Earlier this year, the Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma lost its long-time leader Leslie Dvorak, who left for an executive position at the Mercy Hospital Foundation.
After ten years of service, continuing the work done under Dvorak’s leadership will be a tough task.
Following the departure of Dvorak, the Grace Center added Laura Akers to replace Dvorak and also hired Karlie Harper to be the Day Center Director.
The Grace Center was founded in 1922 by the Young Women’s Christian Association. Fast forward to 2019, the mission statement of the Grace Center is to prevent homelessness while helping those who are already homeless.
Akers was originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, before moving to North Carolina to receive a degree in journalism from Elon University.  She then earned her master’s degree in nonprofit leadership from Oklahoma City University.
“The Grace Center is a very strong organization, which is very fortunate to receive support from the Ardmore community,” Akers said. “We provide services that are basic in nature here. Just me sharing that we have washing machines, showers and, on the resource side, we are providing financial assistance, it can mean the world to someone who is in a financial crisis.”
Akers was also a reporter for The Ardmoreite from 2014-15, covering education in the area. Writing stories on children living in poverty helped Akers transition from news to nonprofit.
After leaving The Ardmoreite, Akers became a member of the Ardmore Literacy Leadership which is an organization dedicated to helping people in need learn how to read, among other things.
“I wrote a lot of stories that ultimately dealt with poverty issues,” Akers said. “Sometimes that was just by being at the schools and seeing the poverty and how it influenced children’s ability to learn. That really pushed me towards this path of wanting to work in the nonprofit sector.”
Since Akers took the position of executive director in April, her goal has been to help empower people in situations they are facing.
“We are fortunate for the support we have received from the Ardmore community,” Akers said. “ And we hope it will continue in the years to come. We deal with a population that is very challenging. We are helping people with crises that go beyond the means we can provide here. We work very closely with different agencies in the Ardmore community to give them the help they need.”
Harper was a member of the Department of Human Services before joining the Grace Center in late April. Harper saw the work the Grace Center was doing and felt it was more in-line with what she wanted.
“I am a little bit more of helper here, which is more of what I like to do,” Harper said. “Honestly, the hours are better for me and my family.”
Harper is originally from Perry, but has moved around a lot due to her husband’s active enlistment in the United States Army. Harper started her collegiate career at Northern Oklahoma College before finishing her degree online at the University of Phoenix. In the fall, Harper plans to earn her master’s degree through Arizona State University online program.
Back in 2010, Harper started her career in social work by volunteering for an organization called Family Promise in Lawton, at Fort Sill. Her volunteering continued until she and her family moved to Ardmore a little over a year ago.
Even if her family has to move again due to her husband’s military duties, Harper has found Ardmore to be home. After retirement for both Harper and her husband, they both plan to stay in the Ardmore area.
Before Harper retires, she hopes with her experience in helping those in need she can continue to help the Ardmore community at the Grace Center.
One goal Harper hopes to achieve at the Grace Center during her tenure is finding ways to help the visitors to the center learn a way to earn money and help them out of their current financial situations.
“I hope to bring, something that is really important to me when I work with these folks, is their dignity,” Harper said. “I don’t ever want them to feel less than when I deal with them. I want to be very mindful they are deserving of dignity and respect. That is something I hope to bring.”