Understanding TEEM's Service Model: Forklift Certification

TEEM is dedicated to providing job skills that will help participants garner success in the work force. After changing our service model in January 2014, TEEM added over 16 new courses to add to the curriculum, including forklift certification. By taking this course, participants significantly increase their marketability.

“We added the forklift course because we also do the general industry course Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA),” instructor Aaron Cosar said. “A component of OSHA is materials handling. Part of that model requires individuals to have a forklift license.”

After completing orientation and regular work readiness training and behavioral courses, participants have the option of coming back to TEEM to complete the forklift certification class. Students not only study coursework on how to safely operate a forklift, they get hands-on experience driving a forklift through TEEM’s own garage-turned-obstacle-course.

“We wanted to give participants an opportunity to be able to physically get on a forklift,” Cosar said. “They are able to get a general feel for the machine. This helps ease their nerves and soothe their discomfort.”


 Aaron Cosar is not only a certified Thinking for a Change, PREP, and OSHA instructor, but an integral part of TEEM’s service model. Aaron was once an inmate himself and was recommended to TEEM by a community partner who noticed his determination, work ethic, and character while incarcerated. After having his sentence commuted, Aaron joined TEEM, bringing valuable experience and insight into the organization’s target population.

“I came to work here about two weeks after I was released from prison.” This background helps Aaron interact and relate to TEEM’s participants. “I spent 25 years in the system so I understand what they’re going through,” he said.

Aaron believes it’s his responsibility to challenge himself to offer a relatable role model to his students. “As an instructor, I need to have credibility in what I can do—I don’t want to just talk about it.”

Since starting the forklift program in June 2014, over 90 students have obtained their forklift certifications and many of them are using this training in the workforce.

“It pushes them forward,” Cosar explained. “When they get to a job, I want their supervisors to have faith that our participants are knowledgeable and skilled on the equipment.”

Volunteer Group Aims to ‘Live Full Die Empty’

Some people just have “it” – that intangible quality that makes someone’s personality shine from the inside. Raven Quartey and her volunteer group “Live Full Die Empty” all have that “it factor.” Instead of using their light to cast shadows, they invite numerous worthy causes to stand in the sun with them. TEEM was the latest nonprofit to shine through interacting with Raven’s volunteer group.

After the group helped TEEM with archiving over 30 years of records, Raven took time to examine the importance of giving back and why more community members should welcome the opportunity to help those in need.

Tell me about your group Live Full Die Empty. How did it get started? 

 Live Full Die Empty is the result of a sermon illustration shared one Sunday morning last July at People’s Church. The thought of pouring oneself out for the benefit of Christ and others weighed heavily on my mind. After sharing my thoughts with Daniel the next night, we decided that starting a community service group was a way we could live out our purpose. The second Saturday of every month we do some sort of service activity or project. Our heart for the group is service, in whatever form that may be...whether it’s volunteering with a nonprofit in the OKC metro area or serving individuals/families who are in need. We officially launched in September and our experiences have been amazing. Our mission is to pour out our lives in service to the community and impact individuals through God’s love. 

Why do you think that it’s important to give back? 

It’s important to give back because it takes the focus off of you. We live in a world that tends to be “ME-centered” but there are so many people that need help or need to be shown love and grace. Live Full Die Empty exists to extend those things to individuals all over the metro area. Our lives are not about us at all, but instead what God can do through us. Giving back is not a nuisance but a necessity. 

You guys make giving back fun! What’s your secret? 

Giving back should be fun! When a group of individuals with a heart to serve come together for a common purpose it makes it easy to have fun. Another aspect of Live Full Die Empty is that we take time to connect with each other as a group after every project. We just don’t serve and go home. We like to hang out as well and generally go to coffee shops or restaurants afterwards. 

Why did you decide to volunteer at TEEM? 

We came across TEEM through the LOVE OKC website. We had not heard about you guys but after looking at the website we became interested in the mission of the organization and desired to do anything that would help TEEM continue to reach more people. 

What did you learn from your experience? 

TEEM increased our knowledge and awareness of the issues individuals leaving incarceration face. Individuals are only given $50 and a bus pass when they leave prison and are expected to thrive. The staff, mentors, and volunteers at TEEM give men and women the opportunity to chase after their dreams by providing them with resources to further their education and secure jobs so they have firm ground to stand on when they are released. After spending time at TEEM, we realized just how important this organization is.

Understanding TEEM’s Service Model: Volunteer Program

You don’t touch the lives of over 13,000 Oklahomans without a little help. The Education and Employment Ministry utilizes volunteers to help fulfill its mission and uplift the lives of Oklahoma’s at-risk population.

