By DAVID JONES
BASEBALL TO HOPE: Present at the Operation Hope Golf Outing at Meadowbrook Country Club in October are, from left, former Major-League players Tom Pagnozzi and Tom Paciorek, sportscaster Bob Carpenter and Operation Hope Prison Ministry Director Giles Gere.
DANIEL C. CAMERON for GTR Newspapers
In 2007 Bob Carpenter was asked to emcee a benefit banquet for Operation Hope. It made quite an impression on him.
It was such a positive impact that in October he sponsored a golf tournament in their behalf. He plans to do more in the future.
“I had never been involved in anything like that,” he says. “The people at Meadowbrook Country Club, where the event took place, said it was the most successful first-time-out event of its kind they had ever seen. We raised a lot of money for a great charity that has been sponsored by a lot of Tulsa churches.”
Operation Hope is precisely what the name implies. Convicts getting out of prison with a bus ticket, $50 in their pockets, and no prospects can turn to it to get a fresh start on a productive life.
It has two ministries in Oklahoma’s correctional system; one for the women at the Eddie Warrior Correctional Institution in Taft, and one for men at the Jess Dunn Correctional Institution in Hominy.
“The people who come out of them usually have family or friends they can turn to,” says Operation Hope Director Giles Gere, “but some have no one.”
Operation Hope works through the chaplains of those two institutions. The inmates are given the organization’s telephone number, which they can call if Tulsa is a strange town and they have nowhere to go and don’t know what to do.
The organization can give immediate, vital help.
“We have a safe house for the women,” says Giles. “The men can stay up to two weeks at the downtown YMCA with Operation Hope and the Y splitting the cost. If they are making a sincere effort to find a job they can sometimes stay a third week.”
The assistance offered by Operation Hope includes the most vital needs: connection with parole officers, getting work identification cards, housing, food stamps, transportation and mentoring. A state agency called Career Tech helps the ex-convicts get jobs they have been trained for in prison.
Asbury United Methodist Church is one of the major sponsors of Operation Hope.
Carpenter is a member of Asbury. A longtime sports announcer, currently the television voice of the Washington Nationals major league team, Carpenter was asked to emcee Operation Hope’s annual dinner and auction in 2007.
At the auction ex-convicts who had seen their lives turned around by Operation Hope told their stories. The tales of success made a profound impact on Carpenter. He decided he could do more than just emcee a banquet. This spring he contacted Gere and the First Annual Operation Hope golf tournament was born.
“We were able to do a lot of the background work while Bob was announcing in Washington D.C.,” says Gere, “but he and longtime Tulsa sports historian Wayne McCombs were able to come up with the memorabilia that proved such a success at the silent auction. They were able to get a host of signed articles from stars not only from professional baseball but also from college and professional basketball and football.
“We had a signed baseball from Stan Musial, another from Albert Pujols, another from Bob Gibson, a jersey from George Brett, another from Cal Ripkin Jr., signed footballs, items from stars at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and the University of Tulsa. “The silent auction turned out to be more successful than I had imagined it possibly could be on such short notice,” says Gere.
The golf tournament wasn’t the final stop on Operation Hope’s fundraising drive for 2008. A dinner and silent auction was held Nov. 14 at Asbury Methodist Church.
Carpenter plans to have a bigger and better event in 2009. “The event drew a lot of former major leaguers and even current players Josh Johnson of the Florida Marlins and Steven Shell of the Washington Nationals. Most have said they’d like to come back next year.”
Much of the money was made off the silent auction and a live auction held during the luncheon. Carpenter says he plans to expand the events to two days.
“We have already tentatively set a date of Oct. 19, 2009 and I want to have a dinner the night before in which the auctions will be held. I think this year too many people had to leave after the golf round and weren’t there at the auction.”
The money from the auctions, and from Carpenter’s golf tournament, will help many a man and woman who have bleak pasts face a brighter future.