A Sense of Normalcy at Positive Tomorrows
By Paris Lawson | Broadcast and Digital Reporter
For the first time, Cierra Eastep and her four children will be celebrating Thanksgiving in their very own home. After spending years in transitional housing, Eastep recently secured independent housing for her and her family just in time for the holiday season.
However, between transitioning out of homelessness, taking college classes, participating in work study and caring for her four children under the age of 7, Eastep hasn’t had much time to think about how she and her family would celebrate Thanksgiving – which was a day away.
This is where Positive Tomorrows and the Thunder saw a need they could fill together. On the eve of Thanksgiving Day, the Thunder provided 35 Thanksgiving meals to the families battling homelessness at Positive Tomorrows. In a socially distant, COVID protocol-compliant event, the Thunder dropped off boxes full of food for the staff at Positive Tomorrows to distribute to their families at their homes.
Eastep and her four kiddos dropped by to pick theirs up in person.
“I have not had very much time believe it or not. I’ve got my heart full and my hands full with those four,” Eastep said with a laugh as she pointed back at her four kids running around and passing the time in the gymnasium behind her.
“But I'm so blessed that Positive Tomorrows has been able to help me with that, taking some of that thinking process away and helping me figure it out.”
WATCH: Thanksgiving Dinners for Positive Tomorrows
In addition to the meal delivery, each student in the school would be surprised with a Thunder backpack hanging in their school cubby upon their return to class on Monday. The bags were stuffed to the brim with warm weather gear and goodies that any kid would love – a lunchbox, beanie, nightlight, water bottle, and of course a Thunder t-shirt.
Each staff member at the school also received a gift card and fun Thunder items as well.
“Normally, we would celebrate in person with a lot of Thunder fanfare, but unfortunately the pandemic has made us pivot a little bit. We still really want to celebrate the kids, the staff and the families at Positive Tomorrows while fulfilling the need, which is a meal for Thanksgiving,” said Thunder Director of Community Relations Erin Oldfield.
“Positive Tomorrows is an amazing organization,” Oldfield said. “They're doing such fantastic work in the community, and we love celebrating with them, even though it looks a little bit different this year.”
Positive Tomorrows is Oklahoma’s only elementary school and social services catered specifically for children and families experiencing homelessness. While caring for the children in their non-profit, private elementary school, the organization also services the parents to help with the housing, employment and educational needs in order to become completely independent.
“It's our whole intention to help families become stable, self-sufficient and the kids doing well in school. Then, we'll move the children back in the public school,” said President of Positive Tomorrows Susan Agel. “We want the family to be just like anybody else and that's our goal.”
However, during a global pandemic and economic crisis that disproportionally affects people living in poverty, achieving that goal has required extreme creativity and determination from the staff at Positive Tomorrows. For example, virtual learning was not an option for the school whose population might not have access to technology outside of the classroom or regular meals to eat each day at home. This meant taking extra precautions such as reducing the number of students per classroom to make sure the students could participate in in-person classes.
“We have really tried to be innovators and create how do we meet needs,” said Kelly Berger, director of family support at Positive Tomorrows. “The other thing that [the pandemic has] done is really force us to address the digital divide and that means families getting connected the internet and having access to the things we take for granted. When a school goes virtual that's hard for any parent. [It’s] very hard if you're living in a motel, in a homeless shelter or bouncing from your car to a friend's house.”
Providing a sense of normalcy in the middle of a global health crisis becomes paramount when serving children experiencing the trauma associated with homelessness. This is why the Thunder and Positive Tomorrows worked so hard to ensure that even though the annual Thanksgiving event lacked its usual Thunder fanfare, each family would have a full belly and the kids would have a fun surprise to return to. That was the top priority.
“It's those exciting and fun things in childhood that our children miss from time to time. There's a lot of things they don't get to do,” said Agel. “So with surprises like this – this is a really cool thing and we're just so glad to be able to provide it for our children.”
“To provide someone with a dignity to have experiences like Thanksgiving, a birthday or a Christmas can mean the world,” explained Berger. “It gives them a breath of fresh air and allows them to have one day, where there's not the pressure of COVID and we can have a normal experience, like we hope to have.”
For Eastep, cooking a Thanksgiving turkey will be anything but a normal experience in her brand-home. It will be her first holiday in her own home and her first time cooking a turkey, but she’ll be surrounded by her kids and stuffed with food and gratitude by the end of the night.
Just like everybody else.