Community support continues to be a crucial component to TEEM’s success. With over 10 different volunteer roles to choose from, TEEM provides a way for community members to play a proactive role in the long-term recovery process of its’ participants. Along with TEEM’s Board of Directors and staff, volunteers are committed to breaking the cycle of incarceration and poverty by providing comprehensive services to some of Oklahoma’s most stigmatized and forgotten citizens.

“I call them ‘my volunteers,’” Volunteer Coordinator Lance Evans said. “I am blessed to be able to work with such an incredible group of people that believe in second chances and restoring lives.”

Last year, TEEM utilized over 130 individuals to help fill roles in the volunteer program. Volunteers completed a total 818 hours in TEEM’s program. Interested volunteers fill out an application, tour TEEM’s facilities, and are then invited to an hour-long training. It’s there where they are introduced to the program and the dreams that they are helping fulfill.

Volunteer Coordinator Lance Evans makes the experience fun and interactive for volunteers. His training usually starts with one simple question: what’s your favorite meal? It’s a simple inquiry, but one that always throws potential volunteers for a loop. It not only serves as an ice-breaker question, but it also reveals one of the daily struggles that incarcerated individuals endure.

“I actually use that question when I’m initially interviewing TEEM’s participants,” Lance said. “Many people don’t realize that the Department of Corrections approved daily lunch includes a bologna sandwich and a bag of chips. This questions offers a bridge of hope—a connection between their reality and their dreams.”

After completing the training session, volunteers schedule their first volunteer day. Although there are a numerous roles to fill, such as mock interviewer, guest speaker, personal shopper, and mentor, Lance is always interested in creating new opportunities that highlight the interests and strengths of volunteers.

“This program belongs to the community,” he said. “I am always looking for ways to grow and strengthen the relationship between Oklahoma communities and TEEM participants, but I need your help to do that.”

To apply for TEEM’s volunteer and program, head to teem.org/volunteer. For more information, contact Lance Evans at 405-235-5671 ext. 237.

LifeChurch Group Brings Organization to Clothing Closet, Restores Lives in the Process

Linda Paiton and her friends know how to throw a party. Each week they gather to eat, relate, and share in the triumphs and trials of the week. They even take time to consider how they can help those in need.

After coming across volunteer information on TEEM’s website, Linda reached out to TEEM’s Volunteer Coordinator about signing on to volunteer. She not only encouraged her husband to join her efforts, but she also spoke with her LifeGroup, a small group of individuals that meet to fellowship and connect, about the important of TEEM’s mission.

Linda’s LifeGroup attends the Oklahoma City LifeChurch campus. After attending a study called Restore which challenges individuals to effectively help others, Linda searched for volunteer efforts that her LifeGroup could participate in.

“During the [Restore], we challenged ourselves as a group to identify and commit to a volunteer program in the community,” she said. “I learned about TEEM's mission when I was researching local nonprofits. It personally spoke to me because my brother is a convicted felon in another state and I've seen him struggle to make a life for himself.”

Potential volunteers are typically encouraged to visit TEEM offices to participate in a tour and complete volunteer training. Instead, the LifeGroup invited our volunteer coordinator to the home of one of the group members to participate in their weekly gathering.

“It’s rare for individuals to invite you into their homes to talk about TEEM,” Volunteer Coordinator Lance Evans said. “This was definitely a first for me.”

The invitation revealed the sincerity of Linda’s LifeGroup: they simply want to be of service.

“I'm so appreciative of what TEEM is doing for our state, and the rest of my LifeGroup believes in the mission too so that's why we wanted to volunteer here,” said Linda.

TEEM houses two clothing closets to equip participants with appropriate job interview attire. Private citizens and clothing retailers like Men’s Wearhouse help provide individuals with new and lightly-used business attire. Before items are handed out to participants, volunteers help sort, size, and label them. Linda’s LifeGroup helped organize the closet and prepare TEEM for spring—a busy time for job interviews. They even committed to coming back once a month to help.

“What we learned is restoration happens through a relationship,” Linda said. “Walking in a relationship with another person over time sets the stage for true change to occur.”

Linda said that she encourages other individuals to help with TEEM’s mission—there are plenty of roles to fill and numerous lives to touch.

“There is a volunteer opportunity for every body at TEEM,” she said. “Some people like to work directly with the participants, while others prefer to work behind the scenes. Helping out away from the spotlight by collecting donations, assembling care packages, or organizing the clothing closet are all equally important and impactful to the mission.”

Message from the Director: Black History Month: A Call to Remember and Press Forward

February is Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time to recognize their central role in U.S. history. To commemorate this occasion, TEEM is encouraging participants to identify and articulate how a public or private black figure has impacted his or her life. Activities will focus on communicating how such individuals provide inspiration to keep pushing forward! As we seek to raise awareness of the major influence of these outstanding leaders, I would like to to identify some of the people who challenge, inspire and motivate me.

