A Helping Hand
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Show 1651: A Helping Hand
Air Date: December 18, 2016
Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” I’m Rob McClendon. One in seven Oklahomans are on SNAP, the name now used for food stamps. But many low-income and food insecure people don’t receive any government help. Estimates are about 20 percent of those Oklahomans eligible for SNAP benefits don’t participate and fall into the category we are going to focus on today, the food insecure. Now, those Oklahomans, often children, whose access to adequate food is limited at times is a complicated problem that often ties back to long-term or even short-term poverty. And that’s why there is a push in Oklahoma to establish food and resource centers where clients are getting not a hand-out but a hand up to a more stable life. Our Austin Moore starts us off in Burns Flat, Oklahoma.
Austin Moore: 2016’s downturn in oil production, has found displaced workers seeking new education at sites like Western Technology Center in Burns Flat. Harold Wright represents part of this school district in the Oklahoma legislature.
Harold Wright: They’ve got to be able to get some sort of certification, education. We know through statistics that students who are educated earn more money.
Austin: But to get to that result, these students often must overcome a form of situational poverty, where they have, at best, a reduced income from part-time work, if any income at all, along with the expenses of going back to school. This stress means that routine events like eating and clothing themselves and their families can jeopardize their education.
Wright: We forget about those needs sometimes. If we can help provide some of those needs to the students that are here, then that will help them to reach their goals.
Shelby Luna: It’s important that our students have the means to get through school as a method of retention.
Austin: Shelby Luna runs Western Tech’s solution to this problem, P Willy’s Place of Grace.
Luna: In addition to the clothing and school supplies we also have, you know, items where they can make meals. We have diapers and wipes, trash bags and paper towels and toilet paper and things that maybe they aren’t able to purchase through other types of assistance but that are, as we know, very important to have at home.
Austin: This is transformational assistance. Just ask Chrissy Briggs, who is back in class 20 years after dropping out of high school.
Chrissy Briggs: Every day is a struggle. Cause it’s like, I know I got to pay this bill and that bill, and then it’s like if I can just hang in there until I can graduate we can get it going.
Austin: While this assistance can’t fully cover the aspiring chef and her children, it does help them stretch.
Briggs: Like side dishes and macaroni and cheeses and, you know, like, pancake mixes, those help out tremendously. Especially for the weekends where they are not in school and I am not in school, and it is going to be three meals for that day, and it can make it stretch farther when I’ve got stuff like that. It helps a lot. It really does.
Luna: We have been pretty lucky. This year we were able to receive a grant through the Oklahoma City Community Foundation through the Oklahoma Regional Food Bank, and that has helped us begin everything that we have started here.
Austin: Carla High coordinates the program for the Oklahoma Regional Food Bank. She says they embraced this program because it is woven into the training as well.
Carla High: We have a saying here we call, “Feed the line. Shorten the line.” This is a great strategy to do both. Their culinary students are assisting by providing food demonstrations, nutrition information. Their marketing students are assisting. Their health students are assisting.
Luna: The thing I think has been the most important has been the students’ acceptance of it and their willingness to get involved with it and to pay things forward. And we have had a lot of discussions on paying it forward. And they have been incredible. They have helped us sort and stock and unload, and they have helped other students when they have come in. It is almost hard to put into words how much they have changed each other and how much they have changed us, frankly.
Austin: Words also seem inadequate to describe just how perfectly P Willy’s Place of Grace reflects the ethic of its namesake, Phyllis Williams.
Cheri Lou Gastineau: She and Shelby had a vision of doing things for other people.
Austin: Cheri Lou Gastineau worked alongside Phyllis Williams for 15 years. Like so many, she came to love this technology instructor for her generous heart and irrepressible, if occasionally irreverent, spirit.
Gastineau: There was never a dull moment and we did get into some mischief together, which is always her fault. I never thought of it, always Phyllis. But her love and her compassion for teaching, it was just unbelievable. I can remember times at the high school when a kid needed something and she’d say, we need to go to Wal-Mart. And we’d go to Wal-Mart and we’d buy whatever we needed to buy. Whatever needed to be done. We did. Phyllis would call me in the middle of the night, so and so, we have got to go do this. OK.
Austin: That drive to do more, to help more, led to the idea of the Place of Grace, and to the initial fundraising to make it happen. But unfortunately, Phyllis’s health took her life before P Willy’s could open its doors.
Jim Vanderford: It is kind of unique with Phyllis. She wasn’t just my sister she was also my best friend. And so when all this happened it was pretty tough.
Austin: Jim Vanderford was introduced to teaching by his sister.
Vanderford: She had a passion for people. But particularly her students. She never let – excuse me. She never let any of them go wanting. If she could have picked something of herself to go forward with her name on it, that would have been what she did. It made us more aware of each other a lot more. Whether it is faculty, staff, students or any mix of the above. We are much more aware of who we are and what some of our weaknesses and some of our strengths are.
Luna: It has changed the culture of our school. I feel like we have always been very student-driven, but since we have had this common goal, it seems like everyone has been on the same page and the same direction.
Austin: A legacy well suited for a woman so passionate about her students.
Gastineau: She would be ecstatic. And she does see. She sees it every day when we are over there. She sees it every day when we are here. Because she lives in us.
Rob: When we return, we meet an Oklahoma couple whose eyes were opened to the needs around them and the work they’ve started ever since.