Organizations in Ardmore working to create positive life experiences for historically oppressed communities
When Jonathan Willis first moved to Ardmore, he had no place to stay. Originally from Houston, Willis was hired at AT&T and later transferred to Ardmore. He stayed in the Salvation Army for a while, and then his colleagues finally let him stay with them.
Willis barely had any money because he returned everything he earned to his three sons. He worked hard to make sure he could provide them with as much as he could.
“When I bought them their backyard playset, seeing how excited they were to help me put it together, I remember some of my best times with my dad were when he had no ‘money,’ Willis said. “We would do little things like that. The only thing he could do was take me to McDonald’s and have apple pie and milk. He doesn’t know it, but it was those moments that I remember that meant the most between me and his bond.
Willis began to notice that other fathers were trying to do the same and realized how having a good dad could make a difference in a child’s life. He decided to officially launch his nonprofit, Real Dads Do Real Things, last year.
Organizations such as Real Dads Do Real Things and Restoring Lives strive to ensure that African Americans and other historically oppressed communities have access to positive life experiences. While their organizations aren’t just for blacks, both nonprofits offer black people the opportunity to fight systemic barriers.
Real Dads Do Real Things aims to inspire men to be great fathers and to create positive father figures. Willis said he wants the organization to be a place that forges men and that when children have positive male role models it can lead to positive change in the community and the world. Willis also wants the organization to be a place where kids who may not have access to a good father can contact him and the other men in the program.
“It’s directly in the name that I feel,” Willis said. “Real dads doing real things. We are a group of fathers who are more than just fathers. We take this time to really invest in our children and our families. It’s a group of men to reach out to men.
Right now, the association is spotlighting a father once a month. Willis sends the chosen dad a shirt and a gift card to encourage him. He also wants to use this monthly projector to show young dads examples of what great dads do and what they look like.
The monthly projector is currently funded by Willis and his family, but as the organization grows, Willis hopes to be able to offer more programs and services.
With more funding, Willis wants to be able to offer things like employment assistance, counseling services for fathers and their families, legal assistance, scholarships for the children of those participating in the program, and classes on basic practical work and household chores. He also hopes to host events such as father and son enrichment retreats, an outdoor movie night with dad, father-daughter dances, and a Real Dads Do Real Things summer festival.
“I remember when I couldn’t afford to take [my kids] fishing, ”Willis said. “I remember when I couldn’t take them to the park and have things to do. So I said I wanted to be this guy who creates these events. This time to be able to bond with your children will affect the whole community. ”
Crystal Douglas of Restoring Lives said the organization is working to help create a world where historically oppressed communities can thrive in all walks of life.
“Our focus here is to help the community thrive and to show how to thrive, whether it’s mentorship, life skills and things like that,” said Douglas. “We have many programs for youth and families. It all starts at home. So if we can work with parents to help children.
Douglas wants to see more African Americans participate and get involved in Restoring Lives, even though the organization is not strictly reserved for African Americans. Many of the organization’s events, such as their mental health forum, Why We Can Have Jesus and a Therapist, aim to address issues faced by members of the black community.
“I just want people to realize who we are, especially African Americans to use the resources,” Douglas said. “If you need help, say you need help because there is someone to help you. Use your resources, so we can work together on how to help you thrive. On how to help you thrive for your children.
One of the resources offered by Restoring Lives is rent and utility assistance. Douglas said the organization received a grant of just over $ 18,000 in March. To be eligible for rental assistance, 30 days notice for rent and / or utilities is required as well as verification of income, rental agreement and government ID, Douglas said. .
Currently, Restoring Lives is planning to host a college summit for girls in grades 6 to 8 on July 31 at Southern Tech to help them move on to junior high. The association also offers a mentoring program, The Be Blue Girls, for girls ages 9 to 12.
The Be Blue Girls meet weekly and are grouped together with a mentor. Douglas said the mentoring program is another way for children to increase their confidence and learn new life skills. Once they get more volunteers, Douglas said Restoring Lives hopes to offer one-on-one mentorship.
“It’s a bunch of girls,” said Douglas. “They meet a mentor. It helps them build their confidence and self-esteem. I know it is difficult to go from elementary to sixth grade. It is a group to develop your self-confidence and new life skills.