit the Gilcrease Museum, and eat dinner while learning about programs directed at ending cycles of poverty.

Saturday, the class continued the mental health and social service discussion at the Family Center. After hearing from organizations that help women transition out of prison, the session ended with a presentation on inclusion from the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice.

Sponsors for the Tulsa event were the Anne & Henry Zarrow Foundation, Arvest Bank, Cherokee Nation Businesses, Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, Cosmo Café, Cox Communications, John Esposito, George Kaiser Family Foundation, Dr. W.C. Goad, Michelle Hardesty | Hardesty Family Foundation , Lynn Jones, Jane Mudgett, Muscogee Creek Nation Casino, Nabholz, ONE Gas, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, The William K. Warren Foundation, and the Williams Foundation

Scroll down to read reflections from Class 31 and click here to see photos from the event.

Melissa Baldwin
Criminal Justice Specialist, Assistant to the CEO
Mental Health Association Oklahoma

As an employee of Mental Health Association Oklahoma, the Tulsa session is near to my heart. Understanding Oklahoma’s social services, poverty, mental health and substance abuse, implications on the criminal justice system, and the role race and bias play is not an easy undertaking. We learned that improving the quality of life for one Oklahoman improves the lives of all Oklahomans.

By this time in our LOK journey, we are very familiar with the large gap in those Oklahomans who do and do not have access to life saving treatment and services because of state funding cuts. The class experienced a poverty challenge to understand the numerous, onerous barriers folks face while trying to navigate complex systems to meet their basic and urgent needs. What we took away was the determination with which the safety net of nonprofits and philanthropy have come together to grab hands of those falling through the cracks.

High rates of mental illness, poverty, trauma, incarceration have produced one positive byproduct, they’ve forced leaders to produce incredibly creative and innovative solutions. One upstream approach to prevent incarceration and unnecessary trips to the ER is co-responder model, an interdisciplinary team of first responders and mental health professionals. Another, diversion to alternative courts, can turn lives around with treatment and connection to meaningful opportunities of employment and affordable housing. Saturday, we had an in-depth, yet understandable presentation of neuroscience of mental illness and addiction as a brain disease. Along with an opportunity to examine our own personal biases and implications of these on everyday interactions.

Intermixed with this session’s heavy social complexities were many unique, once in a lifetime experiences such as riding Black Hawk Helicopters or the first LOK class to have a tour of A Gathering Place for Tulsa. We had rich cultural education by touring the Gilcrease Museum with unique Bob Dylan artifacts and unpacking the history of Black Wall Street and the trauma and injustice of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Despite the seemingly overwhelming amount of improvements needed to protect and serve the most vulnerable, I am renewed with a spirt of hope and passion after the Tulsa session. There is no doubt that shoulder to shoulder the Best Class Ever can make a significant impact in improving lives across the great state of Oklahoma.

Dave Burgy
Chief of Staff | Air Component Commander
Oklahoma Air National Guard
Oklahoma City

Class 31’s February Tulsa experience was fast paced and rewarding, although we were discussing some of our society’s most difficult issues. The Tulsa LOK team provided an overview of publically funded social services in Oklahoma as well as those offered by the nonprofit sector at relieving hardships associated with poverty and reducing incarceration. We examined mental health and substance abuse issues across our state including their effect on the criminal justice system. Our time ended with us considering the roles played by race and bias as they relate to the issues above.

Many of us are fortunate to go through our lives without needing social services. It was discouraging for me and many of Class 31 to see and experience the need that so many have. Being exposed to the array of challenges many people are dealing with just living day to day was eye opening, even if somewhat depressing. Although we pour quite a bit of state and governmental resources on these problems, sometimes we miss the root causes; knowing when we miss, inevitable incarceration is the final outcome for too many. On the other hand, it was equally uplifting to be exposed to the many nonprofit organizations that are out there working hard every day to fill the many gaps. Oklahoma has some incredible people doing incredible work to help out those who need a hand. Many of those people are a part of this great LOK organization and many in our class.

Team Tulsa did a great job presenting challenging issues while showing off our great northeastern city to make for a meaningful and rewarding Tulsa experience.

For me, the best part of every weekend is discussing these tough subjects with my classmates. It is through our debriefs and late night talks (read debates) in the hospitality suites with our diverse and beloved classmates where I find the magic of Leadership Oklahoma happen. Tulsa was no different.

Samantha Davidson
Government Affairs and Policy Manager
Oklahoma City

Our class enjoyed another successful session in Tulsa. Mental Health and racial equality were the topics of conversation.

The session started with Black Hawk Helicopter rides, as well as photos taken from the cockpit of F-16 fighter jets. This opportunity was extra special for Class 31, as our very own Brigadier General David Burgy accompanied us. General Burgy is the Chief of Staff and Air Component Commander of the Oklahoma Air National Guard. Having him guide this experience made the opportunity even more powerful.

We heard from both the Department of Human Services, as well as the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse on the mental health services the State of Oklahoma provides to its citizens. Both agencies expressed a need for additional funding to adequately address this issue. Because of our recent budget shortfalls, the impact of non-profits and community involvement is more important than ever. We heard from several different entities working together to help provide social services to Oklahomans. Even with these resources available, finding and receiving the services proves challenging. This was demonstrated to our class through a “poverty challenge”. This activity put each class member in the shoes of a person trying to receive services for a variety of things, from poverty to substance abuse.

One of the best sessions of the entire weekend was a tour of “The Gathering Place”. It was incredible to see what generous organizations are doing to invest in their communities.

Our discussion on race and bias was best demonstrated by our tour and history lesson on Black Wall Street. For me, this experience was most powerful. Prior to this experience, I had no idea of this part in our state’s history. I felt ashamed that I had not learned of these events as a student. The incredible programs initiated through the Greenwood Cultural Center work to raise awareness of this issue in our communities.

This session demonstrated the need for social services in our state and local communities. We cannot depend solely on the state for these services. We must come together, non-profits, businesses, and local communities to work with and in conjunction with the state for solutions to these tough issues.


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