Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a city struggling with high rates of poverty, and mental illness, but it’s also a “hot spot” of innovative solutions. Three enterprising leaders, working to break the cycle of poverty, were recently awarded Ascend Fellowships from the Aspen Institute: Steven Dow, the Executive Director of Tulsa’s Community Action Project (CAP); Dr. Chris King of the Ray Marshall Center for Human Resources at the University of Texas, Austin; and Dr. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale of Northwestern University. The Open Society Foundations supports Ascend at the Aspen Institute, which is headed by Anne Mosle, and I’m honored to serve on the Advisory Board.
Last month, in my official Ascend advisory capacity, I flew to Tulsa and was able to observe first-hand the award-winning work that Steven Dow is spearheading at CAP, which focuses on providing high-quality early childhood education and comprehensive family economic support through both direct services and public policy efforts.
One of CAP’s programs, CareerAdvance, seeks to help parents whose children are enrolled early-learning programs at CAP earn family sustaining wages that will provide more stable living situations. Drs. King and Chase-Lansdale are evaluating CareerAdvance and tracking outcomes for both parents and their children. Participants are offered training and support along a path that culminates in a degree in Registered Nursing or Health Information Technology. The idea is that not only will parents benefit by attaining occupational certifications and good-paying jobs, but that there will be additional benefits for their young children.
Dow is smart enough not to try to do this all alone. He has cultivated partnerships with local public school systems, the Oklahoma Department of Education, the University of Oklahoma, Tulsa Technology Center, and local funders such as the George Kaiser Family Foundation to strategically provide services and opportunities for CareerAdvance parents and their children.
One mother participating in the program and working towards an associate’s degree in health information technology summed up the real importance of this work: “To know that your kids are in a safe environment is so important... I feel lucky be part of something bigger than myself, and to know I have all these supports to help get me to a better place.”