When Norman native Mark Nehrenz returned to Oklahoma after a year in South Africa, he felt strangely disconnected. It was 2011 and he had just finished a Fulbright-funded year producing videos for nonprofits in Pretoria, South Africa's executive capital. The stories he told drew him into the city, into a web of intersecting plots and people and relationships.
Now, back on his home soil, that web was gone. “In my home state I was nowhere near as plugged in as I had been in South Africa,” said Nehrenz.
Shortly after his return, Nehrenz began working on a master’s in journalism, focusing on documentary video production, at the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. He remembered how stories of generosity and compassion had pulled him into a vibrant community in South Africa, and wondered if the same might work in Oklahoma—not just for him, but for other Oklahomans, too.
“I decided to develop a community involvement storytelling platform for my master’s project,” said Nehrenz. He named that platform OKC Good.
The centerpiece of OKC Good is a website where Oklahoma City Metro residents can see stories of the inspiring work done in their communities by nonprofits and other pro-social people and groups. “We want to amplify the voices and share the stories of the people and organizations who are making positive changes in our community,” said Nehrenz.
To get an idea of what this means, take a recent video that OKC Good produced. Billy Ray, an older homeless man who died in early March, was a vendor for Curbside Chronicle, a magazine that employs homeless people to sell its issues, providing jobs for people who are otherwise hard to employ. Last year Billy Ray lost a leg to diabetes. Curbside Chronicle worked with Limbs for Life and Scott Sabolich Prosthetics to get Billy Ray a new prosthetic leg, and OKC Good was there to film it.
There’s a moment in the video that shows the power of the OKC Good platform. An attendant comes into Billy Ray's care room holding a big box wrapped up like a Christmas present. Billy Ray, an old, thin homeless man, claps his hands in excitement, says impishly, “I know what it is,” and giggles like a boy on Christmas morning. As soon as he pulls the leg out of the box he kisses it and cradles it like a child on his lap.
Billy Ray still would have gotten his leg without OKC Good, but only the people in that room with him would have witnessed that expression pure human joy and gratitude. Now, thanks to OKC Good, anyone with an internet connection can see it.
The power of such moments is what Nehrenz is hoping to harness. Hearing the story of Billy Ray is nice. Seeing the moment his life changes, seeing his face light up and him kiss his new leg, that is powerful. That might inspire you to get involved.
“In its most basic form, OKC Good is about inspiring action through storytelling,” says Nehrenz. Together with his friends Zack McCullock and Austin Patterson, Mark is building a platform of inspiration. So far they have shared stories from ten organizations, including Better Block OKC and The Mentoring Project, and they plan to incorporate as a non-profit this year.
And even though they are the ones producing the content and telling those stories, that hasn't stopped them from being as inspired as the users they hope to attract.
“The process of starting OKC Good has opened our eyes to the massive story of goodwill that is unfolding in the Oklahoma City metro,” said Nehrenz.
“We all know that the Oklahoma City community is experiencing a renaissance, and part of that story is how hundreds of organizations and individuals are serving their neighbors and impacting the lives of those less fortunate than they are.”
Nehrenz and his friends have plenty of stories still to tell.
Watch stories of the good happening in Oklahoma City at okcgood.com