OSU-OKC uses $1 million gift to launch Center for Social Innovation
Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City has formed a new center to help Oklahomans redefine their future.
The Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City (OSU-OKC) Center for Social Innovation was launched late last month thanks to a $1 million, three-year commitment from the E.L. and Thelma Gaylord Foundation. The Center’s launch is realized following more than two years of partnership and program development between OSU-OKC and several metro-area nonprofit agencies, including The Curbside Chronicle, ReMerge, Pivot and Oklahoma County DUI/Drug Court.
The Center’s signature program, Growing Hope, guides participants through an intensive, 16-week schedule utilizing a hope-based curriculum that helps identify life goals, career pathways, and support systems. Participants advance through college courses toward a certificate or degree while gaining life-skills and resume-building work experience made possible by a growing number of community partners.
“OSU-OKC is committed to helping each member of our community reach their potential. For some, it’s a second chance,” school President Brad Williams said. “In this first semester, we have a group of 17 deserving human beings who are helping us perfect this model, with 53 additional students served by the Center’s programs. This is positioning the Center to serve several hundred people over the next three years.”
Many of the program participants have completed addiction recovery programs, jail diversion programs, or experienced homelessness – most have experienced some combination of these struggles. Each was referred into the Center for Social Innovation through a metro-area partner agency.
Mentoring the students and leading the program is Ariel Beasley, the senior director for the Center for Social Innovation.
Beasley said she can relate to the students because she shares a similar story of addiction, incarceration and homelessness. When she was 25, she was addicted to drugs and living in an abandoned house with no electricity or running water.
That’s when she lost custody of her 6-month-old son and went to jail.
“When I lost my son, I finally woke up and started fighting for my life,” Beasley said. “I was not interested in getting sober for myself, but I was desperate to do whatever it took to get him back.”
Beasley entered the ReMerge program in May of 2016, and by November of that year she was able to regain custody of her son. They lived together in an apartment at HopeHouse OKC and Beasley found an internship that turned into a full-time position at a local oil and gas company.
“I would never have believed I would be where I’m at today if someone would have told me five years ago,” Beasley said. “My own success has made me believe that anything is possible for anyone – especially people who have been given a second chance at life and are trying their hardest to become the best version of themselves.”
Now Beasley is assisting Center for Social Innovation participants with things like goal-setting, tutoring and job placements, as well as trying to provide an environment conducive to physical and emotional sobriety.
She said the center has the potential to be a life-changing experience for participants.
“This program answers the ‘what now?’ question that people have after they turn their lives around,” Beasley said. “This is the next step after sobriety and it is going to be the vehicle that takes an average recovery to an extraordinary transformation story.”
Williams said that empathy, compassion, accountability, and support are characteristics that make this type of program possible.
“We help others because others helped us,” he said.
Tricia L. Everest, a member of the Board of Trustees for the E.L. and Thelma Gaylord Foundation, said she looks forward to hearing success stories from Center for Social Innovation students.
“They may not know it now, but the success these students achieve will create a ripple effect that will spread across not only their own lives, but our entire community,” Everest said.
For more information about the OSU-OKC Center for Social Innovation, go to www.osuokc.edu/humanity.