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Green wigs, painted faces and Superman T-shirts hidden beneath white, pressed button-downs mixed with suits and sparkling floor-length gowns Friday night inside the Skirvin Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City.
At the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy’s third annual Heroes Ball, around 350 attendees — some clad in superhero costumes — gathered to celebrate child-friendly policies passed at the state capitol this year, to honor those who provide services to children and families in need and to raise money.
The nonprofit was founded in 1983 to advocate at the state Legislature for the needs of children, especially those in poverty or who have suffered abuse. The organization partners with various service providers, state agencies and individuals to accomplish this mission.
“I’m hoping attendees realize the importance of child advocacy,” said Mary Blankenship Pointer, a co-chair of the event. “A friend invited me to the first event, and I was the person I’m talking about. I listened to the stories and thought, ‘This is something I can help make a change in.’”
Attendees were able to browse a variety of items offered for auction, such as trips to Spain or Greece, artwork painted on-site and signed Kyler Murray memorabilia, before sitting down for dinner and an awards ceremony to honor the everyday superheroes in the state who work toward better child outcomes.
OICA CEO Joe Dorman said the event raised a record-breaking amount of money.
“All of the best superheroes, all of those great works of literature that we grew up reading, all have their foundations as children that faced trauma that went on to be heroes,” Dorman said. “While those heroes may not be real, the kids of Oklahoma need heroes, and we have a lot of those heroes in the room tonight.”
Multiple awards were given to individuals and organizations, including Judy Payne of Palomar, Oklahoma City’s Family Justice Center, the Oklahoma United Methodist Circle of Care and the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth.
Keynote speaker Dr. Deborah Shropshire, a pediatrician and medical director for foster care for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, pointed to the charge from Gov. Kevin Stitt for Oklahoma to become a “Top 10 state” and the role innovation will play in accomplishing that goal.
“No one is expecting Oklahoma to go from the bottom to the top. But that is the task in front of us,” Shropshire said. “What I would ask you to really try to leave in your spaces is a culture where it is psychologically safe to work together, to speak up and try things that sometimes fail. That environment is where we can truly innovate.”
She said there are “four ingredients” to include as agencies and individuals try to better serve children and families: Leadership, resources, talent and threat.
“Will we feel threatened enough by some of the statistics you see, the reports mentioned and the outcomes we see in our neighborhoods and schools and service systems? Will we see those outcomes as so much of a threat that we are willing to say we will do anything?” Shropshire asked the audience. “So let’s set big goals, create safe spaces and innovate. And one day, let’s sit in this room and talk about what we’ve accomplished.”
OICA will host its annual Fall Forum Oct. 1-2 to set its legislative agenda for the 2020 session.