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TEEM Work yields “A New Beginning, A New Future”

Patrick B. McGuigan, The City Sentinel 

With the theme “Ignite Change,” The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM) held its 2021 fundraising luncheon last month at the historic Farmers Market on the west edge of downtown Oklahoma City. It was the first post-Pandemic event at the venue.

Kris Steele, TEEM’s executive director, described his respect for those seeking “to overcome and to move forward.”

The ministry works with persons “involved in the justice system” – former inmates or those facing trial. 

Gene Rainbolt, a well-known Oklahoma banker long involved with TEEM’s work, said the ministry had reinforced for him, “The value in second chances.” Several TEEM staff members shared specific examples of the hundreds of persons, formerly incarcerated, the ministry has assisted over the past year.

Derwin Romani, a former TEEM participant, remembered that when he first arrived at TEEM, seeking to craft a better future after a lengthy incarceration, “I was briefly overwhelmed” with the embracing attitudes of the agency’s staff. He had lived with frustrations arising from being asked, when the questioner already knew the answer, the question “Do you have a felony?”

He understood employment is central, the key to individual and collective futures. TEEM was “a live-saver” for him and those he loves, Romani said.

Aaron Nally is Reentry participant at The Education and Employment Ministrynow working full-time, saving money and hoping to bring Higher Education within reach. Organizers shared tender videos of Shari Smith with her family. Participating in the Oklahoma County Community Sentencing Program with TEEM, she has, as her biographical note described, “a home, her sobriety, and takes pride in her relationship with her children.”

A family event kept honoree Simonique McCoy from attending the event, but hers was among the more powerful stories shared. For a long time, she had assorted barriers to employment and “found herself fighting for survival and caught in a cycle of instability.” After connecting with TEEM Pretrial Services and the Oklahoma County Bond Program, she secured employment, while working toward a degree in Forensics and Psychology.

In his keynote address, former Congressman Watts reviewed work with the Colson Prison Reform Task Force, and his efforts to advance “Second Chance” legislation. He remembered the late U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, who pioneered “Enterprise Zones” for areas of economic deprivation, which evolved into the American Community Renewal Act.

Watts offered a good word for “that great theologian, Beyonce” saying there is meaning to the theme of one set of her lyrics concerning times when a person feels on top of the world, only to wake up with the world on top.

Watts encouraged the TEEM participants, affirming, “We can’t walk your journey for you, but we can walk the journey with you.”

Quoting the Gospel of John, Chapter 8: 1-11, Watts related the story of the woman caught in adultery, brought before Jesus (although none of her male “clients” were brought forth). Watts emphasized the compassion in the Nazarene’s words, when he told those ready to kill the woman that the one without sin could cast the first stone at her.

After the potential stoners left, in dialogue with the woman, Jesus encouraged her and concluded, “Go, and sin no more.”

Watts said, “That was compassion, and truth.”

Watts summed up: “Compassion without truth is incomplete. Truth without compassion is incomplete.” He said participants at TEEM “come before us and show the wounds, the sores. They don’t give us fantasies” – they bring tears and hopes and dreams.  

The TEEM luncheon concluded with the “Leadership in Transformation” Award, presented to New York-based philanthropist Christian Keesee, who grew up in Oklahoma City. The founder and president of the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center, Marfa Contemporary, Green Box Arts and the Brett Weston Archine, he is trustee for the Kirkpatrick Family Fund and the Kirkpatrick Foundation, legacies of his family.

The event planning committee included Pat Rooney, Cacky Poarch (also a sponsor), Jeff Struble and Donna Mitchell. Brittney Berling, development director, and other members of the TEEM staff addressed the luncheon, explained their work. “Ty” (Tyler) Fisher greeted many supporters of the ministry, guiding them to their assigned places in the packed second floor banquet area.  

An array of local charitable organizations, businesses and individuals were sponsors for the annual event.

These included Tom and Judy Love, The Kirkpatrick Family Fund, BancFirst, Rainbolt Family Fund, Gene Rainbolt, Rainey Williams, Dr. Stan Basler, Ann Johnstone, Bowen Foundation, Herman Meinders, First National Bank (Rooney’s bank), Kirk Humphreys, Life.church, Jack and Khristi Gilchrist, the local professional basketball ‘Thunder,’ Pat and Marianne Rooney, Arndall Family Foundation, Bobby and Jayne Christensen, Elizabeth Stobaugh Pyle Foundation and the George Kaiser Family Foundation.

One attendee and a leading sponsor, who talked briefly with The City Sentinel, was Sue Ann Arnall of the Arnall Family Foundation. She is active in a diverse range of local efforts to improve life for all in central Oklahoma.  

TEEM is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit which is “dedicated to breaking cycles of incarceration and poverty through education, personal development and work readiness training.” The TEEM mission summary describes “a three-pronged approach to breaking these cycles by providing individuals with education, social services, and job training and placement. By offering a hand up, we help our participants refine their skills and achieve their goals.”

The event program included a request for volunteers. Readers who are interested may contact Nikki Sharber, volunteer coordinator, at [email protected].

Volunteer opportunities included organizing clothing closets, tutoring for GED tests, assisting in mock job interviews and job coaching, teaching prosocial activities and mentoring.

The ministry also welcomes gifts of men’s and women’s clothing, school and office supplies, hygiene items and “sharing your time and talent.”

The ministry operates from offices at 1501 N. Classen Boulevard in Oklahoma City.

For more information, telephone 405-235-5671 or visit on the web: www.teem.org .

Disclosure: Patrick B. McGuigan is a past vice-chairman of TEEM. He was a long-serving member of the Board of Directors. 

A former member of the State Legislature, Kris Steele is executive director of The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM), based in Oklahoma City.
Now headquartered alongside the Santa Fe Railroad tracks on N.E. 13 Street in Oklahoma City, The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM) moved almost due west. The ministry now operates from offices at 1501 N. Classen Boulevard.
This symbol of a door opening is appended to many of the written or verbal presentations by the staff and clientele at The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM). It represents the ministry’s promise to work with “justice system-involved” persons to provide training, practical skills and assistance to build new lives.
Tyler Fisher, a key employee at TEEM, also served as a greeter at this year’s community luncheon.  Photo provided.