By Hannah Cruz
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The public received a sneak peak into the long-anticipated opening of The Toby Keith Foundation’s OK Kids Korral during a grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting Thursday.
The facility, located two blocks south of The Children’s Hospital at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Oklahoma City, is a state-of-the-art 25,000-square-foot, cost-free home away from home for pediatric cancer patients and their families.
During the ceremonies, Toby Keith, a Norman resident and famous country musician, said the facility fulfills a dream 10 years in the making. His hope is that the home will help alleviate some of the financial and emotional struggles associated with treating pediatric cancer.
“Every wall, every corner — it’s been built with love, and you can tell that God is ever present,” he said.
The house features 16 rooms (12 overnight suites that sleep five people and four daytime suites), neutropenic wing for children with weakened immune systems, a gourmet kitchen, an Oklahoma Route 66-themed indoor play room, Oklahoma-themed outdoor playground, Oklahoma-themed interior design, art from local artists, a game room, a family resource room, a laundry room, a reflection room and a theater that doubles as a tornado shelter. The facility also will house The Toby Keith Foundation’s offices.
Keith said his vision for the house was simple, but his expectations were far exceeded by the many donors and companies that helped make the building’s completion possible.
“I can’t go on any further without telling you this is Ritz Carlton meets Disney World,” Keith said, laughing. “My vision was strictly just to facilitate, so mine was Motel 6 meets Moore, Okla. I would have been happy with Chuck E. Cheese and Motel 6.”
Keith noted that all contractors came under budget for the project. He thanked OK Kids Korral Executive Director Juliet Nees-Bright for her leadership and attention to detail. His acknowledgment was reciprocated by a standing ovation for Nees-Bright.
Other speakers during the ribbon cutting included Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, OU Health Sciences Center Department of Pediatrics Chairman Terrence Stull and donor Tim Fowler.
Fowler, the father of former pediatric cancer patient Elijah, said his son was diagnosed with cancer when he was about six weeks old.
During the boy’s course of treatment, Fowler said they stayed in a similar home as OK Kids Korral in New York City.
There, Fowler said his family formed life-long friendships that helped sustain them through their trials.
When Fowler heard about OK Kids Korral, he knew he had to get involved. Fowler donated wood flooring that is used in the building.
“This will be a place of hope, a community of hope,” Fowler said.
Elijah, now 5, assisted Keith and other OK Kids Korral advisory council members in cutting the ribbon for the building.
Nees-Bright said the home is anticipated to open in the next two weeks after it finishes clearing inspections.
Pediatric cancer patients staying in the home will be referred to the facility by their social worker or doctor. Operating costs are covered by donations, Nees-Bright said.
To keep operating costs low, Nees-Bright said volunteers will be needed to assist in making meals and other maintenance responsibilities.
“Volunteers will really be the heart of the home,” she said.
For more information about OK Kids Korral, visit the website tobykeithfoundation.org.
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