COMMUNITY SPIRIT: Outreach Center aids TPS district families

Staff members of the Tahlequah Public Schools Outreach Center are, from left: Liza Warren, multi-tiered system of supports district coordinator and coach; Nikki Molloy, family and community engagement director and homeless liaison; Amy Spears, grants and federal programs clerk; and Lisa Presley, federal programs assistant.

The Tahlequah Public Schools Outreach Center is staffed and open to assist the district’s families and students.

A white house at 403 N. Mission Ave., across from Central Academy, has been renovated and stocked with caring and dedicated staff, as well as items some students may need.

The house sat empty for a portion of the time TPS has owned it. Among other things, the place has been repainted and the floors fixed. Along with TPS maintenance, the Outreach Center staff pitched in on the renovations, and most of the items, such as carpet, were left over from other district projects.

Staff members include: Liza Warren, multitiered system of supports district coordinator and coach; Nikki Molloy, family and community engagement director and homeless liaison; Amy Spears, grants and federal programs clerk; and Lisa Presley, federal programs assistant. While she doesn’t have an office there, Tanya Jones, executive director of federal programs and grants, can sometimes be found at the Center.

The Center is normally open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and appointments are encouraged. The staff are excited for things to get back to normal so community members can just drop into the Center as needed.

Some resources available include parenting classes, library items to check out, clothing, and SNAP and enrollment assistance.

“Online enrollment is new, and it can be difficult. Some people come here that don’t speak English or they can’t read,” said Jones. “We are very rich in resources in our district, for our staff and parents. If we don’t meet the basic needs of kids, the rest of it isn’t going to matter. If we don’t have the resources, we’ll find it.”

Outreach staff can also assist parents with contacts for doctor appointments, sports physicals, birth certificates, and more.

Along with clothing and shoes in a variety of sizes, the Center has a washer and dryer. Some schools may have a clothing closet on site, but if they need specific sizes, staff can contact the Outreach Center with requests.

The Center also has a small food pantry, mainly with snacks, a school supplies cabinet, and a supply of toys, diapers, car seats, backpacks, underwear and socks.

Staff members also sit in on meetings with Care Team members at each site every week. Members discuss the needs of students, including academics, behavior, emotions, food, absenteeism, and more.

While the backpack food program has been housed at Central Academy, it is now being run out of the Outreach Center. This program provides food and snacks for the weekend to students who may need them. Pre-pandemic, volunteers would fill the backpacks each week, and the Outreach Center staff hopes that can resume at the building.

During the summer, TPS staff delivered not only food to families in need, but they also took activities and items such as bubbles and sidewalk chalk to the students. These “curbside connections” have continued with virtual students and allow teachers and administrators to check up on at-risk students. Students in the backpack program also get five breakfasts and five lunches each week.

“The families have been really good to be home,” said Molloy.

Multiple grants are being used by the Outreach Center staff, such as three 21st Century grants, a U.S. Department of Education School Transformation grant, a USDE McKinney-Vento grant, FEMA grant with CREOKS Behavioral Health Services, Strategic Framework grant, School Violence Prevention Program grant, and more.

“We’ve braided all these funds to create this,” said Jones about the Center. “We’re hoping this is an important part of the district, so when grant funding goes away, we can’t do without it or we find new grants to make it continue.”

Through the McKinney-Vento grant, TPS works to assist homeless and displaced students.

“The numbers are up. Every year there’s a slight increase. At the beginning of the year it was lower, but over the year, it’s increased,” said Molloy.

The district has two accounts people can donate to: the backpack program and Tigers ROAR. Funds in the backpack account are only used for food, but the Tigers ROAR account allows staff to access money for whatever the immediate needs may be, such as shoes or haircuts for students or to help a family who had an emergency such as a house fire. Some businesses and organizations also regularly donate to TPS.

“We’re blessed we live in a great area where people care,” said Jones.

Get involved

For more information about the Tahlequah Public Schools Outreach Center or to donate, contact the Board of Education at 918-458-4100.

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