Organizations in Ardmore working to create positive life experiences for historically oppressed communities
When Jonathan Willis first moved to Ardmore, he didn’t have a place to stay. Originally from Houston, Willis was hired at AT&T and later transferred to Ardmore. He stayed at the Salvation Army for a while, and then eventually his co-workers let him stay with them.
Willis barely had money because he was sending everything he earned back to his three sons. He worked hard to make sure he could provide them with as much as he could.
“When I bought them their backyard playset, seeing how excited they were to just help me put it together, I remember some of my best moments with my dad was when he didn’t have any money,” Willis said. “We would do little things like that. The only thing he could do is take me to McDonald’s and get an apple pie and milk. He doesn’t know this, but it's those times that I remember that meant the most between me and his bond.”
Willis started noticing other dads trying to do the same and realized how having a great dad could make a difference in a child’s life. He decided to officially launch his nonprofit organization, Real Dads Do Real Things, last year.
Organizations such as Real Dads Do Real Things and Restoring Lives are working to ensure African Americans and other historically oppressed communities have access to positive life experiences. Although their organizations aren’t just for Black people, both nonprofits’ offer Black people the chance to fight against systemic barriers.
Real Dads Do Real Things aims to inspire men to be great fathers and create positive father figures. Willis said he wants the organization to be a place that builds up men and that when children have positive male role models it can lead to positive change in the community and the world. Willis also wants the organization to be a place where children who may not have access to a good dad can reach out to him and the other men in the program.
“It’s straight to the name I feel,” Willis said. “Real dads who do real things. We’re a group of fathers who are more than just fathers. We take that time to really invest in our children and in our families. It’s a group for men to reach out to men.”
Right now, the nonprofit spotlights a dad once a month. Willis sends the chosen dad a shirt and a gift card for encouragement. He wants to also use that monthly spotlight to show young dads examples of what great fathers do and what they look like.
The monthly spotlight has currently been funded by Willis and his family, but as the organization grows, Willis hopes to be able to offer more programs and services.
With more funding, Willis wants to be able to offer things like employment assistance, counseling services for fathers and their families, legal assistance, scholarships for the children of those who participate in the program and classes on basic handy work and household chores. He also hopes to host events such as father and son enrichment retreats, outdoor movie night with dad, father daughter dances and a Real Dads Do Real Things summer festival.
“I remember when I couldn’t afford to take [my kids] fishing,” Willis said. “I remember when I couldn’t take them to the park and have stuff to do. So I said I want to be that guy that creates those events. That time to be able to bond with your children will affect the whole community.”
Crystal Douglas with Restoring Lives said the organization works to help create a world where historically oppressed communities can thrive in all areas of life.
“Our goal here is to help the community thrive and to show how to thrive whether it be mentorship, life skills and different stuff like that,” Douglas said. “We have many programs for youth and families. It all starts at home. So if we can work with the parents to help the kids.”
Douglas wants to see more African Americans participate and get involved with Restoring Lives, even though the organization isn’t strictly for African Americans. Many of the organization's events such as their mental health forum, Why We Can Have Jesus and a Therapist, are aimed at addressing issues that people of the black community go through.
“I just want to make people aware of who we are, especially African Americans to use the resources,” Douglas said. “If you need help, say you need help because there is someone there to help you. Use your resources, so that we can work together on how to help you thrive. On how to help you thrive for your children.”
One of the resources Restoring Lives offers is rent and utility assistance. Douglas said the organization received a grant in March for a little over $18,000. To be eligible for rent assistance, a 30-day notice for rent and/or utilities is required as well as verification of income, rental agreement and government ID, Douglas said.
Currently, Restoring Lives is planning to host a middle school summit for girls in sixth to eighth grade July 31 at Southern Tech to help them for junior high. The nonprofit also offers a mentorship program, The Be Blue Girls, for girls ages nine to 12.
The Be Blue Girls meet weekly and are grouped together with a mentor. Douglas said the mentorship program is another way for children to increase their confidence and learn new life skills. Once they receive more volunteers, Douglas said Restoring Lives hopes to offer one on one mentorship.
“It is a group of girls,” Douglas said. “They meet with a mentor. It helps them to build confidence and self-esteem. I know it’s hard transitioning from elementary to sixth grade. It’s a group to build your self confidence and new life skills.
To get involved with Real Dads Do Real Things and Restoring Lives, those interested are encouraged to contact the organizations at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.