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Local
'We're blessed': Navy veteran, single mother of four, first to benefit from new Habitat for Humanity 'Homes of Valor' program

Living on an aircraft carrier was an experience that Dora Juarez will never forget.

“It’s so big you couldn’t tell you were at sea,” said the Tulsa resident, who for two years of her Navy career called the USS John F. Kennedy home.

But for all its amenities, the vessel was only a temporary stop.

That’s the best thing, Juarez said, about Homes of Valor.

A new Tulsa Habitat for Humanity initiative that helps lower-income military veterans become homeowners, it will allow the single mom and her four children to finally have a permanent home.

As the reality for her has dawned, “it’s been overwhelming,” she said. “We’re blessed.”

Construction on a home for the Juarezes, who are the new program’s first participants, is underway at a site in the Kendall Whittier neighborhood.

As part of the program, the family is helping with the build. They were there this past Saturday, joined by a team of volunteers from the Tulsa Veterans Auxiliary.

The three-bedroom craftsman-style home is expected to be finished for the family to move into by October.

Since the project kicked off in late April, Juarez has seen the value of helping with construction.

“The boys jumped right in with their arms wide open,” she said. “They’ve learned how to use a saw and other equipment. They’re really taking ownership of it.”

Juarez has three boys and a girl: Joaquinn, Zebastian, Santiago and Iysabella. They range in ages from 16 to 10.

“They will be able to feel like the home belongs to them, too, thanks to their hard work,” Juarez said.

Juarez was born and raised in Los Angeles. As a teenager she saw the movie “Top Gun” and it inspired her to pursue a Navy career. The first in her family to join the military, she went on to serve 10 years.

“It was awesome,” said Juarez, who now works for a day care. “I learned so much and met a lot of wonderful people. Had I stayed at home I would not have done that or seen so much of the world.”

After she got out of the Navy in 2006, she decided to leave California.

“I didn’t want to raise my kids in the same hustle and bustle that I grew up in there,” she said. “I had visited Tulsa before and I thought it would be a nice, quiet place.”

The Juarez home is being funded by a $100,000 grant from the J.M. Huber Corp.

Habitat officials say the program is intended to address a specific need for affordable housing within Tulsa’s veterans community.

Vicki Jordan, Tulsa Habitat vice president of housing, said roughly 2,800 veterans in Tulsa County have an income below poverty level.

“Our veterans served this country proudly and we are so thankful we can be there for them,” she said.

The organization will work with the Veterans Administration, Folds of Honor and other local veterans organizations to identify potential families.

As with other Tulsa Habitat home programs, qualifying families must complete 250 hours of “sweat equity,” including financial education classes and helping with the construction of their home.

To donate to the Homes of Valor program or for more information, go to tulsahabitat.com/homes-of-valor or call 918-592-4224.


Featured video

An old landfill site breached by floodwaters along Bird Creek at Oxley Nature Center got a closer look by federal, state and city officials. They need to come up with a plan — one that might address more than just one breach site. One thing was clear, however. It won’t be a simple matter.

Read the story: Oxley Nature Center covered in trash after old city dump exposed during flooding


Local
'Playing with people's lives': Tulsa activists voice disappointment in Trump's handling of immigration enforcement sweep

President Donald Trump announced on Twitter Saturday he decided to delay a nationwide immigrant enforcement sweep by two weeks, but local activists say people living in Tulsa illegally are still on edge.

“It’s just a bunch of fear-mongering,” said Rosa Hernandez, president of the Tulsa chapter of Dream Action Oklahoma. “He’s just playing with people’s lives here.”

Last Monday, Trump tweeted that “millions” of immigrants in the country without legal permission would be removed “as fast as they come in” in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation beginning as early as Sunday.

Early Saturday, Trump appeared to try to explain the operations further in a tweet, saying that those targeted have been ordered by courts to be deported, but about five hours later, he announced a rain check.

“At the request of Democrats, I have delayed the Illegal Immigration Removal Process (Deportation) for two weeks to see if the Democrats and Republicans can get together and work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border,” he tweeted. “If not, Deportations start!”

Hernandez said although Trump’s volatile decisions signal the lack of an attainable goal, immigrants living in Tulsa illegally still need to be vigilant.

“Anything and everything can happen,” she said.

Linda Allegro, director of New Sanctuary Network Tulsa, said that’s exactly the type of fear immigrants in Tulsa are living under.

Allegro said she was disappointed in the president’s rhetoric and approach because it instilled “unnecessary” panic in the hearts of so many, especially when it leaked that ICE officials were planning on targeting about 2,000 families nationwide.

She said she knew of people who were afraid to leave their homes for work or for a short trip to the grocery store.

“There are real people behind these numbers,” Allegro said. “They talk about the millions and the 2,000 and there’s real people, real tears, behind those numbers. In the numbers they can get lost, but those of us who work at this level on the daily can see it clear as day.”