Clara Luper was a pioneering leader in the American Civil Rights Movement. She attended high school in the all-black town of Grayson, Oklahoma and received a B.A. in mathematics with a minor in history from Langston University and later a M.A. in History Education from the University of Oklahoma. From 1958 to 1964 Clara Luper led the members of the NAACP Youth Council in a campaign to end the segregation of public accommodations.

On August 19, 1958, Mrs. Luper and a group of Youth Council members entered the segregated Katz drugstore in downtown Oklahoma City. They took seats, and asked to be served. They peacefully protested and two days later, Katz corporate management in Kansas City desegregated its lunch counters in three states.

Along with the NAACP Youth Council, Mrs. Luper integrated hundreds of restaurants, cafes, theaters, hotels, and churches, including such notable Oklahoma City establishments as the Split-T drive-in and the Skirvin Hotel. She also took part in the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. In addition, she participated in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches where she received a deep cut in her leg on “Bloody Sunday.”

In 2005, The Clara Luper Corridor, a multi-million dollar two mile streetscape project connecting the Oklahoma State Capitol complex with the historically African-American area of Northeast Oklahoma City began construction. It was at the dedication of this Corridor when I first met the Oklahoma Legend and national icon. I had the privilege of shaking her hand as I expressed immense gratitude for her vision, courage, service and dedication to our state. She responded, “You are quite welcome, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

I think of her words often and am confident she is smiling from heaven on the work of a new generation of black leaders taking place at TEEM. I am especially grateful for the dedication, passion and hard work of Missy, Lance, Nichole, Felisa, and Dominique in breaking cycles of incarceration and poverty. They are tackling disparities and improving the quality of life for all Oklahomans. They are making a lasting difference, and I believe when they finish their course they, too, will be listed among the greats. They are among my modern-day heroes!

TEEM Participant Rallies for Post-Incarceration Employment at Panel Discussion

On January 20, 2015, TEEM participant Rodney Simmons, along with TEEM’s Executive Director Kris Steele, spoke to several Oklahoma organizations on the importance of second chances. “Post-Incarceration Employment: A Societal, Talent and Legal Imperative for Success,” sponsored by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Employer Council, served as a call to action to Oklahoma employers that do not consider hiring candidates with a felony history.

The panel also featured Max Duroff, HR Maximizer for Buy For Less, Oklahoma State Representative Bobby Cleveland, Clint Castleberry, Chief Administrator of Program Services for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Attorney Mary Snyder, Greg Dewey, VP of Corporate and Human Resources at Tapstone Energy and Sandino L. Thompson, Director of Urban Services at Public Strategies.

Employment continues to be a leading barrier for individuals impacted by incarceration. On an annual basis, approximately 8,500 individuals are released from Oklahoma prisons. Upon release, many are provided with only $50 and a one-way bus ticket. Simmons provided a first-hand account of the obstacles that individuals face upon their release. He advised that most are left with minimal options to find success.

“[When I was initially released] I couldn’t find work and I went back to selling drugs,” said Simmons. “I fell back to what I knew, but that’s not what I wanted to do.”

According to recent reports, Oklahoma is incarcerating more than 28,000 people. Over half of these individuals are deemed to be low-risk nonviolent offenders. Many lack the basic resources and skillsets needed to make successful reentry possible.

“These individuals are no different than you and me,” said Executive Director Kris Steele. “They have talents and desire to be contributing members of society. They have dreams just like the rest of us.”

Greg Dewey, Vice President of Corporate and Human Resources at Tapstone Energy, shared his company’s experience with hiring workers impacted by incarceration. His staff continues to find success and has recently promoted an employee that came to the company with a criminal background.

“The rate of retention was no different,” Dewey said. “We have to look below the surface and see the potential that is there.”

Simmons said that employers can help by simply offering potential employees with a criminal background a chance at a better life.

“Take it under consideration to give felons a second chance,” he said. “We are still humans. We’ve made bad choices in life, but we can turn around and help better a life.”

Steele advised that employers have an opportunity to help end the mounting obstacles facing many state residents. 

“There is no such thing as a spare Oklahoman,” he said. “The single biggest key to stop a person from reoffending is employment. You are the answer!”

A special thanks to Max Dubroff and Buy For Less for organizing the event. 

7-Eleven Stores Partner with TEEM to Launch New Housing and Transportation Initiative

For many individuals impacted by incarceration, the day of release can present a number of obstacles. A lack of resources to obtain housing and transportation continue to be major impediments to successful reentry. Through the generosity of 7-Eleven, Inc., TEEM will now offer a scholarship program to help alleviate these barriers.

The initiative came to fruition after conversations between TEEM’s Executive Director Kris Steele and Patrick Raglow, Executive Director of Catholic Charities. A long-term supporter of TEEM’s mission, Raglow inquired how his organization could continue their partnership with the nonprofit. After accessing the primary needs of TEEM’s participants, the idea for a scholarship fund was born.

