Path Home Shows 2015 Show Archive September 2015 Show 1539 Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1539

Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1539

This week on Oklahoma Horizon, we examine factors that contribute to homelessness.
Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1539

Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1539

For more information visit these links:

Alton Carter Inspire Foundation

Oklahoma Lions Boys Ranch

Oklahoma Department of Human Services

America’s Youngest Outcasts

Metro Technology Centers

CareerTech

Show Details

Show 1539: Oklahoma Horizon TV
Air Date: September 27, 2015

 

Transcript

Rob McClendon: Here’s what’s coming up on your “Horizon.” Any number of things can contribute to someone becoming homeless. And when you look at homeless children the issue gets even more complex. Today, we examine the issue through the eyes of two Oklahomans, now adults, who as children were adrift in a foster care system that on occasion left them unsure of where they were to lay their head. Homelessness and Oklahoma’s most vulnerable residents, this week on “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Male Announcer: “Oklahoma Horizon” is made possible by the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.

Female Announcer: Oklahoma’s investment in CareerTech provides more than nationally recognized technology education and training. It produces solid financial returns for the state’s economic future. Oklahoma CareerTech, elevating our economy.

Male Announcer: And the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, helping good people grow good things. And now, from the CareerTech studios in Stillwater, here’s your host, Rob McClendon.

Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” The number of homeless children in America has surged to an all-time high. According to a report titled “America’s Youngest Outcasts,” one child in 30 was homeless at some point last year. Now, that doesn’t mean living under a bridge. Often it’s as simple as couch surfing at a friend’s or relative’s, but it can still have a devastating effect on a child’s educational, emotional and social development. And the problem is especially acute here in Oklahoma. We will take a closer look at those numbers a little later in our show, but we want to begin today with the story of an Oklahoman who grew up in some tough circumstances and has chronicled that journey in a book called “The Boy Who Carried Bricks.” Here is our Austin Moore.

Austin Moore: Located a few miles south of Perkins is the Oklahoma Lions Boys Ranch. Since 1952, this group home has taken in more than 1,500 teenage boys. The idea was simple, to provide a family and through the love of that family to introduce work, discipline and responsibility. But there was a time, far too recently, that hard work and discipline became the focus not the product, a time when family was forgotten.

Alton Carter: The only option for me was to stay at the Boys Ranch. And you know, the abuse and things that we endured, if I went home to visit some of the things that I saw at home made me just want to run back to the Boys Ranch and not come home again.

Austin: Alton Carter is a product of that time. He spent much of his childhood bouncing through the foster system. It led him to the Oklahoma Lions Boys Ranch during one of its darkest times, when his ranch dad assumed a role more akin to warden than father figure. Carter wrote about his experience in the book, “The Boy Who Carried Bricks.” We spoke at the Stillwater First United Methodist Church where today he serves as a youth minister.

Austin Moore: Alton, as I read your story, and I think about the childhood you faced early on, trying to find an adjective that describes the sort of challenges you were up against, I can’t find one big enough. Describe for us, if you would, what you faced as a young child, the kind of things you had to overcome just to go forward in life.

Alton Carter: Just more than anything else, being hungry. We were hungry all the time and neglected. You know, we experienced every sort of abuse you could ever imagine from, you know, getting beat, got whipped with skillets, broomsticks, coat hangers, you name it. The interesting thing was is that’s all I knew. I mean it wasn’t like I knew anything different, so it, not that it was normal, but that was the only life that we knew. We were unsupervised all the time. Mom would leave us all the time all by ourselves, and so we fended for ourselves.

Austin: So at one point in your life, you finally reached the point where you decided you needed to get out of there. And you took yourself to DHS and said I need to be somewhere else.

Alton Carter: I was sort of, believe it or not, the target child. I was the runt, the one that was scared to do anything, and so cousins, brothers and sisters, and uncles made fun of me because I was sort of a chicken. You know, I got called homosexual names, I got called racial names because I was afraid to, you know, smoke pot with everyone else or drink alcohol. And so when my uncle was forcing us to drink alcohol at 2 in the morning, I just knew it was wrong, and I got tired of it. And so one night he came in and said, “Hey, I want you all to drink this alcohol,” and I refused, and he picked me up and threw me down my grandma’s stairs. I was at the bottom of the stairs, and he came down and stomped on me and broke my ribs, and that was the breaking point. I mean, that part sort of, it didn’t break my spirit, but I knew I had to get out to save myself. So I went to the DHS, and told them that I didn’t want to stay home. And realizing that my family, it’s not so much that they didn’t care about me, but I had committed the worst act ever by getting my uncle arrested. And so that’s literally seeing that is what drove me to take care of myself, because I felt like no one else was looking out for me.

