By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – OK Messages Project will host its inaugural Storybook Ball on Friday, May 10 at the Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zudhi Drive, from 5:30 to 10 p.m. The gala will feature Miss Mississippi, Aysa Branch, who will share her personal story of growing up with an incarcerated father and how the experience has shaped her life.
As Miss Mississippi 2018, Branch speaks on behalf of children whose parents are in prison. Her father’s absence during much of her childhood inspired her competition platform, Finding Your Way: Empowering Children of Incarcerated Parents. She is founder and president of “Serving Children of Incarcerated Parents” at the University of Mississippi, which encourages students to empower school children.
Event emcees will be State Representative Cyndi Munson, the Development and Community Engagement Coordinator for OK Messages Project, and Trae Rahill, Director of Operations for Mercy Health Center and OK Messages Project board member.
Award-winning Oklahoma author of 25 children’s books, Tammi Sauer will be also be a featured speaker. A former teacher and library media specialist, Sauer is a full-time picture book author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation.
The gala will include a silent auction, dinner, music and dancing with David Bruster’s Storyville Band, an Oklahoma City based swing, jazz, and Rockabilly band.
Mo and Richard Anderson of Edmond are serving as the event’s honorary chairs.
Proceeds from the event will go toward improving children’s lives through the programs of OK Messages.
Event sponsors include: Mark and Brittany Hunt-Jassey, Skylark Audio Visual, Bank of Oklahoma, Bank2, Debbie and John MacDonald, and Hoops for Heroes Foundation. Ongoing major support is provided by Mo and Richard Anderson, the Chickasaw Nation, The George Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Kirkpatrick Foundation.
Prior to the gala, on Thursday, May 9, Miss Branch will spend time with children who have an incarcerated parent at Cole Community Center, 4400 NW Expressway, in Oklahoma City. She will share with them her message of hope in the face of adversity.
The mission of OK Messages Project, a 501©3 nonprofit, is “improving children’s lives through shared reading with their incarcerated parents, breaking the cycle of generational incarceration one child at a time.”
“As a veteran speaker, teacher, and writer of books for parents and teachers on how to help kids succeed in school and life—I care deeply about children,” Cheri Fuller, founder and Executive Director of OK Messages Project states on the organization’s website.
“In 2008 I discovered that Oklahoma, incarcerates more women/mothers per capita than anywhere in the U.S. and world, and 2nd highest for men/dads. Then when I read the research about the devastation in kids’ lives when their parents go to prison, it was not okay to watch another generation of our state’s kids go down the prison pipeline.
“My work as a volunteer in our state’s maximum security women’s prison led me and a few compassionate people to found a nonprofit that exists solely to support kids of parents behind bars with creative, life-giving programs,” Fuller added.
According to the OK Messages Project press release; there are tens of thousands of children with one or both parents in prison in the state of Oklahoma, who experience traumatic stress and have a higher risk for substance abuse, delinquency, and academic failure.
The release states that without effective literacy and prevention programs, like OK Messages, these children are seven times more likely to be incarcerated than other children.
“This will be OK Messages Project’s first large fundraising event and we are looking forward to its success to benefit the thousands of children we serve across Oklahoma,” said Munson.
“As criminal justice reform continues to be at the forefront of concerns for many in our state, we work to highlight the children who have been impacted by incarceration for many years,” Munson added.
“We hope those who support reform will join us on May 10 to learn more about our mission to break the cycle of incarceration in a family,” Munson said. “We focus on literacy and reconnecting the family, the two proven ways to end this cycle that too many have faced.”
The OK Messages Project produces videos of the incarcerated parent reading a bedtime story to the child and then sends this book and DVD to the child on Mother’s/Father’s Day and Christmas, which helps to boost literacy, build confidence, and strengthen the family bond.
“There is hope,” Fuller says. “Hope because as we come together to invest in these children’s lives, we can all make a difference.”
Individual tickets for the Storybook Ball are $100. Sponsorships begin at $1500. Registration is available online.
For more information, visit okmessagesproject.com, or contact Cheri Fuller at or Cyndi Munson at 405-285-5955.