“The scholarship fund will help by rewarding responsible behavior,” Director Kris Steele said. “It will be a scholarship program, not a loan. Resources in the account will match participant funds up to $500.”

The scholarship fund materialized on Monday, January 5, 2015, when an inconspicuous letter was received in TEEM’s mail. Addressed to TEEM from 7-Eleven Stores was a check for $100,000 and a letter filled with congratulatory remarks on the start of a transportation and housing initiative. This generous contribution will provide assistance to 200 participants throughout the coming year.

As TEEM moves into 2015, the nonprofit continues its mission of changing the face of incarceration. In the process, TEEM continues to dream out loud and is thankful to work with community partners committed to providing a new beginning and a brighter future.

TEEM Partners with University of Central Oklahoma to Expand Curriculum

Dr. Christy Vincent is used to empowering students in her interpersonal, organizational and corporate communication courses at the University of Central Oklahoma. When she heard a former student, Becca Barsetti, was working at TEEM as a Job Placement Coordinator, she immediately saw an opportunity to provide her class with real-world experience while also increasing their awareness of the needs of Oklahoma communities. 

Students enrolled in Dr. Vincent’s Corporate Training and Consulting  course will participate in a semester-long project in which they’ll develop curriculum for a two-hour training session to be held at TEEM. In addition to building the training curriculum and supplementary materials from the ground up, students must also present the program to TEEM staff and participants at the semester’s conclusion.

In the process of understanding TEEM’s program objectives, Dr. Vincent and her students identified key learning needs of TEEM participants. The training course developed by UCO’s students will address topics such as interviewing skills, job search and applications, resumes and cover letters, employer benefits, paychecks and more.

Dr. Vincent’s class is helping accomplish TEEM’s mission by developing essential training to support a successful reentry. Once the training session is complete, TEEM aims to present the material to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) as an option for an ODOC-approved curriculum.

Still Making Cakes


It’s amazing what can be produced from a package of Oreos, jar of peanut butter and can of Dr. Pepper when coupled with determination, creativity and a positive attitude! Transforming these ingredients into a scrumptious cake is a reflection of the motivation and ingenuity required to make the most of a challenging situation. “Turning lemons into lemonade” came to life on a hot summer day in the cafeteria at TEEM. Participants were given the opportunity to demonstrate the resourceful process of making a cake with limited resources in challenging circumstances. The scrumptious product was produced from ingredients commonly obtained through the commissary, vending machine and a microwave oven. The result sparked a WOW-factor in the taste buds of those fortunate enough to experience the delicious dessert!  

Unfortunately, personal tragedy often causes many people to give up and quit trying. Fear, pain, mistakes, or disappointment leave many unable to find the good and stop believing things will ever get better. As a result, hope is lost and celebrations cease to exist. In short, these individuals stop making cakes. Adversity shouldn’t stop an individual from making the best of a situation. The goal is to use available resources, however limited, in meaningful, creative and productive ways to redeem unpleasant circumstances. When life offers a challenging predicament, one should respond appropriately. A person may or may not be responsible for the cause, but he/she is responsible for the response. And, ultimately, the response may determine the outcome.

A person’s response reveals his/her character.  The participants at TEEM are taking necessary steps to overcome previous stumbles and prepare for future strides. They are responding appropriately to challenging environments, making productive use of time and utilizing available resources. They are finding hope, learning to overcome adversity, committed to successful reentry into society...and still making cakes. 

Stepping Into a New Beginning!

Chris Lowater joined TEEM on August 8th when he enrolled in classes through a partnership with Clara Waters Community Corrections Center (CWCC). From the beginning, this bright-eyed, energetic young man demonstrated an optimistic outlook about his future and strong commitment to work. While at TEEM, Chris made two requests: help with fixing his prosthesis and assistance in getting a pair of shoes. When you interact with Chris, you never notice he has an artificial limb, especially one that was broken. Yet, when it was discovered Chris had utilized duct tape to try to remedy the broken prosthesis, staff notified the warden of his predicament and a permanent solution was achieved. A big thank you is in order to the personnel at CWCC for addressing this situation in a timely and effective manner!

Chris’ second need was met when he obtained a new pair of shoes upon his return home. Days earlier, the unexpected but welcome summer rains caused Chris’s weather-worn shoes to fall apart. Noting his dilemma, TEEM determined to purchase shoes for Chris at the time he transitioned to the community. On a post-release shopping trip, Chris selected a pair of black sneakers to match his new work uniform. In the short-term, Chris intends to complete his GED while working, and ultimately pursue training and a career in aeronautical mechanics. Thanks to the generosity of TEEM’s supporters and community partners, Chris is able to step into a new beginning and pursue his goals on solid footing!

Director Kris Steele: "I'm Here Now!"

