By EMILY RAMSEY
VOLUNTEER SERVICE: Volunteers pose together at the April 2015 Owasso CARES Day of Service event. September marked the 13th biannual Owasso CARES event and saw 164 volunteers. Owasso CARES is one program of the Owasso Strong Neighborhood Initiative, which began in 2009.
Since the formation of the Owasso Strong Neighborhood Initiative () in 2009 with only a handful of programs, the initiative has grown to include upwards of 10 community programs, all with a focus on maintaining the quality of the city of Owasso and its neighborhoods.
“All of our programs are about having a community that we will be proud of and a community that’s attractive in the future,” says Jerry Fowler, coordinator.
The most recent program to be added to is Keep Owasso Clean, a monthly litter clean-up event that was created 18 months ago by an Owasso Girl Scouts troop, who were looking to get involved in a community activity.
As the city recognized the importance of Keep Owasso Clean for the community, adopted it into its catalog of offerings.
“(Keep Owasso Clean) is about getting people to realize that litter takes away from our community,” says Fowler. “This is a program that fits well into the theme of , which is to maintain Owasso’s value for the future.”
The next Keep Owasso Clean event will take place on the second Saturday in November, weather cooperating.
Running along a similar theme of city beautification is Owasso CARES (Community And Residents Encourage Service), which began in 2010.
The event takes place two times a year when volunteers clean up parks, neighborhoods and green spaces. Often, the effort focuses on cleaning up brush, thus making it more easily maintainable in the future, Fowler says.
September marked the 13th biannual Owasso CARES event and saw 164 volunteers.
A portion of the volunteers came from Urban Soul-Xtreme Youth Ministries of Owasso First Assembly Church. The group has participated in all of the Owasso CARES events.
“They are a true representation of the character trait of benevolence,” says Fowler.
Between 2011 and 2016, 895 volunteers from the group have logged more than 2,000 volunteer hours in community work with . Because of those efforts, Urban Soul has been named a finalist for the Volunteer Community Group Award at the Keep Oklahoma Beautiful’s () Environmental Excellence Celebration to be held in November.
Also named a finalist is the City of Owasso for the Green Place award in the government program category, in recognition of its green practices during the conversion of the former First Bank of Owasso building into the new City Hall, located on Main Street. Additionally, Chris Coager, an Owasso CARES volunteer, will be recognized as an Affiliate Champion.
In 2015, Owasso CARES was named Affiliate of the Year and was the winner of the Great American Clean-up Best Overall Trash-Off Effort. Also last year, Owasso CARES was named a finalist for the Environmental Excellence award and Keep Owasso Clean a finalist for the Youth Initiative award due to its partnership with Girl Scout Troop 661.
This year, Owasso CARES received the Owasso Chamber of Commerce’s Community Spirit award.
“When receives an award, we might be accepting the award, but it’s the community and the residents who are getting the award,” Fowler says.
In addition to Keep Owasso Clean and Owasso CARES, is ripe with other opportunities for individuals to volunteer in the community through its City Volunteer program. The program matches qualified individuals and groups to meet city needs that may otherwise go unfulfilled due to limits in revenue, according to the website.
“We are always partnering with groups who are looking to engage in volunteer service, whether that’s local students, civic groups, court ordered situations, scout groups, church groups or other individuals,” Fowler says.
In ’s ongoing efforts to create stronger bonds within its neighborhoods, in 2014, Owasso became the first city in Oklahoma to become an agency site for social network Nextdoor, which allows residents to securely communicate with other residents within their neighborhood or nearby neighborhoods. Across the U.S., over 90,000 neighborhoods are registered.
Owasso residents can join private neighborhood websites to share information, including neighborhood public safety issues, community events and activities, local services, and even lost pets.
“We have become isolated in our homes,” says Fowler. “We have to get past our garage doors and get to know each other and what’s going on.”
The site also allows the City of Owasso to post information, such as news, services, programs, public events, and emergency notifications.
Currently, there are 5,600 Owasso residents in 63 neighborhood groups signed up for NextDoor.
The Alert Neighborhood program, which was one of the first programs to be created, enables residents to create crime prevention programs within their neighborhoods in order to encourage community policing.
The program partners the Owasso Police Department and to provide residents with information on how to better protect property and their neighbors through greater alertness and reporting of suspicious behavior, Fowler says. “It also builds better relationships between police and citizens and greater trust within the community.”
Additional programs include Neighborhood Grants, Street Sign Toppers, the Neighborhood Leadership Conference to be held Jan. 28 and the annual Block Party.
“The big thing for all of our programs is for us to be a strong community with engaged and active residents,” says Fowler, “with city government, residents and businesses all coming together.”