Oklahoma City—The Oklahoma Aging Advocacy Leadership Academy (OAALA) is accepting applications for its upcoming 20th anniversary class of 2017.  OAALA provides free training for individuals to become volunteer community leaders and advocates for Oklahoma’s aging population.


This year, Kendra Orcutt, a member of the 2016 class, was honored as the occupational therapist of the year by the Oklahoma Association of Occupational Therapists.


“Kendra is very involved in helping folks,” said Judy Leitner, OAALA founder and coordinator.  “She works both with those who are aging and those with physical disabilities to help them stay in their own homes by making structural changes and other modifications that will best serve the resident.  Kendra does much of this without reimbursement because, as she says, ‘it is the right thing to do.’  She undoubtedly gives away as much as she makes.”


Leitner says Orcutt began working with a young man with autism who had aged out of school programs and was left with very few options. 


“In the course of working with him, Kendra discovered he had undeveloped skills with great detail and precision to do schematic drawings.  She began working with him on a regular basis and employed him in her own practice.  That has helped him find and refine a talent that has turned his life around,” Leitner said.


Like Orcutt, Leitner said applicants should demonstrate a willingness to utilize constructive advocacy techniques to effect social change and a commitment to build communities that include and value all older persons and persons with disabilities.  They should also demonstrate sensitivity to the needs of people and the ability to see things from the point of view of others.


There is no cost to participate, and meals, books and resource materials are provided.  Overnight accommodations are available for those who qualify.  Travel reimbursements may be provided under the State Travel Reimbursement Act.  However, since tuition is provided by the sponsors, students should plan to complete the entire 10-month course.


“As we near the 20th anniversary of this great program, I am so grateful for the vision and sweat given by Judy Leitner and many others who have made this program great,” said Lance Robertson, DHS Aging Services Director.  “OAALA serves as a national model for effective advocacy training programs and Oklahoma should be proud of that fact.”


Robertson said the agency is extremely grateful for the longstanding support of the Choctaw Nation, as well as the support of the Developmental Disabilities Council. 


“OAALA is stronger because of their representation and support,” he said.  “The immeasurable impact OAALA has had over the last two decades has helped shape policies, develop programs enhance knowledge and sharpen champions.  To that end, nearly 400 Oklahomans have participated in this class, ultimately helping improve the lives of our aging population and those with disabilities.”


State budget issues have resulted in reduced funding, but OAALA has secured additional partners.   In addition to the Choctaw Nation and the Developmental Disabilities Council, the YMCA will also partner with OAALA for its 2017 class.  They will provide classroom space for the OAALA sessions.  Each monthly class session meets Friday evening and Saturday at the YMCA Healthy Living Center-INTEGRIS in Oklahoma City, 5520 N. Independence.  It is scheduled from February to November, 2017.