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This Incredible Year in Turley

Hi and thanks to all for your interest and presence with us this past year. We just finished hosting another wonderful group from Leadership Tulsa today on a tour of the northside, so much to say and talk about in so short a time, and so I come away wishing that everyone could walk with us through the year, the ups and downs, the detours and deadends and surprising openings that mark our journey each year. This letter might fall in the category of Things I Kept Thinking About....I hope you will also read it and consider ways to give to us at the end of the year after you hear about what a year it has been in so many different ways.

 2011 has been a phenomenal year when things kept getting worse, and things kept getting better, side by side. It has been a year in this regard unlike any before in our own history here, and perhaps in our community's.

 We began the year by purchasing the abandoned church building that had been a central fixture for years in this community but had been foreclosed and empty for years, a symbol of so many vacant and abandoned and rundown structures here. We were able to buy it thanks to equity we had from a few months before, with your help, buying the city block of abandoned homes where we have put in our still emerging and blossoming KitchenGardenPark and Orchard on North Johnstown Ave. Along with a grant from the Zarrow Foundation, we were able to buy this old building and start reusing it even before renovating it. Thanks to a grant from the Flint Family Foundation we have been able to settle in to the building better and keep up our outreach and services and grow them.

Right away though we had the great winter blizzard that shut down the community for weeks and kept us from moving in for about a week, and which opened up more problems with the roof to go along with the major vandalism attack that had hit the building for the first time in its long 90 year history. But as soon as we were able to move in, we held a Community Art Event where area residents were able to help us clean and paint art and brighten up the building on the outside. During this same time though we lost our community health clinic from OU which had closed their others in north Tulsa the previous year. It would herald a year of increased abandonment in this area where so much community wise had closed.

We held community organizing events with OU on several issues facing our community, and worked more on the community health worker proposal that would help take primary care out of the clinic and into the neighborhoods themselves in revolutionary new ways of growing health that lasts. We are looking forward to more service learning projects with OU Social Work as 2012 begins and will be reporting on it.

In the Spring we got word that our post office, which we had had for as long as there had been a community here more than 100 years, was scheduled to be closed. After organizing petitiions, after working to actually get the story out in the public, the post office was still closed. We are hoping to find some place in the community now, though, that would like to work with us to host a possible Village Post Office to replace what we lost. This area where people have the least resources to be able to get to other alternatives to the post office is the place where they close; it is a symbol of the way values of the powerful reinforce convenience for the privileged over comfort for the afflicted.

At the same time we also got the report that the former Turley School, now Cherokee School, was scheduled to be closed; we worked on getting information out to residents, and coming up with alternatives, but the school was closed, and the communities suffer from not having a major place like school where community and residents can intersect. And we are likely to see more schools closing, possibly with charter schools placed as possible alternatives in Greeley but not Cherokee, which is better than having it closed too like Cherokee was, but we still have the major building in the heart of the community at Cherokee being vacant. We are working with OU and others to try to dream up possible new community friendly uses. Our children go to an increasingly different number of schools so far away from our community these days that this continues to be a difficulty in making the connections for community here where there are so few avenues available to do that.

Speaking of Cherokee, we have lighted up the archway and Christmas tree at Cherokee School even though it is closed so it will not be darkened this holiday season. And we have lighted up the community center building so our area will have a few public and commercial buildings with decorations showing spirit and a source of light in this time of darkness, when almost no other buildings for miles along North Peoria have any decorations for the public and our community again this year; part of the problem that comes when people who own the businesses or run the places don't live here. I know that most people in Tulsa will never see these few little holiday decorations and night lights, but I believe, in the spirit of Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree, that they signify more meaning about the reason of the season than all the glitz in other areas of the city and suburbs. We are going to do the same at the Welcome To Turley signs as we head toward the beginning of Christmas. It is part of our mission to make the community look better even before we spend on ourselves. And we are working with the Cherokee School reunion committee; and we are part of a major community food policy grant proposal that if it is received we might be able to lobby for some of its use in our area.

During the summer even after the school closing, and all the grief it caused, we managed to get the school to stay open throughout the summer so we could hold the Summer Cafe daily free lunch program for all under eighteen years old, and we stayed open longer than any other site and served more because of it. Our summer was hit hard by two natural events though, the long record setting drought and heat wave and the wildfires. We were able though because we had bought the center building to be able to open it up as the first response shelter for all the evacuues; just as we had used it as a tornado shelter in the Spring storms. Out of that experience came our renewed Turley leadership planning group that is concentrating on disaster response and deep issues. One of our residents was killed at night because of the lack of street lights and that we have no sidewalks along our major street, also a state highway, that people have to use to get to and from walking to the store or other businesses; including those in wheelchairs who have to use the highway lanes. This group is planning ways to build up the infrastructure needs of our area and are working again on plans to incorporate our own citizens and a city of Turley, or at least to find out if people will go for it. Our summer was also marked by a week of service where we hosted a church group from Wildflower Church in Austin, Texas who helped us during all this keep up our spirits and make plateau changers in some of our community sites. And at the end of the summer we were partners with OU on community health research that we hope will help us to grow more connections and the health worker plan; we are now helping with research on healthy food with the Indian Health Care Resource Center.