Austin: That led to a series of failed DHS placements, and eventually landed Carter at Boys Ranch.

Alton Carter: You know the experience at Boys Ranch was different. I mean it was kind of exciting when I first got there. You know we sort of lived in a farm setting. We had horses, sheep, pigs, and we got to take care of those animals. And it was pretty interesting. We had a foster you know, not a foster parent, but a ranch dad and a ranch mom who were there who took care of us and fed us, and things were great. And after you were there a while, the ranch dad would tell you that, you know, all the other rules that would happen. So if you spilled your drink while you were sitting at the table, he would make you go two weeks without drinking. You couldn’t have anything to drink while you were eating. If you rocked back in your chair, he would take the chair away from you while you were, so you would have to stand up and eat. So all these things the ranch dad did to us, and in his mind he thought he was doing what would make us stronger. So you know, again we had that sort of, we were forced to call him dad, which was a huge issue for me. I didn’t know what a father was, so, or dad, to call somebody that was just bizarre. And I mean, I can literally remember thinking that, you know, even saying that word made me sick. And so and then to see how he treated was, I knew was the same sort of abuse how he treated us was the same, that he would you know scream and yell at us and get in our face and, you know, there were times that he’d throw us down. What it did was, at the Boys Ranch is it formed a bond between us that we sort of, all the boys, we stuck together and did the best we could to look out for each other. It was sort of like a military setting where we would, you know, if one of the guys weren’t doing what they were supposed to, we’d kind of get after him, but, you know, make sure he was doing what he was supposed to, to keep us all out of trouble. So we formed a bond, you know. And hauling hay, when we hauled hay at the Boys Ranch, it was incredible. I mean, we worked like dogs, it was hot, but it was something about just being out there with the rest of the guys, that you know we felt, not safe, but just a strong bond. But the ranch dad again would, he’d do everything he could to break us down. He’d get mad and, you know, make us get off the truck and walk sometimes instead of riding on the trailer, or he would drop us off at the end of the gate and make us bear crawl on our hands and feet back to the truck or to the gate just to prove a point.

Austin: Bear crawl, that’s hands and feet on the ground?

Alton Carter: Yeah, hands and feet, and just walk and so, you know, we’d have to walk laps around, you know, you’d have to bear crawl laps around the Boys Ranch. He was also the deacon of the church, which he was a huge issue, so for me, my vision of what church was like was very distorted. And in fact I became angry, not so much mad at God, but mad at the church on, you know, you elevated, this church had elevated this person to a deacon status, and yet the way he treated us was just, it wasn’t kind.

Austin: This ranch dad believed strongly in breaking down those troubled young men through physical labor.

Alton Carter: One of the things we had to do at the Boys Ranch was carry bricks for two hours when you got in trouble. So we had a huge pile of bricks that you would walk over and pick up five and then haul them back maybe 30 or 40 yards and set them down. And that was another one of his punishments.

Austin: This grueling experience pushed Carter to further distance himself from everything he associated with that man.

Alton Carter: I, my biggest question is God, if you are real, why would you let me endure this? I left my home, and yet you’re supposed to protect me, and yet here I am at this boys ranch with this man that calls himself a man of God and the way he treats me. And so I got more frustrated with the church. I believe I, you know, had faith with God, but I just struggled with sort of the church concept and what was happening. So I stayed away from church until I got married and had kids, really, is when we started going back to church, that we thought that’s what was best. And that was foreign to me. You know, I’d been away from church most of my life except for the Boys Ranch, and now I go back with a family, and I had all these questions about what is a godly dad supposed to do. I didn’t even know what a dad was. So how in the world am I going to be a Christian dad when, you know my perception of faith is sort of, not faith but, sort of faith in the church is distorted.

Rob McClendon: Now, a little later in our show, we’ll introduce you to a young lady who grew up in foster care and eventually found herself living on the streets, but today is making her way in life thanks to some caring educators.

Latefia Wright: Everybody needs somebody. And I needed Metro Tech. It saved my life.