Anyone who has ever been delayed in achieving a goal or reaching their destination can relate to this life lesson.                                                                            
On Friday, May 2nd, I was scheduled to speak at 1:30 p.m. to 80 offenders receiving their GED through the education program at Bill Johnson Correctional Center (BJCC) in Alva, OK. BJCC is a substance abuse/cognitive behavior program facility operated by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections that seeks to provide comprehensive substance abuse treatment, educational courses, meaningful work opportunities and effective aftercare to approximately 630 male offenders. Like other correctional facilities in our state, the staff does a remarkable job with limited resources.


Knowing it would be a long journey from my hometown of Shawnee (roughly a 3hr 30 min drive), I left my house in plenty of time to stop for gas, grab a bite to eat and visit with Warden Janice Melton prior to the start of ceremony. Before pulling out of the driveway, I programmed the destination into the convenient GPS app on my smart phone and headed out excited to share in the success of new friends. Soon after merging onto I-40, my phone began to ring signaling a cry for communication from colleagues and friends. After 1 hour 15 minutes of productive and meaningful discussion, I realized the trusted Google Maps had led me down the wrong road and in the opposite direction of my destination. Still needing to stop at a gas station, I was faced with the dilemma of forfeiting lunch, missing meeting with the Warden and foregoing any chance of making it to the graduation on time. With the correct location entered in my phone, the voice barking directions clearly stated I was officially 45 min behind schedule. In a panic, I called BJCC to announce the error of my ways. After two additional wrong turns, I eventually pulled into the parking lot of Bill Johnson at 2:15pm. Fifteen minutes later, the graduates walked down the aisle in a room full of family and friends who had patiently waited for a full hour.

My opening comments included a truthful declaration for my tardiness. I explained along the way I took the wrong road, and was lost and, no doubt, my delay, caused frustration, inconvenience and perhaps even anger to family members and staff. Then, trying to the tension and find the positive, I squared my shoulders and courageously stated (with a quivering voice), “But, I’m here now!”

At the conclusion of my speech, Pam Humphrey, Superintendent of Schools for ODOC, stood and articulated a valuable life lesson. She reminded each graduate they had taken a wrong road in life that delayed their arrival to the graduation i.e. graduating with their GED.  Yet, at some point, the decision was made to turn around and get on the right road, the path that led their graduation. “The journey may have taken longer than expected,” she explained, “but the important thing is you are here now!”   


Addiction, lack of support, misguided information, low self-esteem, apathy and poor decisions are significant barriers to overcome to achieve healthy, productive goals. Unaddressed, these issues cause significant damage and result in major delays. Yet, when a person determines to change course, get on the right path and take steps necessary to reach their destination there is reason to celebrate. After all, everyone is a work in progress and it may take some of us a little longer to realize our potential.       

Staff Spotlight: “I’ve walked a mile in their shoes!”

You hear him well before you see him. He generally has a huge smile plastered across his face, but today is a little different. Today’s smile is even bigger. As his feet quickly pace down TEEM’s hallways, Aaron Cosar gently knocks on each of his coworkers’ door and reveals why today is a little brighter than normal.

“I’m presenting one of my students with his OSHA card today,” he says. “You want to come?” It’s a request that you can’t refuse. This is why Aaron found success as a Life Skills Instructor: when his students win, the entire TEEM does. He wants everyone to be part of their victory. Next stop: W&W Steele.

The ride to W&W Steele is full of laughter. The radio is off and the entire car is entertained by Aaron’s jokes. As the vehicle heads further into the downtown OKC area, Aaron opens up about TEEM and why he loves his position so much.

“I teach OSHA certification training,” he says. “It provides skills so our students can keep themselves and others safe at worksites.” Aaron is also the instructor for Winning the Workplace Challenge, a class that teaches healthy and effective communication skills for the workplace. “It’s just fun,” says Aaron. “I love coming here every day. I want to inspire and challenge my students to be ready for the day of release.”

Aaron is able to empathize with all of the students who come through TEEM’s door. He can actually say he’s walked a mile in their shoes. “TEEM choose me. I got this job while I was incarcerated,” he says. “I came to work here about two weeks after I was released from prison.” Aaron says his background helps with his interactions with the students. “I spent 25 years in the system so I understand what they’re going through,” he says. “I understand what it’s like to be locked up and I understand the present struggles that they’re going to face.” Although TEEM offers a number of services, Aaron believes the emotional support that TEEM staff members give has a lasting impression. “One reason recidivism rates are so high is because [many inmates] haven’t found someone to walk alongside them.”

Jose Villanueva has already completed his safety training, but Aaron is still walking with him to make sure that he gets the comprehensive support he needs. Not long after graduating from the program at TEEM, Jose found a job with W&W Steele. After Jose completed his Oklahoma Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) class, the company was confident in Jose’s knowledge of safety operations. Today, Jose is being presented with an OSHA certificate that will follow him for the rest of his career.

