OAKS — J.D. Colbert has earned many accolades. He holds master's degrees from Harvard and Johns Hopkins universities, he received a White House appointment and he is a bank president.
Colbert credits a small American Indian residential center in northeastern Oklahoma for giving him the foundation to persevere and succeed.
Oaks Indian Mission is a home for children who are abused, neglected or abandoned, and others whose parents cannot care for them.
Daily life, Colbert said, consisted of performing morning chores, going to school, doing homework and playing sports.
"I learned how to live among other people,” said Colbert, who today is president of Native American Bank in Denver. "I learned many customs and traditions, and I learned how to stand up for myself. I gained a confidence in myself that I didn't have before.”
He said the staff motivated him to work harder.
While growing up in Tulsa, Colbert was placed at Oaks Indian Mission at age 9 for a year while his mother traveled to South Dakota to get her nurse's certification.
She refused to leave him and his three siblings in their stepfather's care because the man was an alcoholic, Colbert said. The mission seemed like a safe place.
"It's for kids that just need a place to stay where they're safe and they can grow up with a sense of healthiness,” said Don Marshall, development director.
Oaks Indian Mission, 20 miles northeast of Tahlequah, houses up to 48 children and teens. They live in cottages with a house parent and attend a nearby public school.
Most of the residents are American Indians, ages 3-18, but children of other ethnicities are accepted, Marshall said.
Unlike the state's system, they don't automatically age out when they turn 18.