Rob: Now, when we come back, our conversation with Alton Carter continues, as we see what helped Carter move past his troubled youth to become the community leader he is today.

Male Announcer: You’re watching “Oklahoma Horizon,” featuring some of the good things that are happening in the great state of Oklahoma.

Rob McClendon: Too often, the only loving adult in a child’s life will be the adult in a classroom. In our continuing conversation with Alton Carter, he discusses the role teachers played in shaping his life, despite his challenging them every step of the way.

Alton Carter: As a kid, to be loved and cared about seemed foreign to me. And so that is what I was rejecting. Because being cared about or treated like you were somebody special was odd. And so when those things would happen, I would literally flight. Flight would kick in, and so my behavior would, you know, my bad behavior would come out just to keep them at arms distance.

Austin Moore: In fourth grade, Alton pushed one teacher past her breaking point. She drug him from the classroom, intent on the banishment he felt he deserved. But during the commotion, a teacher named Brenda Thompson stepped in.

Alton Carter: That was probably the first time I felt like I was worth something. In the fourth grade, this teacher that was not my teacher stood up for me and said I’ll take Alton when another teacher decided she’d had enough of my bad behavior. I had an ag teacher, Mr. Jennings, in Perkins who, you know he treated me like I was everyone else. I mean, almost like a son. He did everything he could to make sure I was successful in ag and so that was wonderful. Showing the animals was a huge part. I mean, and like I said there were times I would look at myself and see myself as you know the only black kid sometime at these shows. And really nobody ever treated me different. And that’s really probably one of the first times I got to see that the things that my family told me about white people were not true, that most of the kids in the FFA didn’t see me any different. They didn’t treat me any worse than anything else. And you know I entered a speech competition, and those things helped me so much, and it built confidence, and I’m telling you I was scared to death the first speech, and again people treated me like I was everyone else, and it just made a huge part, it built confidence in myself when I needed it most. I had a couple of coaches in Cushing, so I had a couple of football coaches, they just did everything they could to encourage me. They held me accountable. When I wanted to quit, they, you know, would talk me out of quitting because things didn’t go my way. I also had a lady named Leona Johnson who was a neighbor, when I lived at my grandma’s house, she was trying to get me to read. And I did not read well growing up. That was just something we didn’t do. We didn’t read at home. I don’t remember having grandparents or uncle or aunts, anybody read to me as a child. And so I literally stumbled upon her trying to mow a yard, mow grass, and she said, “Hey, I want you to read.” If you’re going to mow my yard, essentially, you’re going to read. And then so every time I would come mow, she’d make me read a couple of chapters, in fact gave me a book to take home to read. And when I’d come back to mow, she would, like I said, we would sit down, and she would go over to make sure I understood what I was reading. And so things like that, I know just made the biggest difference in my life, that little bit at a time people were pouring hope into me.

Singing: Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary.

Austin: Today, Alton works to be that same positive influence for children he meets. After a stint as a police officer, he now serves as director of youth ministries for the First United Methodist Church in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Alton Carter: I will serve you. I will go wherever you go.

Alton Carter: It’s hard, but we just have to care. You know a kid like myself, or a kid like that, they want to know more than anything else that someone cares about them. And it’s foreign. Sometimes it may be foreign to have someone care about you, but sometimes when you’re seeing kids who are having issues there is something deeper. And a lot of times we just want to, you know, discipline or write a kid off because they’re acting bad when really they’re crying out for help. They want what every kid has, to be loved and to feel like they’re important. Sometimes we have to get to know kids. Sometimes we need to have conversations that are difficult or figure out what it is can we do. You know, living in a house, one of my foster homes was in Boley, Oklahoma, and it wasn’t much, but I was safe and being fed. And that’s what kids need. They need to feel safe, and it’s not about a fancy home. They need people who care about them, and I needed to be trained on how to love people and how to treat people. And that’s the overall thing that kids need to learn. And when foster parents are not doing that, they shouldn’t be allowed to be foster parents.

Austin: In terms of looking at that system, public, private, do we need more partnerships, do we need more growth, need more resources applied to this issue?

