There is a lot worth celebrating as Youth Services of Oklahoma County commemorates its 40th anniversary this year.
The nonprofit organization led by Debbie Forshee, president and CEO of Youth Services for Oklahoma County, has more than 50 employees, five separate programs and a number of youth who receive services at any given time throughout the week.
Forshee started this job after working for a number of years in politics. “This started as a job, then came a passion,” said Forshee. “We save a kid or change a life every single day here. When you have that kind of outcome, it's exciting ... and rewarding.”
Gerrell Thomas was one of those kids — his story is full of impossible situations to overcome, but today he's touted as a success story by Youth Services' Supporting Kids in Independent Living (SKIL).
Thomas, who is currently earning a graduate degree at the University of Central Oklahoma, was the second of seven children born to a 22-year-old mother. He smoked marijuana in elementary school and lived with various friends. At the alternative school he attended for three years in middle school, people expected the worst from him and that is what they got, he said.
Finally, he ended up at Northeast Academy for high school and started playing basketball and football. A coach's wife, Brooke Davis, took an interest in him.
“She was the first person to come watch me play football,” said Thomas, adding that he began to have hope. “She would come to the school and people would tell me that lady was here to see me. ... She was a voice for me.”
Brooke Davis' husband was a coach and came with “Miss Brooke” to watch Thomas play. Against all odds, Thomas began to have hope. He had someone who believed in him and that changed everything.
As a sophomore, SKIL helped him get a championship ring like the rest of the team; as a junior, the group provided him with a tux.
Since then, he became the first person in his family to graduate from college.
He played basketball for Redlands Community College on scholarship and graduated magna cum laude from there and followed it with a degree from Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La.
“I don't think my life would be what it is today without SKILS. I just want to say, “Thank you,'” Thomas said.
STACEY ALLEN, For The Oklahoman