Even in the heat wave, we were able to win our community orchard and organize a major volunteer effort to plant forty fruit trees during the hottest day of the year. Seeing the growth of the garden and orchard has been a major accomplishment of the year; our fall harvest helped feed our neighbors and bring them together and we have so much more to do as we move forward expanding and turning it into an outdoors third place. We also helped spur on the county's commitment to removing many of our abandoned and rundown houses; this is an ongoing concern and project and we still have so many dangerous commercial and residential buildings that are left to waste. This year we also got the Federal Home Loan Bank grant that has helped us to turn the old abandoned homes into our GardenPark; it is a great example of putting all three legs of the stool into collaboration to make a huge difference in an underserved area; we used government through OU students who helped us prepare and envision it; private business through Freedom Bank and the home loan grant program; and ourselves as a nonprofit and help from grant writers at the government US Dept of Agriculture Tallgrass Resource and Conservation District to all work together to bring it about.

This Fall we have been picking up the pieces from the losses, helping Greeley School transform for the new students and staff and faculty, helping to renew the advisory board at O'Brien Park, and helping out with the continued growth of the McLain Foundation and the big event of the Taste of North Tulsa promoting healthy food and lives; and yet, in the midst of it have had to suffer our own personal losses due to the unexpected deaths of two of our own board members, Gwen Goff and Linda Taylor, and our major partner in food justice Steve Eberle. These emotional losses tempt us to turn toward our own selves and needs though we know to honor their legacies we need to continue their work making the world right outside our doors a better, safer place. Our new board members, Deb Carroll who has taken on the renewal of our food pantry justice and sustainability center, and Elaine McDondle of Sarah's Residential Living Center by McLain High School, and Demalda Newsome of the North Tulsa Farmers Market, all are giving us renewed hope and spirit as we begin to enter a new year. There is still a good buzz of wonder and hope from our sponsored community Halloween Festival that drew 300 people; and from our smaller but significant Thanksgiving turkey dinner giveaways and our Thanksgiving community meal.

By the way we just received today our 125 vouchers to distribute to 125 families in our area to be able to take big boxes of food at our Major Food Giveaway on Friday, Jan. 13 from the Mobile Food Van of the Community Food Bank. And we don't just give out food; but we teach about healthy food, give out recipes, connect people with community gardens, and with all of our community events throughout the week, and recovery groups on the weekend.

We end up the year with our Christmas Community Party on Tuesday Dec. 20 from 6 to 8 pm. Come sing with us, have refreshments with us, play games with us, get face painted, watch Christmas videos, and get to know each other better as we dream and make those dreams real in ways that continue to amaze all of us.

I wish I had been able to tell all this to the Leadership Tulsa guests today. I would have told them better what a remarkable gift it is to be able to live here with those who are struggling but still find ways to give of their strengths and spirit, of the new dreams many have, how just staying here and alive and dreaming is a sign that another world is possible; last night several of us in the community watched the movie Joyeux Noel about how peace broke out and friendships were made and worlds changed on the battlefields of France during World War One on Christmas Eve; they paid a price for creating, for a moment, that different world, but it was one that changed their lives forever, and can still today for us. I should have mentioned more to the group about the growing possibilities and community involvement with the Vann Green Park Industrial Area here, along with our unique setting of hill and bottomland so close to downtown. And I should have said more about how issues of racial justice, reconciliation, ethnic diversity, both still challenge us, and are a blessing to us here as we find ways to deepen our lives together across barriers; living next to one another, serving together with one another, linking and empowering the poor regardless of ethnicity, is all an opportunity we get to have that others may want to do but have to go out of their way to do. More on that as we move toward our participation again with the Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations.

But more of all of that in the new year. It will be for us a Year of Celebrations, when we take time to mark and thank and renew all the partnerships and people that have helped us get to where we are, whom made 2011 a little bit easier and a little bit more bearable for us, as we seek to make it so for our neighbors. A Year When We Go Deeper. Stay tuned.

And if you are still here with me at this point, let me ask you to help us enter 2012 on an amazing, surprising, gifted note. We need your End of the Year tax deductible contribution. You can make it easily and safely online at, or can mail a check to A Third Place Community Foundation at The Welcome Table Center, 5920 N. Owasso Ave., Turley. OK 74126. Everyone of the things I have written about above will still be projects, are still in need of support; including things I didn't mention like how we are a warming station now as we were a cooling station this summer, how we are still building up our free internet center for those here without, how we need more money for our food pantry purchases, for our gardenpark, for new signs to let the world know what we have going on, for the transformation of our remaining building into a community room, for new shelves for the clothing room, for bathroom renovations, for some part time staff to keep the center open and growing a few more hours a day, and for a new website presence. These are all the "uncool" things that make possible the transformational things mentioned above.

So, thank you for all you have done, even the important work of spreading the word about us; and as we tell one another here, we are all, regardless of our circumstances, blessed in special ways, with something we each can give. We love to be able to offer to one another here the opportunities to give of our selves in so many ways; we love to be able to extend that opportunity to you too as we end out this incredible year.


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