By OICA CEO Joe Dorman
I had the great pleasure of speaking to several young Oklahomans on Monday who are participants in the Norman Police Athletic League (PAL) summer camp. I was asked to address them about activism and how young people can get involved in not only public service, but also how they can make a difference in their communities, their state and our nation.
Too often, young people feel their ideas are disregarded because of their age. I assured them that most elected officials do indeed value the input of their constituents but those citizens need to present thoughtful ideas backed up with facts, not just angry or emotional appeals. Most public servants will welcome the chance to listen to their younger constituents should they want to get involved with making a positive change.
Speaking of positive change, I reminded these young Oklahomans that often the best way to bring about improvements in the community is to join others in taking direct action. The Police Athletic League is a great example of that, offering hundreds of kids an opportunity to play football, volleyball, basketball and soccer in summer leagues across the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas (and will soon be expanding to rural areas as well).
We have many issues in our state which are health-related, including growing rates of diabetes and obesity in children. Programs like PAL work with young Oklahomans to encourage healthier lifestyles through physical activity. With public schools facing budget cuts and the rise of four-day school weeks, there are fewer opportunities for students to get exercise through physical education or organized sports.
Many of the PAL police officers also serve as school resource officers in local public schools and provide the role models needed for many of these students. The officers also provide opportunities for students to get involved with after-school activities and often offer coaching in various sports.
Outside the classroom efforts like what PAL offers help make a difference for many of these young Oklahomans by improving their health and giving them a safe, constructive environment to channel their energy and stay out of trouble. The work done by these police officers, oftentimes off-duty or after-hours from their job, is encouraging stronger, healthier communities while helping to build bridges between law enforcement officers and local families.
I appreciate the work being done by these officers and I am proud that OICA will soon be able to offer our direct support. The Fit Kids Coalition, a program run through OICA, will soon begin new work assisting organizational partners such as the Police Athletic League and the Oklahoma Municipal League in presenting opportunities to Oklahomans to learn more about fitness and efforts available to local communities. Through these organizational efforts, it is our hope to reach more young Oklahomans and encourage activities outdoors. Visit our website at OICA.org for announcements and ways you can get active with our mission.
The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy was established in 1983 by a group of citizens, to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk.
Our mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.“