For 68 years, the Urban League of Greater Oklahoma City has been working to fight poverty and help individuals and families in the community through several pillars of support. Dr. Valerie Thompson, the nonprofit organization's president and CEO, discussed those pillars and what people can do to help.
Q: What sort of work does the Urban League of Greater Oklahoma City do?
A: We've been in the community quite some time. We are a United Way partner agency, and we work specifically to help families in poverty. We do that through five main areas: employment and training, children and family programs, entrepreneurship, a program in urban health and affordable housing.
Q: Who are the people you serve?
A: We serve on average 10,000 people a year, but last year we served almost 12,500 people, and in that I would say 38 to 40 percent of those people were looking for jobs or we served them in our employment department. We're very grateful in Oklahoma we probably have had the best economy in the nation, but still there are pockets of poverty throughout Oklahoma City that remain high despite our economy. Those are the people we try to assist through our agency. People seek us out particularly because they're looking for jobs, they've heard that a friend of theirs may have received a job, or through their church or different agencies throughout Oklahoma City. Typically we help those get employment that are the hardest to employ.
Q: Expanding on employment assistance, what are some of those services you offer?
A: People come to us because they feel comforted. We have a variety of case managers that assist them in the basic needs of employment. It may be that someone has recently been released from incarceration, they have to find employment quickly, get them stable, find them housing, it may be getting them through a temporary training so they have a skill set to be able to apply for the job, and not only apply and get the job, we want them to maintain the employment. People that come to us have a variety of challenges as far as employment, but that's just one avenue.
Q: In terms of those other avenues, what does your work look like?
A: We spend a great deal of our agency resources in focusing on young children and education. Poverty is a cycle, and we try to break that cycle by making sure not only adults have the proper skills to obtain a job, but make sure the children are well equipped to break that poverty cycle. We provide after-school programs to help those children that may need extra help to find the educational resources that they need.