As Aaron makes his way into W&W Steele, he’s greeted by Jose and his supervisor. After a few pictures, Jose and Aaron talk like old friends while the supervisor openly shares some of Jose’s success stories. Before turning to leave, Aaron gives his friend Jose an affirming handshake and then turns to his boss.

“I’ve got some more headed your way!” 

"I have high hopes of being Somebody, Someday."

Jeff came to TEEM in August 2013 just to "get away." Much to his surprise, Jeff found that TEEM was more than a place to escape or waste time. It was a family to support, teach and encourage as he strove toward self-sufficiency and success.

In the past five months, Jeff has taken two very important steps on this journey. First, securing gainful employment; and second, passing the GED exam! Jeff holds that neither of these steps would've been possible without the tools and confidence TEEM equipped him with. Jeff recently wrote a heartfelt letter to his TEEM family, and as members of this family, we'd like to share it with you.

 "I would like to take a few minutes of your time to say thank you, and tell you about what TEEM has done for me. 

When I first started coming to TEEM it was just to get away from the halfway house. After a few weeks, I started to see that you were the real deal. By that, I mean you weren't just there for a pay check. You really wanted to help me become a better person. TEEM staff made me feel like a real person, not just another number. That meant a lot to me.

I was really only going for my GED. My teacher (John) really helped me more than he knows. My math wasn't all that bad, but not really good either. I gave it my all. He is a great teacher.

Computers were my next challenge. My friend, that was kind of hard for me. Believe me when I tell you that I didn't know anything about computers. With the help of Andy, I learned how to fill out an application online, email and various other things on the computer.

My case manager, Alex, is just a delight to talk to. Talking to her came easily to me because she listened to me and to what I wanted to do with my life, and gave me encouragement. 

If new students will come in with an open mind and a willingness for change, they will get as much as I have from the TEEM program.

With all that being said, I would like to say thank you for everything you've helped with. You've helped me become a person who has high hopes of being somebody someday. 

Thank you!"

It's My Time: GED Graduation 2013

TEEM's students are quick to describe John Derby, our GED instructor, as the "best teacher I've ever had!" Each year, we celebrate his hard work and our students who have passed the GED exam with a cap and gown graduation ceremony. This year, 22 TEEM students successfully completed the exam, and it was our privilege to honor them and their families on December 11!

Kelsie Brothers and Georgette Custard, two TEEM grads who used to say they "hated public speaking," delievered remarks on behalf of the class. To our graduates, earning a GED diploma is only the beginning. In Georgette's words, "I must continue to move forward, taking no steps back, regardless of what I may lack."

Former Gov. Brad Henry delievered an inspiring commencement address, charging our graduates to give back to the community that has invested so much in them. Governor Henry called TEEM's ceremony "the most important I've ever been a part of," and encouraged everyone in attendance to seek out at least one opportunity to serve others each day.

Our most sincere thanks to our graduates for refusing to let failure be an option, to their families for their support, and to Governor Henry for inspiring us all. Here's to you, TEEM Class of 2013! We are so proud.

It's time to GIVE!

First came Black Friday, then Cyber Monday. Now, mark your calendar for something more meaningful and longer lasting than any sale: Giving Tuesday!

Giving Tuesday is a nationwide movement to solidify the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, as a day of pause to celebrate the true spirit of the Holidays - giving! Millions of families, individuals, businesses and charities partner each year on Giving Tuesday to celebrate and encourage giving. The goal of Giving Tuesday is to inspire people to take collaborative action to improve their local communities, give back to local charities and causes they are passionate about, and in the process, encourage a more community-minded and less consumeristic holiday season. UN Foundation CEO Kathy Calvin explains it well:

“#GivingTuesday is a counter-narrative to Black Friday and Cyber Monday because it reminds us that the spirit of the holiday giving season should be about community and not just consumerism,” Kathy said. “The most meaningful gift we can give our children, loved ones, friends and neighbors is the commitment to work together to help build a better world.”
So, how can you join the movement and celebrate Giving Tuesday? 
  1. Support TEEM's #GivingTuesday campaign! We've set a goal to raise $1,125 on December 3. That's enough to cover the GED exam fees for nine TEEM participants! The easiest way to give? Our online donation portal, linked here.  
  2. Become a social media ambassador! "Donate" your Facebook, Twitter, Wordpress and Instagram feeds to #GivingTuesday, and mention that you'll be supporting TEEM on that day. Use the hashtags #GivingTuesday and #TEEMGiving in your posts, and tag @GivingTuesday and @TEEMOKC! For a complete toolkit, visit givingtuesday.org.  
  3. Take an #Unselfie! If you didn't know, Webster's recently named "selfie" the word of the year, giving the act of taking a picture of yourself a permanent place in the Dictionary. On #GivingTuesday, we're revolutionizing the seflie for good! On December 3, we encourage you to take an "#Unselfie" of yourself answering the question: "Why are you giving?" See the example and instructions below, and make sure to tag @TEEMOKC (on Twitter) and @OKCTEEM (on Facebook) and use the hashtags #GivingTuesday and #unselfie.  


