Correction: This story originally incorrectly reported the first name of the housing and homelessness director for the Community Service Council. The story has been corrected.
More than 5,000 volunteers spread across Tulsa bright and early Friday to better their community through free labor for the 27th United Way Day of Caring.
Most volunteers came from area businesses big and small, adding enough manpower to get weeks worth of work done in the space of hours.
WPX Energy has been paired with Street School for seven years running, and with their 140 employee volunteers, tackled their most ambitious project yet — building a brand-new basketball court.
Street School first opened in the 1970s to provide an alternative atmosphere and approach to schooling for Tulsa kids who struggle in a standard classroom environment. For those kids, many of whom have suffered intense trauma, the program continues to succeed and grow, having opened a second location right across from the original in August.
A basketball court is something the kids have wanted for some time, Street School therapist Greg Haney said. They’ve been making due with their single indoor hoop for years, but it will be nice to have something closer to the real deal, Haney said.
“This is probably our most aggressive project to date,” WPX executive Pat Coyle said. When he saw the single indoor hoop standing in the combination gym and theater room, he knew it just wouldn’t do any more.
Coyle’s work with Street School doesn’t come once a year. His admiration for the program motivated him to join the Street School board. This school year is the start of his second on the board.
“We love what they do for these kids. If it wasn’t for Street School a lot of these kids would not graduate,” Coyle said. “Some of these kids would basically be out on the street.”
Before noon, the first basketball hoop had been installed and the second was on the way. Lines had been painted, and 125 feet of new fencing was almost up. They would be shooting hoops with the kids before the day was over, Coyle said.
At the Denver Avenue bus station downtown, a dozen Williams workers carrying iPads worked alongside the Community Service Council to help the homeless find housing.
“I walk and bike everywhere in Tulsa. I use the trails and roads, and I’m always coming across people who are homeless or in some kind of need, and it’s always been a curiosity of mine what services were available to them,” Williams volunteer Bob Wigglesworth said, explaining why he chose to volunteer for the project.
Most landlords won’t lease property to homeless tenants, but the Community Service Council has found ones who will. Council workers and Williams volunteers took the day collecting information and questionnaires, all necessary to find the right home for each person.
Sometimes homelessness is temporary, just people on a hard luck streak in need of a break or two to get back on track. Sometimes the issues run deeper and require more assistance.
“In the last 10 years, we’ve done amazing work around the homeless. We housed 1,049 veterans and people who were chronically homeless,” said Patrice Pratt, the housing and homelessness director for the council. “However, those counts have gone up because new people are becoming homeless.”
The Community Service Council aims to also connect those they help house with the right resources in the community to make sure they don’t end up back on the street.
“We’re seeing a lot more folks who are working-class, falling on hard times, and first-time homeless,” council coordinator Erin Willis said. At half past noon, the group had seen more than 60 people, with more still waiting.
Friday saw 5,100 volunteers working on more than 500 projects, and United Way Vice President of Marketing Brent Ortolani is impressed with the turnout.
“We hear a lot about Tulsa being very generous and that Tulsans are so generous, and I think that’s true,” Ortolani said.
United Way hosts Days of Caring all over the world, Ortolani said, and the event in Tulsa consistently sees some of the highest turnout.
It’s just one day, but when enough people chip in the effect is tremendous, he said.
“If you’ve got 300 employees from QuikTrip or from Williams, and groups of individuals all over town, they can move mountains,” he said.