Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – In a time when the unexpected is expected, here’s another one: A well-known athletic facility normally teeming with activity – the Santa Fe Family Life Center (SFFLC) – is uncharacteristically quiet. But the quiet masks important hard work that speaks loudly of the sense of purpose that animates staff and leaders.
The center normally hosts recurring youth and adult basketball leagues and tournaments, a variety of volleyball programs and racket sports, primarily tennis. The SFFLC is official home of Trae Young youth basketball, organized and led by the former University of Oklahoma star.
From this base, the faith-based organization has provided athletic opportunities to young athletes who might not, otherwise, have the chance to enjoy the thrill of competition and athletic achievement. In recent years, SFFLC has hosted a regional tournament for the Special Olympics and, just weeks ago, a sanctioned tournament for the National Wheelchair Basketball Association.
Like many other community organizations, the center suddenly found itself dramatically impacted by the novel coronavirus that in just four months has developed into a worldwide pandemic.
Not unaccustomed to challenges, Santa Fe leadership and staff quickly adapted to the shocking new situation. In an early April email to supporters of the center, director James Timberlake said, “We received the mandate from the City of Oklahoma City to close operations on March 17. As a nonprofit, the extended closure will have a significant impact on our mission. We miss helping others improve their health, organizing basketball games, and providing wheelchair and other adaptive sports programs.”
Immediately, however, Timberlake and his staff looked “for new avenues to continue to serve those in need.”
Timberlake reached out to Dr. Kersey Winfree, who practices medicine at St. Anthony and is on the center’s board. An idea for a new project emerged quickly.
At the time of their discussion, many news reports were focused, Timberlake said in his memo to supporters, on “the shortage of personal protective equipment for medical workers. … Continuing our partnership with SSM-St. Anthony’s Hospital, we turned a couple of our basketball courts into a factory for face shields and masks. The space that would normally be occupied by wheelchair and adaptive sports, after school programs, and youth basketball provides plenty of room to make the protective equipment.
“This project has provided a positive program amid all the chaos, and valuable protective equipment to our doctors and nurses who put themselves at risk to keep us safe.
The shift from vision to impact was mere days. And, as of April 9, Timberlake told The City Sentinel, over 4,000 face shields had been made from the on-court “factory” at the center in north Oklahoma City.
As news of the project got around, the center staff, Timberlake recalled, was “overwhelmed by the generosity of supporters calling and emailing, asking how they can help.” Work stations for the project are widely-separated and “distancing” practices are always in place, Timberlake said. For the time being, a combination of several SFFLC staff and some from St. Anthony are sufficient for the effort, but when the time comes to move toward normalcy, Timerberlake said, help will be needed “to ramp programs back up as quickly as possible.”
The assembly line works with only 10 persons at a time, in keeping with best practices.
Andrew Ochs with SSM Health St. Anthony told KFOR (NBC Oklahoma City), “We’re using this to build up our stockpile” of protective equipment.
Oklahoma’s oldest hospital, St. Anthony’s was founded in 1894 by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, and is a venerable institution in the capital city of Oklahoma. A relative “new kid” on the bloc, the Santa Fe Family Life Center operates under the guidance of the Columbus Corporation, a non-profit founded by members of the Knights of Columbus, Oklahoma Council No. 1038. In recent year, SFFLC has evolved to include broader community representation in its governance.
Disclosure: A member of the Knights of Columbus, Pat McGuigan is a former member of the Columbus Corporation board, where he served as both treasurer and vice president during the Board presidency of former Oklahoma Governor David Walters.