OKLAHOMA CITY — Six Norman-area residents are among 52 outstanding Oklahoma mentors who were honored Jan. 15 during the second annual Oklahoma Mentor Day at the Capitol presented by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and its David and Molly Boren Mentoring Initiative.
Local honorees, Katherine “Katie” Recer, Big Brothers Big Sisters; Don Nicholson II, Oklahoma Lawyers for Children; Michael McCoy, University of Oklahoma Academic All-State Alumni Mentoring Program; Caitlin Porterfield, OU K20 Center Gear Up for the Promise; Kim Graves Wolfinbarger, OU School of Industrial and Systems Engineering; and Deborah Binkley-Jackson, OU Project Threshold.
“The goal of Oklahoma Mentor Day is to recognize outstanding mentors from all types of youth mentoring organizations around the state and to provide fun, educational activities for the honorees and their mentees to share,” said Beverly Woodrome, director of the Boren Mentoring Initiative. “Mentor Day also draws attention to the value of mentoring and the tremendous impact that mentors make in their mentees’ lives.” Mentor Day is held in conjunction with National Mentoring Month in January.
The initiative, named for foundation founder and chairman David L. Boren and his wife, Molly, grew out of Boren’s own commitment to mentoring and the proven impact that mentoring can have on a student’s success in and out of the classroom. The initiative was launched in 2006 to promote the growth and development of quality youth mentoring programs statewide. Since then, more than 100 Oklahoma mentoring organizations have joined the foundation’s network.
Mentoring Day honorees were selected by their respective programs within the Mentoring Initiative network. Each recipient received a Certificate of Recognition signed by Boren. The award presentations, which took place in the House of Representatives’ Chambers, were made by Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence President Les Risser of Norman. Past president and trustee Patti Mellow of Oklahoma City read descriptions about each outstanding mentor.
More than 200 people, including mentors, mentees and representatives from state mentoring organizations, attended the day’s events. Mentor Day included hands-on educational activities presented by the Oklahoma City Zoo Education Department and Girl Scouts-Western Oklahoma STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Program. Guests also enjoyed live jazz music by Chris Hicks and Mitch Bell and juggling lessons by Bill Williams of Norman. Capping off the day was a mentor-mentee outing to the Devon Ice Rink in downtown Oklahoma City.
Recer, an OU education student, was honored in 2013 as Oklahoma Big Sister of the Year and has been matched three years to her mentee, Ariah. When the May 20 tornado struck Ariah’s school, Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, Recer’s heart sank. She was relieved to learn that her Little Sister was safe and had been checked out of school 30 minutes before the tornado hit, but saddened to find that the twister had destroyed Ariah’s school, taking the lives of seven classmates.
“During a tough year for Ariah, Katie has been a ray of hope as Ariah learns to cope with this tragedy at such a tender age,” said Lisa Wilmoth, Big Brothers Big Sisters’ senior match support specialist. “When Katie arrives at her school each week, Ariah runs toward her and gives Katie a big hug.”
Nicholson, a Norman attorney, and his friend D. Kent Meyers of Oklahoma City founded Oklahoma Lawyers for Children in 1997 after they went on a Child Watch Tour and visited the Oklahoma County Juvenile Justice Center and other facilities. Seeing first-hand the catastrophic needs of Oklahoma’s abused, neglected and deprived children inspired them to create Oklahoma Lawyers for Children. The nonprofit organization now has more than 700 volunteer attorneys and 400 non-lawyer volunteers who provide free legal support and other services for children.
“Nicholson and Meyers inspire volunteers to become involved in the lives of children. They have recruited and mentored thousands of volunteers — lawyer and non-lawyer — to protect children,” said Tsinena Bruno-Thompson, president and CEO of Oklahoma Lawyers for Children. “Their mentorship is infectious.”
McCoy, an OU sophomore majoring in microbiology, was selected by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence Academic All-State Alumni Mentoring program as its Outstanding Mentor for 2013. McCoy volunteers an hour a week at McKinley Elementary School. School principal Carol Emerson said McCoy’s mentee was initially lonely, unhappy and had trouble making friends.
“Michael entered his life, and things began to change,” Emerson said. “The child has now grown to be a happy, engaging child on our campus. Michael is a person who is fully committed to changing the life of a child. He consistently comes to campus for visits, which are cherished by his mentee. With a smile on his face, the child speaks to me of his mentor. He feels that he truly has a friend who will encourage him in all that he does.”
Porterfield was selected by OU’s K20 Gear Up for the Promise program as its Mentor of the Year for Oklahoma Mentor Day. Through a partnership with Oklahoma City Public Schools, the federally funded program encourages middle school and high school students to prepare for and pursue a college education. Porterfield, a forensic scientist, introduces students to activities that make the field come to life, such as taking fingerprints, making footprint molds and learning how to process a crime scene.
Stacy Harris, program coordinator, said Porterfield is “a tireless leader — patient, kind and funny. She is skilled at presenting to large groups and working one-on-one to help students better understand concepts. She is good at taking high-level skills and concepts and explaining them in a way that interests and excites our students.”
Wolfinbarger serves as recruitment coordinator for the OU School of Industrial and Systems Engineering. She is the founder of the Industrial Engineering Leadership Program, which provides juniors and seniors with opportunities for professional and leadership development. Members attend workshops and seminars led by noted business leaders, visit companies to learn about the modern business environment, and attend lunches and networking events with practicing engineers. The leadership program also matches students with professional mentors who meet students at least once a month to discuss life goals, strategies, decision-making, and other professional issues.
“All of the students in the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering know Kim and see her as a great resource for any kind of advice that they might need,” said OU student Cole Jackson. “She plays an integral role in creating an environment of success and community in the department, and she has played an integral role in creating a positive college experience for me as a student.”
The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence first honored Wolfinbarger in 1992 as an Academic All-State Scholar.
Jackson is the director of OU’s Project Threshold, a TRiO Student Support Services program designed to increase retention and graduation rates of those who are economically disadvantaged, disabled or first-generations college students.
DeAudre Ridley, a past participate in Project Threshold, wrote a letter of support for Jackson as Outstanding Mentor. Ridley had grown up living in more than 20 foster homes. When he first was admitted to OU on financial aid, he abused drugs and alcohol, skipped classes and eventually got expelled. Seeking a second chance, Ridley was referred to Jackson and Project Threshold.
Upon meeting Jackson, Ridley made an emotional discovery that she was the same woman who had once served as his home-based therapist when he was a child.
“She was the only friend that I had and trusted,” he recalled. “She would come to my school and speak with my teachers. She would come get me when I would get suspended before I went back to my foster home. She would take me out for ice cream or to get something to eat.”
The two lost touch when Ridley was moved to another foster home and Jackson changed jobs. Today Ridley holds two degrees from OU and is assistant director of the graduate college for Oklahoma Baptist University. Following Jackson’s example, he is a mentor to foster children.
“I owe everything I am to Deborah Binkley-Jackson — my mentor and friend,” he said.
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