 Let us know if you'll be joining the #GivingTuesday Movement! 


TEEM in the News!

Last Sunday, Fox 25 News in Oklahoma City ran a fantastic story about TEEM and the launch of the new mentoring component of our program! As we endeavor to reduce cycles of incarceration and poverty in Oklahoma, mentors play a huge part in helping our clients pave a pathway to success. Our biggest thanks goes to the team at Fox 25 for telling our story so well! You can read the full story here

If you are interested in mentoring a TEEM client, contact Laynie Gottsch or call us at 405-235-5671! 

Student Writing: "My Name is Meth"

More than 60 percent of TEEM's clients have been impacted by incarceration. But, they and many of our other clients have been imprisoned by something different than physical chains at some point in their lives: addiction. As TEEM graduate Freddie said, "Drugs are prison. Alcohol is imprisonment."

According to the most recent statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services administration, about 18 percent of Oklahoma adults aged 18-25, and about 7.5 percent of Oklahoma adults over the age of 26 have shown dependence or abuse of illegal drugs or alcohol in the past year. That's far too many of our neighbors being held captive by substances that devastate their futures, destroy their lives and tear apart their families. 

Arguably, the best part of working at TEEM is seeing individuals break free of the circumstances or substances that have imprisoned them for so long. At our weekly graduation ceremony, many students give their own sort of "victory speech," or express what they've overcome in writing. Some writing is future-focused, while other pieces offer an honest and vulnerable look at addiction and imprisonment. Too often we turn a blind eye to the person and that person's heart, and instead, focus solely on scrutinizing the addict. In an effort to shed light on the people behind the statistics, and to encourage hope that chains of addiction can be cast off, we wanted to share one student's work: "My Name is Meth."

My Name is Meth


I destroy homes, I tear families apart,

Take your children, and that's just the start.


I am more costly than diamonds, 

More precious than gold,

The sorrow I bring is a sight to behold.


If you need me, remember I am easily found

I live all around you, in schools and in town.

I live with the rich; I live with the poor,

I live down the street and maybe next door.


I am made in a lab but not like you think,

I can be made under the sink.

In your child's closet and in the woods,

If this scares you to death,

Well it certainly should.


I have many names, 

But there's one you know best

I am sure you have heard of me,

My name is crystal meth!


My power is awesome, try me and see,

But if you do, you may never break free.

Just try me once and I might let you go,

Try me twice and I will own your soul.


When I possess you, you steal and you lie,

You do what you must, to just get high.

The crimes you commit, 

For my narcotic charms,

Will be worth the pleasure, 

You feel in my arms. 


You will lie to your mother,

You will steal from your dad,

When you see their tears,

You should feel sad.


You will forget your morals,

And how you were raised,

I will be your conscience,

I will teach you my ways.


I take kids from parents,

And parents from kids,

I turn people from GOD,

And separate friends.


I will take everything from you,

You looks and your pride,

But, I'll be with you always,

Right by your side. 


You will give up everything,

Your family and your home.

Your friends and your money.

Then, you'll be alone.


I will take and take 

Till you have nothing more to give,

When I am finished with you,

You will be lucky to live.


If you try me by warned, this is no game.

If given the chance, I will drive you insane.


I will ravage your body,

I will control your mind,

I will own you completely, 

Your soul will be mine.


The nightmares I will give you,

While lying in bed,

The voices you will hear,

From inside your head.


The sweats, the shakes,

The visions you will see.

I want you to know,

These are gifts from me.


But when it's too late,

and you know in your heart,

That you are mine, and we shall not part.


You will regret that you tried me, 

They always do,

But you came to me, not I to you!


You knew what would happen,

Many times you were told,

But you challenged my power,

And chose to be bold.


You could have said no,

And just walked away,

If you could live that day over,

Now what would you say?


I will be your master, you will be my slave,

I will even go with you 

When you go to your grave.


Not that you have met me,

What will you do?

Will you try me or not? It's all up to you.


I can bring you more misery,

Than words can tell,

Come take me hand,

Let me lead you to HELL!

Kris Steele on KGOU

He calls himself a "recovering politician," but TEEM's Executive Director Kris Steele still weighs in on affairs in the state of Oklahoma when asked. Recently, he joined KGOU's Kurt Gwartney and former Oklahoma Senate minority leader Andrew Rice for a conversation about Oklahoma's poltical climate. Rice is now Executive Director of Variety Care, a valuable TEEM partner. As nonprofit leaders, both men brought a unique perspective to the discussion of the social and political issues Oklahoma currently faces.