Allegro said many people don’t realize that immigrant households are often mixed-status homes, meaning there could be a DACA-recipient daughter, citizen child, undocumented mom, second re-entry boyfriend, and so on. They might be part of a family unit, but their legal statuses are separate, Allegro said.

“That creates a lot of fear, especially for the kids thinking mom or dad is going to be deported,” Allegro said.

Allegro said because of the additional stress and a recent uptick in immigrants contemplating taking their own lives, a licensed therapist and social worker is planning a “Caring for Our Families” workshop for Spanish speakers next weekend.

The negative implications of an impending enforcement sweep are heavy, but Allegro said she and other organizers are finding ways to help the immigrant community as a result.

“In a positive way, it allowed organizers to reach out to the community,” Allegro said, adding that the threat brought people together for support and “Know Your Rights training.

For the coming two weeks in which the enforcement plan hangs in the balance, Allegro said she’s hoping federal officials and lawmakers can work together as adults.

For more information about New Sanctuary Network Tulsa, visit newsanctuarytulsa.org.


Featured video

An old landfill site breached by floodwaters along Bird Creek at Oxley Nature Center got a closer look by federal, state and city officials. They need to come up with a plan — one that might address more than just one breach site. One thing was clear, however. It won’t be a simple matter.

Read the story: Oxley Nature Center covered in trash after old city dump exposed during flooding


Education
Tulsa Public Schools reports about 200 fewer teachers have left the classroom this year

Significantly fewer Tulsa Public Schools teachers left the classroom so far this year compared to 2017-18, signaling an improvement in retention efforts.

About 215 of the district’s educators stopped teaching in the 2018-19 school year as of June, compared to about 415 in all of 2017-18, said Quentin Liggins, director of talent initiatives at TPS.

That number, which includes teachers who retired or moved to an administrative role, could rise through the summer. The district still is waiting for many teachers to submit their contracts, an annual process that was lengthened due to the extensive flooding that affected the area.

But Liggins said he is encouraged by the substantial difference in turnover and estimates TPS typically has to replace 400-500 teachers every year.

He credits a lot of this to quality leadership. Officials say they’re focused on improving employee morale and the perception of the district office. Last month, the school board approved Superintendent Deborah Gist’s reorganization proposal that reportedly seeks to help the district better serve schools.

“Most importantly, the reason people stay is because they have a great manager, and that’s in any job,” Liggins said. “I think it’s testament to the great work our school leaders are doing to be able to retain members in their building.

“We have a significant number of schools that are fully staffed right now or are only looking at a few vacancies.”

Higher pay could be another factor. The district’s latest teacher salary schedule that was approved in October was the first in many years to feature a step increase after Oklahoma passed a statewide teacher pay raise.

TPS is now projected to receive about $7 million due to the state budget’s inclusion of $74 million for the funding formula to allow schools to hire additional staff, lower class sizes and pay for materials.

Of the $7 million, the district plans to invest $3.5 million in certified salary increases on top of the already budgeted $1.5 million as well as another $2.5 million in additional school allocations.

The district reportedly is beginning to negotiate with its teachers union, the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association about what another raise would look like for 2019-20.

Because the recently passed bills don’t specify how to spread out the salary increase among the teacher scale, officials are examining how to best reward veteran teachers, TPS Chief Financial Officer Nolberto Delgadillo said.

The teacher shortage crisis that has plagued districts across the state in recent years caused an influx in the hiring of educators with emergency certifications. About 30% of TPS’ teaching force started working there in the past two years.

“What we’re doing is we’re looking at our data across the years and overlapping that against our salary scale to see milestones,” Delgadillo said. “Who are the teachers who have achieved five years? How are we rewarding teachers with 10 years or what not?”

Recent data also show TPS had about 160 teacher vacancies this month, compared to about 140 last year.

Liggins doesn’t believe the slight increase is a bad thing. Instead, he said it’s a result of principals having more flexibility in hiring.

For one, the vacancies are spread out so that most schools have only a handful of openings, Liggins said.

There also are more people applying for jobs. TPS has received at least 1,015 applications for teaching positions so far this year. Last year it received about 880.

“We have a robust pipeline,” he said. “It’s actually given our school leaders an opportunity to be a little bit more selective in hiring. If you’re hiring two individuals for your building verses seven at the end of the school year, then you can operate with more selectivity and be more thoughtful in your process.”


Featured video

An old landfill site breached by floodwaters along Bird Creek at Oxley Nature Center got a closer look by federal, state and city officials. They need to come up with a plan — one that might address more than just one breach site. One thing was clear, however. It won’t be a simple matter.

Read the story: Oxley Nature Center covered in trash after old city dump exposed during flooding