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WCC in the Examiner-Enterprise


Westside Community Center has partnered with other organizations and the City of Bartlesville to expand its services, helping to meet needs in the community exaggerated by events of the past year.

In its unassuming building at 501 S Bucy Ave., nestled between houses and other social service organizations, WCC provides after-school and summer programs for underserved kids. As the pandemic moved Bartlesville Public Schools online, then to a mix of virtual and in-person class, it became clear that students struggled to keep up in school, WCC Executive Director Lorront Carney said.

Then, as the organization was adjusting to fill in the gaps for those students, the winter freeze hit in February. WCC became an emergency shelter, and the community took notice of the need it fulfilled.

“(COVID-19 and the winter storm) showed some things that maybe the community didn’t really look at (before). Everything seemed to be going smooth. … I feel like Bartlesville has really stood up and taken notice of our situation,” Carney said.

“We have expanded our vision from just focusing on kids that are underserved to the whole community. We’re expanding in a new direction. I really didn’t think we would get there.”

Using a Bartlesville Education Promise grant, Westside hired a teacher and high-schoolers to tutor students, who range in age from 6 to 14, in homework during the after-school program. 

The center also updated its library books, bought new computers and software for its computer lab and kept the teacher on for the summer program to teach structured lessons and educational activities about reading and STEM subjects. 

“This past school year, we found a lot of kids were going to be behind. We’ll still give them a summer, but at the same time, we’ve got to prepare them for next year academically,” Carney said. “School is so different nowadays. Having that certified teacher on staff increases our ability to assist the students.”

In addition to enhancing its academic structure, Westside is bolstering the life skills programs it has for students in its summer programs. It recruited four new people to teach its ‘We Prosper’ program, where students ages 13 to 18 will learn etiquette, how to dress in professional settings and other work skills. 

Through a new program called “Boys to Men”, the center’s middle school-aged boys are learning life skills such as cooking, hygiene and how to tie a tie. WCC has partnered with the Mutual Girls Club to teach a similar program for girls and is working on a partnership with the Lowe’s Foundation to provide education about applying to colleges and scholarships.

In between academic and life skills activities, WCC staff take students on day trips to go swimming, fishing and similar activities. Every Friday, the staff hosts a cookout with another community group — such as the Bartlesville Police Department — that visits the center and spends time with the students.

“We’re really just trying to keep the summertime the summertime and let them play, make new friends and make memories, but also meet their needs where they are, whether that’s physical, emotional, social and definitely nutritional needs,” said Jourdan Foran, who conducts daily operations at WCC.

“We’re really grateful for the opportunity to do those things and consider it a responsibility on our part.”

Foran said as much as the pandemic hurt students academically, school and business closures made many of them feel alone — a side effect mitigated by the friends they make at Westside and the connections they make with volunteers.

“Talking to quite a few of the older kids … they felt very isolated and disconnected from what they knew, so coming back to a community, being with people throughout the day and having that sense of connection is invaluable,” Foran said. 

In addition to expanding its student programs, WCC is in talks with the city to build an emergency shelter on its property. 

While plans are still preliminary, Carney said the center is considering having showers, a locker room, a kitchen and a small gym in the shelter so up to 100 people can stay there during extreme weather, like the February snowstorm.

It also would serve as a warming center in the winter and cooling center in summer, he said.

“The winter storm revealed a lot to the city … Even they were kind of caught by surprise by the number of homeless who just appeared. Even the citizens stood up and took notice,” Carney said. “The response, not just from the community, but from city officials, has been tremendous.”

“(City officials) are deeply involved, but they sit back and let this be a citizen-run thing. Any time the city gets involved, politics get involved. They understand that for this to be successful, they need to support it, but not lead it. It’s a group of nonprofits and concerned citizens leading it.”

As WCC has expanded its services in recent months, it also has built on relationships with other nonprofits.

Building Bridges, a nonprofit that helps break the cycle of poverty, has connected with families whose kids attend the WCC summer program. When someone asks about a service WCC does not provide, staff connect them with a local nonprofit that does, Carney said.

“(The nonprofits) are beginning to work really well together,” Carney said. “If I can have all the information an individual needs in one place, rather than them having to go door to door and ask what they need to do, I can shorten their journey.”