Alton Carter: We need more everything. I mean we need funding, we need foster parents, we need case workers. The whole system needs a lot more people. You know, I graduated from high school out of a foster home, and I had no support system whatsoever. I had nothing to go to, so I go to college, I got to watch every kid go home to visit. They got, you know, care packages, and I was all by myself. So I lasted a semester and came back to the worst environment ever. I had to live with my mom. But I was so lonely and had nothing to come back to. I was out of the system. And so I kind of fell off the wagon, and not so much making bad choices, but I was doing nothing. I look back at my income tax and for that year after I left college for one whole year I made $769 a month and was trying to help take care of my mom, living in an efficiency apartment that was infested with roaches. But there was no support system, and my fear that I was going to turn out like everyone else in my family is what drove me to get out and start working at McDonald’s. I worked at McDonald’s and would, you know, back then they had the hamburgers that were labeled a time, they’d put stickers on them. And after a certain time, you threw those hamburgers in the trash. Well, I was working at McDonald’s, and I was sacking those things up and taking them home so I could feed my mom and myself because we didn’t have anything.

Austin: Eventually he returned to school and earned a sociology degree from Oklahoma State University. From there he set out to improve the lives of children like himself. But in many ways he was still carrying the burden of those bricks.

Alton Carter: I was at a Lions group speaking. And I told about the Boy’s Ranch and us carrying bricks. And in the back a guy named Gordon Sloggett, who was a Lion’s board member when I was at the Boy’s Ranch, and he said, uh, he said “Hey, Alton, I want you to know,” in the whole group he said, “I want you to know that I bought those bricks so no other kid would have to carry a brick again.” And there was a part of me at that moment that sunk. I mean, my heart just felt like it almost stopped. And it was a sense of relief that he had put a stop to that. And so after the meeting was over he said, “Hey, jump in my car. I want you to come to my house.” And so I go to his house, and we get out of the car and there all those bricks were, a patio and a sidewalk around his house. And it was probably more overwhelming than I would care to admit. Emotional tears running down my face, that, although I had carried those bricks, I knew that no other kid was gonna have to suffer that, that punishment anymore. And there was a part of me that started letting go of that pain and suffering from the memories of those bricks. And before I got in the car to leave, he said, “Hey, I want you to take one of these bricks if you want one.” And so I picked up a brick and put it in my car and drove, you know about, oh, down the street and had to pull over because I was in so much tears. And I don’t think Gordon knew what he was doing for me, but he began to help me heal from something I had literally been carrying my whole entire life.

Austin: Today, the Oklahoma Lions have set their sights on helping a broader group of children, and transitioned to a new operation called Meadows of Hope.

Bryan Larison, Oklahoma Lions Boys Ranch: We saw children in DHS custody, young, and we couldn’t serve them until they were teenagers. And we had boy after boy come in to our program that would tell us about their brother or their sister that they didn’t get to grow up with. And so our board decided that we wanted a place where brothers and sisters could grow up together. And that turned into the Meadows of Hope.

Austin: Rather than a single group home, these homes, and potentially many more, will be provided to certified foster parents and at least four children per home. The idea is to build a supportive community where these unique families can lean on each other.

Bryan Larison: They’re just normal people. They have jobs in the community. And they just wanted to serve more kids. And having a home that is large enough -- four bedrooms, four baths, 2,600 square feet -- gives them that opportunity. But more than that is the support of other foster parents on this campus.

Austin: Alton Carter was invited to speak at the dedication for Meadows of Hope and used the opportunity to continue the healing alongside the Boys Ranch organization.

Alton Carter: The one thing I thought would be appropriate, and it is hard not to get emotional, but I want Bryan to come back up here, and I want to give back the brick that Gordon Sloggett gave me.

Austin: Bricks. Here they once symbolized futility and fostered hatred. But today, the bricks and mortar of Meadows of Hope provide safety, security and a sense of belonging to children in desperate need.

Rob: Currently Oklahoma is in the third year of a five-year court-ordered plan to improve the lives of 10,000- plus children currently in state custody.

Female Announcer: Still to come on “Oklahoma Horizon,” sowing the seeds of success;
but first, America’s youngest outcasts.

