How cool would it be to wake up one morning, go to work and get a phone call from a famous athlete who read about something wonderful you did and wants to come visit and meet you? And where you worked was a youth correctional facility?
It happened to Jerry Fry and his team at the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center (COJC).
The call came “completely out of the blue,” Fry described, from NBA star Dwight Howard’s D12 Foundation to COJC Administrator of Programs Steve Moore. The foundation representative told Moore that Howard wanted to visit juvenile justice facilities but not just any facility; facilities that are known to treat kids with respect and offer progressive programming. COJC’s name showed up while the foundation was researching youth facilities as one of the 2015 PbS Barbara Allen-Hagen Award finalists. It was selected for changing COJC’s culture from the old correctional approach where staff focused on control and minimally engaging youths following a riot more than three years ago to now, a place where staff and youths work together to help the youths succeed and spend a lot of time together sharing experiences such as Howard’s visit. The PbS stats showing reduced violence and increased programming helped.
“We were absolutely thrilled that Dwight Howard wanted to speak to our kids,” Fry said. “All sports fans know who he is. Our kids, just like any other kids, love basketball so they were all familiar with him prior to us knowing he was coming for a visit.”
Fry shared this description of the visit: “COJC is almost 100 years old. The largest space that we have for meeting is in our gym which is downstairs from our school. When Dwight got to the bottom of the stairs where the kids could see him the entire gym erupted in applause. That made Dwight flash a big smile which led to even more applause. The kids absolutely loved him!
“…Dwight was an outstanding speaker. He is charismatic, insightful, funny and genuine. He brought a very positive message and delivered it as well as he plays basketball. He first spoke to the large group, which consisted of all of our residents, many of our staff and their family members and two local high school basketball teams. It was standing room only. When it was over we broke the kids into small groups for more individualized attention. He met with the two basketball teams and all of our kids. He posed for pictures with our kids, the basketball teams and all of my staff. He signed autographs for each and everyone one of our kids and anyone else that wanted one. He stayed way past the time he was scheduled to leave. He was pleasant and engaging the entire time. He did not stop smiling. It was evident to me that he came to COJC because he wanted to. I believe that he genuinely wants to use his celebrity to help people, especially young people. We hope to have him back again.”
I have a hunch that’s a layup.
Superintendent and PbS Facility Administrator Jerry Fry shaking hands with Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard speaking to the group
Dwight Howard meeting with youths
- Written by Kim Godfrey
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