Fiber enables local shelter to better care for at-risk youth.
On Tecumseh Road in Norman, just off Interstate 35, hides a beacon of hope for children and teens in crisis. Crossroads Youth & Family Services offers a safe place to learn, grow and discover when a permanent home is unavailable.
“We are the only emergency shelter in Cleveland County,” said Executive Director Wendy Swatek.
Founded in 1969, Crossroads operates 33 other service agencies, additional shelters and services across the state. However, this eight-bed shelter is the only one Cleveland County has to offer for teens. Brightly colored, hand-painted murals and a warm, inviting atmosphere provide a sense of safety and security at a time when the young people within its walls need it most.
“The purpose of our shelter is kids have a place to stay until a permanent placement is found. Either in a foster home, an adoptive home or possibly a group home,” Swatek said.
This all-in-one facility houses a variety of spaces designed to give children and teens everything they need to thrive during a difficult time. Walking into the shared living space, it is not uncommon to see anime playing on the TV in one corner while someone plays a video game in another.
Teens have access to a full kitchen, art room and a resource closet where they shop for clothes, bedding and other essentials. A fullservice classroom sits on the far side of the shared space along a glass wall. Teachers from Norman Public Schools come here to keep the children’s education on track.
“Our shelter kids, it’s their home,” Swatek said. “They play here. They sleep here. They watch movies here. All the things you would do in your normal home. We have kiddos here that need all the support they can get, and we’re here providing a safe environment for them.”
To provide this support, Crossroads offers counseling and other family services designed to give children and families the best opportunity for success. They integrated the Head Start program, an income-based service for 0 to 5-year-olds, into their services in 2008. This program gives children a step up when they reach kindergarten.
“What’s unique about Head Start is that it’s a wrap-around service,” Swatek said. “Not only do we educate children in the classroom, but we also have family advocates that serve families as a whole. We goal set with families and help them find resources.”
With 200 to 250 kids coming through the shelter each year, the staffing and resources needed to ensure things run smoothly are hard to come by. With 275 employees serving over 1,050 kids in Head Start, staying on top of things is difficult. It is even harder when an unreliable internet connection hinders staff’s ability to access vital information.
“We use OEC Fiber because it’s the only service we found that works,” Swatek said. “When the internet works, our staff can print, get on their computers and do their intakes with their counseling clients. It’s really changed the way we’ve been able to do business.”
Staff are not the only ones affected by poor internet connection. Kids in the shelter are encouraged to engage in everyday activities like video games, streaming movies and YouTube. All of which require internet. Losing connectivity limits their options and can amplify feelings of ostracization during an already difficult time.
Due to the high-quality service OEC Fiber supplies, on-site safety at Crossroads has improved.
“We have cameras at our facility for safety purposes,” Swatek said. “There’s times we have to pull footage up, and we’re able to see it with a lot of detail because of the strength of our internet service.”
It takes more than good Wi-Fi to make this facility run. Volunteers engage in various activities, from general maintenance and landscaping to mentoring children.
“I always tell people to think about the needs around your house,” Swatek said.
The areas in which people can help are vast. Everything from assisting residents “shopping” in the resource room to keeping the facilities in top shape is encouraged.
Crossroads Youth & Family Services’ number one goal is to provide children with a safe environment where they can flourish. If you want to get involved in their mission, visit their website at crossroadsyfs.org to learn more and volunteer to improve lives.
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