We’ve all heard the sirens in December signifying that police and local children are out enjoying Shop with Cops, but this is merely one program of many that Heroes with Hope of Southern Oklahoma provide to our community year-round.
“Shop with Cops has been around for over 30 years,” said Melissa Woolly, executive director of Heroes with Hope. As that program grew, year after year, the amount of needs being met by police in between the yearly shopping spree continued to grow as well.
“One year they spent nearly $70,000 in the community and nobody knew it,” Wooly said. “They came to me and told me that they would like to start up a program to help people out more efficiently all year round. They told me exactly what they’d like to do, they just did not have the know-how or the time to run it effectively.”
From those initial talks, Heroes with Hope of Southern Oklahoma was born, and their growth is continuing exponentially. On Aug. 1, 2017, Heroes with Hope opened their office doors, which ultimately provided a true blessing to their cause.
“One great thing about having this office is having the space to keep things on hand so it’s ready to go,” Woolly said. “We have a Closet of Hope where we take donations in. Some of those donations are diapers, wipes, shoes, clothing, undergarments, coats and all sorts of other things. So when somebody calls me, whether it’s school counselors, or police officers, we can say ‘We’ve got you covered.’”
Another great new program is called “Ready for Reading.” The police officers go out to the schools and read with first and second graders. After reading to the students, law enforcement officers get to spend a bit of time getting to know the students.
“They all ate lunch with the kids, and some of them went out to the playground with them at recess,” Woolly said. “I don’t know who had more fun, the police or the kids!”
While the organization primarily focuses on children ages infant to 17, they recognize that sometimes the entire family needs a little help as well.
“Before Thanksgiving we got together with DHS and the school counselors and picked some families who had applied with Shop with Cops,” Wooly said. “We provided a full Thanksgiving meal for them to cook. We bought potatoes, stuffing, the turkey, and even the pan to cook the turkey in.”
Another example of the program reaching out beyond the initial focus of Shop with Cops is the Christmas gifts they provide to residents at the Veterans Center.
“This last year we did something a little different,” Wooly said. “We talked to the residents and asked them what they wanted. I bought a lot of OU gear for game days,” she joked. But one story she found really special.
“One gentleman asked for a voice recorder,” she said. “When we came back and delivered it we found out that he wanted it so that he could record stories about his life to tell his great-granddaughter. He then asked for some headphones so he could listen to what he said, so we made sure he got those as well.”
In addition to all of the programs already in place, Heroes with Hope of Southern Oklahoma is planning to add even more.
“We’re working on a high school transitioning program,” Wooly said. “For five to six weeks we want to spend about an hour and a half a week working with kids who are about to graduate. Lots of kids, and adults for that matter, don’t realize what’s available in Ardmore, and we’ll be working with some of the larger employers in the area to let them see some of what’s out there.”
In addition to providing information about available employment in the area, the program will also teach the students some life skills and include activities such as mock interviews and mock panel interviews.
“That’s one of the great things about this organization,” Wooly said. “We’re putting some programs into place that will hopefully put some long-term changes in peoples lives. It’s not just meeting immediate needs. It’s making a lasting difference.”