I again want to thank Mr. Ed Long for his contribution and hard work in creativity. This guy gets it! His article is a must read, providing solutions when everyone else says it can’t be done.
In this series on social innovation and creative problem-solving, it’s been said that more is possible and we must expect it. With the decline in state revenue and cuts in state programs in recent years, this may sound like a heavy lift. But, bringing together business, government and nonprofit resources to work together on common goals opens new doors.
Suddenly, we aren’t focused on what isn’t working and why we can’t do something. We become energized by new possibilities and hope for something more. We once again believe that we can make things better. This is not to say that cross-sector collaboration can fix all of our challenges as a state. It certainly does not make up for lost jobs or program cuts that affect the lives of many Oklahomans. But, it does illuminate areas where we can use existing resources, creativity and hard work to make a difference in our communities even in tough budget times.
One need only to look at the Run the Streets (RTS) program in Bartlesville to see what is possible. Bob Williams, a community worker with the Office of Juvenile Affairs in Washington County who is responsible for probation, Judge Curtis DeLapp and their colleagues recognized that the traditional approaches to reducing recidivism among youth who have committed an offense have not been as effective as they would like. Their commitment to supporting our youth and ensuring they have every opportunity for a lifetime of success drives them to be creative and innovative—never settling for less than optimal results. RTS is a an initiative that supports any interested youth between the ages of 13 and 18 in Washington County in training for and competing in a half-marathon. At-risk youth are given priority placement in the program, and the impact goes far beyond the obvious health benefits.
In contrast to traditional approaches such as use of negative consequences and compulsory counseling, Mr. Williams explains that RTS “…uses mentoring and physical activity as a backdoor approach to changing attitudes about authority. Mentors model appropriate consistent behavior, goal setting, positive reinforcement, adult support and achievement. [Youth who have committed an offense] choose to participate in the program as an alternative to traditional probation. Once it is their choice, they immediately become more open to learning the lessons taught by distance running and mentoring. Additionally, youth see their probation officer, teacher and judge running side-by-side with them and begin to view that person in a different light…as we do the youth. Attitudes change and barriers are broken down. RTS also offers an environment where race, age, gender, socio-economic standing etc. are not given arbitrary value. Once they put on that purple RTS shirt, we are all the same—just runners struggling together to finish a run…[For youth offenders participating in RTS] the Court waives costs, fines, probation fees, community service etc. and closes their cases upon completion.”
Youth participants pay nothing as community partners cover the cost. Through sharing of resources and focus on a common goal, business, local government and nonprofits were able to develop and implement RTS with no state dollars. Partners have included the United Way, YMCA, Bartlesville Community Foundation, Sutterfield Financial, Doenges Ford, Conoco Phillips, Phillips 66, Arvest Bank, Quick Trip, the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the Washington County District Attorney’s Office and the 11th Judicial District Court.
Since 2009, youth have logged more than 115,000 miles and more than 700 have finished a half marathon. About 30 to 40 mentors invest an average of 50 hours each during a 12 week season. Organizers believe this collaborative approach is producing positive results. And, Mr. Williams states that at least 6 spin-off programs in other communities have taken off and more are in the planning stages.
RTS is a shining example of what is possible if we focus on what we can do with what we have. Again, this is not to say that there is a not a need for other funding sources to address challenges in the state. But, even in prosperous budget times it is common sense that we maximize the impact of the resources at hand.
It is important to note that innovative ideas don’t always take hold immediately. Mr. Williams came up with the idea for RTS after reading about a similar program in Los Angeles and pitched it to potential partners for years before anyone committed to helping with development. As it is with private sector entrepreneurship, social innovation requires persistence, resiliency and an unwavering belief in what you are doing.
About Cross-Sector Innovations
CSI promotes social innovation by bringing together business, government and nonprofit resources for creative solutions to community and statewide challenges. CSI partners with Creative Oklahoma (www.stateofcreativity.com) who serves as a fiscal agent. For more information, please contact Ed Long at firstname.lastname@example.org or 405-922-7580. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/crosssectorinnovations and Twitter @C_S_Innovations.