In regards to the importance of political discussion, Kris says, “I think that our system of government is a good system of government, is the best system of government, but we ought to be able to have intelligent, civil discussions about what is right, and what is best, and what is wrong, and what is good when it comes to the people of Oklahoma and not get caught up in party ideology."

To listen to the broadcast in its entirety, visit KGOU's website

The Essentiality of Adult Education

I often hear the unemployed and underemployed criticized as having no plan. I'm sure at same point we've all said something like this: "They don't want to change. They got themselves here. They don't want a job." I cringe to think how many opportunities to save and/or change a life I have missed because I put stereotypical conditions on who deserved my resources and time. 

Numbers like those reported by the Oklahoma Governor's Council for Workforce and Economic Development in 2011 should make us reconsider these attempts to "write off" the under employed of Oklahoma. Often, the barrier holding individuals from gainful employment is not lack of motivation or desire; it's lack of education and training, and lack of access to resources that provide it. Consider this: "One out of four workforce age adults in Oklahoma lack the basic skills needed to succeed in an occupational training course or a knowledge-based job." 

If Oklahoma'a economy is going to grow, our housing market thrive, and our cost of living stay (relatively) low, we must take action to change this statistic. No workforce or economy could sustain this trend! Researchers at Georgetown University predict that by 2018, 57 percent of Oklahoma's jobs will require a post-secondary degree. The bad news? Only 30 percent of Oklahoma adults currently have a post-secondary degree, and many more lack the credentials to enroll in a post-secondary institution. If something is not done, our state's numbers will continue to decline, as employers outsource jobs to other states and populations. 

Forty-four percent of Oklahoma's workforce make 70 percent less than the state's average annual salary. That's a huge disconnect. It also explains the vicious cycle of poverty - individuals in low-paying jobs need skills training and higher education in order to land a better (i.e. higher paying) job, but cannot take the time off to pursue the training and education they need, cannot pay the cost to pursue further education, and often, must support a family in the process. 

A persons attitude doesn't typically need to be changed all that much: it's the barriers that must be torn down and removed. We must stop punishing high school dropouts, ex-offenders and others trapped in cycles of poverty for the choices they or others made long ago. 

TEEM is working to make the education and skills training necessary for at-risk adults to gain meaningful employment accessible to all. By providing GED preparation, soft skills, job skills and life skills training free of charge in-house, we equip individuals with the confidence and tools they need to move up in the workplace. In addition, we do our best to porvide individuals with the resources for specific certifications - like CDL or CNA licensing - whenever possible. Combined with an active social services department, we use our funds to help students pay the cost to replace ID's, birth certificates and more when needed. 

Adult education is a scary issue that seems too overwhelming to tackle. But, I am confident we are doing our part to equip and empower individuals to fulfill Oklahoma's needs. Join us in this endeavor! 


-Written by Anna Geary, PR & Communications Coordinator


What a GED Means

Let me share some numbers with you: 

39 million: Number of American adults without a high school diploma.

$50-$150: Cost to take a pen-and-paper version of the GED exam.

$140: Cost to take the entire GED test battery on the computer. 

$5-$25: Cost to re-take a portion of the GED exam.

63: Percent of jobs that will require at least some college experience by 2018.

98: Percent of colleges that accept the GED credential in replacement of their requirement for a high school diploma.

96: Estimated percent of companies that accept applicants with the GED credential for positions requiring a high school diploma. 

82: Percent of TEEM students who successfully pass the GED exam after receiving our instruction. 

These numbers are equal parts sobering and exciting to me. Sobering because so many individuals lack access to the resources necessary to pass the GED exam, and thus, remain trapped in their circumstances, without the credentials needed to pursue better job opportunities or secondary education. But, exciting because TEEM is helping break this cycle by offering comprehensive, individualized GED preparation free of charge to our students. Often, obtaining a GED is the first step in breaking free of long-existing binds of poverty, enabling individuals to attend college, qualify for better jobs and set a positive example for family members. The numbers speak for themselves, but hearing from our students is the best testament to what a GED means. Here are some highlights:


"Being able to go to a college and make something of myself is why I'm fighting to get my GED. A GED means never having to live paycheck-to-paycheck or worrying how I'm going to eat or where I'm going to live. This is just the start to a new world and a new outcome." -Shartel, age 26 


"I'm getting my GED to show my kids the way to life. That is, no matter what happens to you, pray and stay focused. But, most of all, never give up. I'm showing my kids and the world that not giving up is  another way of succeeding." -Shwonda, age 31


"At my age, I have to work hard to make a good living for myself. Now, with a GED, I'll be able to work smarter, not harder." -Curtis, age 50


"This diploma is important because only five people in my family have one. That's not many at all considering the size of my family. My grandma and my mom would have been so proud of me. That is an awesome feeling." - Freedom, age 23