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Graduation ceremony for Center for Social Innovation at OSU-OKC celebrates second chances

OKLAHOMA CITY – After being expelled from school in the third grade, Michelle Tubby received almost no formal education. Yet 20 years later she will graduate from an Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City program that gives people a second chance to get on a path to success.

Tubby, 29, whose involvement with drugs landed her in juvenile and adult detention, is one of the first 10 people to complete the intensive Center for Social Innovation program that uses a hope-based curriculum to help participants identify life goals, career pathways and support systems.

CFSI was launched in September thanks to a $1 million, three-year commitment from the E.L. and Thelma Gaylord Foundation. The program has also received funding and support from the Inasmuch Foundation and Simmons Bank.

Participants are given new laptops that are theirs to keep, school supplies and lunch in the cafeteria each day that they are on campus. CFSI pays them a stipend for their time spent in program and connects them with an internship to gain workplace experience and credibility for their path forward.

“I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and skills. The program teaches me so many things that I never thought I’d know,” Tubby said. “I get so overjoyed by it.”

A graduation ceremony for all the participants will be held at 10 a.m. May 21 on the OSU-OKC campus in Oklahoma City.

“It’s a celebration of reclaiming and relaunching lives,” said Dar Yasseri, vice president of student experience at OSU-OKC and a founder of CFSI. “This is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s a personal journey that is sustainable for the individual, with support and education. Developing relationships and building partnerships with our community and local industry provides opportunities for our students, and adds further employment opportunities post-graduation.”

For Tubby that journey will continue with classes at OSU-OKC where she plans to earn an associate degree in American Sign Language. She wants to work for a nonprofit and help children and people with disabilities.

“I want to give back and help the next person get to where I am,” Tubby said.

One of the people who has helped Tubby is Shellie Greiner, a community volunteer who heard about CFSI and knew that among the many challenges the participants faced, transportation would be a big one.

Greiner is working to find cars for CFSI students, either donated vehicles or those with low monthly payments. The first car Greiner acquired was donated by a friend. It was given to Tubby, who finally got her driver’s license while in the program for the first time in her life and now can get to campus and work on her own.

Program participants are referred to CFSI after completing addiction recovery programs or jail diversion programs. Many have experienced homelessness, trauma, abuse, addiction, and many other challenges. Some have aged out of the foster care system and others are escaping abusive relationships. The program is designed to give hope to individuals overcoming a wide array of barriers such as these.

“At CFSI, we want to give people with challenged backgrounds the purpose, hope, and support needed for them to find long-term success and happiness,” said Ariel Moore, senior director. “We want to walk people through building their confidence back up and helping them find their identity, as well as create a community they can always turn to.”

A big part of that community are the friends, leaders, and businesses who partner with OSU-OKC and are equally committed to the students’ futures, Moore said.

Greg Dewey, vice president of administration at Mach Resources, is one of the CFSI internship partners.

“We want to be able to offer opportunities here to people who might not otherwise receive an opportunity in a professional setting,” Dewey said.

The part-time interns rotate through four departments at Mach to gain knowledge about jobs they might want to pursue and to develop a network of mentors, he said.

“All of our lives improve when we have positive relationships,” Dewey said.

Michael Norris, 37, is also graduating from CFSI and plans to earn his associate degree in addiction counseling. He is gaining work experience as an intern at the Diversion Hub, which is boosting his confidence.

“I’ve never experienced so many people rooting for me,” said Norris, who abused alcohol and drugs for more than 20 years. OSU-OKC even took care of unpaid fees he owed from a failed college attempt in 2009 so he could reenroll.

“This is too good to be true. I was overwhelmed with hope,” he said. “I have a chance here.”

The Center for Social Innovation is accepting applications for the upcoming August 2021 cohort at https://osuokc.edu/cfsi/apply. Applications are due by June 30, 2021.