Rob McClendon: Based on numbers supplied by the Department of Education, a new report called “America’s Youngest Outcasts” shows that nationwide there are as many as 2.5 million children across the country who will at some point this year not know where they are living. And the problem, well it is especially acute here in Oklahoma. If you will, I want you to take a look at some of these numbers. Now, our overall child welfare ranking comes in at 43. And why is that? Well, it really goes to these numbers right here, and I’m going to zoom out a little bit, and that’s the extent of child homelessness, because since 2010, our number has gone from 33,000 up to 43,000. And why is that? Well, here are some of the things that I think we need to connect the dots with. Our risk for child homelessness now is at 34. Now that’s better than it has been in past years, but it’s still not anywhere close to good. And why is that? Well, we have a really high teen birth rate at 47 per 1,000 teens. And what that often translates into is female-headed households, which now stands at 7 percent. And many of these households fall into that working poor category where they’re making minimum wage, which now stands at $7.25. But unfortunately the income needed for a two-bedroom apartment here in Oklahoma, that is at, I don’t know if you can see this all my marking, at $13.18 an hour. So what all this means is 24 percent of our children, 24 percent of our children, now live in poverty, which means one in four of our kids are poor. And that’s one in four, and the single largest indicator of child homelessness. Now, when we return, the inspiring story of one young lady who knows all too well what life on the streets is like.

Rob McClendon: Want to share something you’ve seen here today? Well, all of our episodes are streaming on our YouTube channel at OklahomaHorizonTV, or you can subscribe to our weekly free podcast on iTunes.

Rob McClendon: Each year, it is my pleasure to emcee the Metro Tech Foundation’s Scholarship Banquet called Sowing the Seeds of Success, and it was at this year’s banquet that I learned of a young lady whose story we just had to tell. Here is our Andy Barth.

Andy Barth: As the old saying goes: “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.” And we met with one Metro Tech student who has had her share of sour luck. But she’s turning it around to make life a little sweeter.

Andy Barth: Latefia Wright hammers away at Metro Tech’s electrician class, a skill she really enjoys. But the road that got her here is anything but enjoyable.

Latefia Wright: They said that they found me pretty much in a dog house with flea bites, tick bites, roach bites. They had to surgically remove my diaper.

Andy: At 2 years old, Wright was placed in foster care and for years was labeled a runner.

Wright: I was pretty polite, but I just ran away. I was a chronic AWOLer. You couldn’t hold me down for nothing.

Andy: And at the age of 15, Wright ran to Atlanta, Georgia, where she found herself homeless.

Wright: I ate a pack of sardines and crackers every day from the convenience store. Hustling up change off of whoever I could, doing whatever I could.

Andy: Yet her life changed when a man took her in and taught her the electrical trade.

Wright: And he took me to work with him, and that is when I learned how to do my first receptacle and hammering the nails and splice boxes.

Andy: Wright moved back to Oklahoma to try to reconnect with her family. After a failed attempt she found herself a single mother of two needing a job. That’s when she met her instructor.

Wright: I didn’t think that they still made Mr. Martins anymore. You know the teachers that you know really don’t want, they don’t care about money. The only thing he cares about is passing on knowledge.

Andy: And instructor Jerry Martin says she’s every teacher’s dream.

Jerry Martin: She’s got a work ethic that’s phenomenal. She works hard. She gives everything she’s got to whatever she’s doing. She’s really the type of student you want as a teacher.

Andy: And according to Martin, Wright has what it takes for the business.

Martin: I think the sky is the limit for her. But she really has just a desire to do electrical work.

Andy: As well as a desire to give back.

Wright: My long-term dream is to work in the electrical field, to start an all-women electrical company and build a teenage group home that’s solar-powered.

Andy: And even with a jaded past, Wright now has the skills and relationships for a happy life.

Wright: I never could imagine that my life would be this good. Because when you struggle and you go through so much pain your whole life, you don’t know that good can happen. Everybody needs somebody. And I needed Metro Tech. It saved my life.

Andy: Now, Latefia won the Sowing Seeds of Success Scholarship sponsored by Branson Tools. She earned a stipend to put towards purchasing her all-pink tool set as well as funds to help her with daily costs.

Rob McClendon: Next time on “Oklahoma Horizon,” we examine two bedrock industries for the state – manufacturing and construction -- and meet some of the people helping build America.

How are you going to do it safely? How are you going to do it according to the drawings? How are you going to do it? And those are real questions that owners in commercial construction want to know.

Rob: Construction to manufacturing, on Oklahoma’s show for the heartland, “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Rob McClendon: Thanks for including us as a part of your day. I’m Rob McClendon. Hope to see you back here next week.

Male Announcer: “Horizon” is made possible by the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education and the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. Thank you for watching “Oklahoma Horizon.”