By K.J. WEBB
WALKING FOR CHARITY: The wives and families of the TU coaching staff turned out May 3 for the Tulsa Area Arthritis Walk held at Whiteside Park. From left are Mya and Mia Randolph (coach’s wife), Angie Blankenship (coach’s wife), Maria Norvell (coach’s wife), Wendy Brochetti (neighbor) and Penni and Dakota, her 13 year old son.
Penni Graham, wife of University of Tulsa Head Football Coach Todd Graham, loves Tulsa, and most of all, loves doing everything she can to, as she says, “make a part of any landscape I’m in better, in whatever way I can.”
Graham has been doing this in Tulsa as long as she’s lived here; first from 2002 to 2005, and again since her husband’s return in 2007 as head coach of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane football team.
Graham’s heartfelt desire to improve communities and the lives of people in need has family roots in Texas. She explains, “My grandmother was always volunteering and was a wonderful role model. By the time she passed away, there was only one other person in the state who had more volunteer hours than she did.” Graham quickly followed suit. By the time she was eight years old, she had donated 1,000 hours of volunteer work, the first child in the state of Texas to accomplish this.
Graham put the same amount of energy and dedication into her education. She worked 40 hours a week putting herself through college and graduate school, receiving a Master of Science in Curriculum Instructional Design. Graham has also completed all of the coursework for her Ph.D. in the field, but given her current responsibilities, the dissertation will have to wait. “Someday I might get back to that,” she says. “Right now though, I am absolutely dedicated to my charity work, and of course TU football. All of this takes precedence.”
When asked why she works with the charities she does, Graham says, “I’m drawn to charities for different reasons. I’m always interested in the cause, but there could be something that touches me in some way, or a particularly inspiring person involved.”
She mentions the Arthritis Foundation. “Dawn Duca runs the Foundation in Tulsa. She’s an amazing woman, and I enjoy serving on the board and doing what I can to help the organization.”
Mental health is another area Graham is drawn to, and she is serving on the Mental Health Association’s Carnivale 2010 Committee. “I have a lot of compassion for these people. Many people that you would never guess end up homeless due to mental illness. Fortunately, here in Tulsa we have facilities like Altamont.” Altamont Apartments is one of the Mental Health Association’s living facilities near downtown Tulsa. “It’s a living community where every need is met. These people are happy and safe,” says Graham, “and the residents contribute in whatever way they can to the community.
Graham has also been involved craftsmanship through her work with the Church at Battle Creek’s extreme home makeovers. “We did five extreme makeovers over the summer and got directly involved in the building process,” she says. “It changes the lives of everyone involved. My kids were involved and the joy they experienced was unbelievable.” Graham says it’s gratifying that her charity work has influenced her six children (ages 27, twins-19, 17, 13 and 7) to want to volunteer and help better people’s lives.
In addition to Graham’s volunteer and charity work is her commitment to supporting her husband and TU’s football program. “It’s my priority mission,” she says. “We have 120 boys to be influenced and shaped in a positive way. We want them winning every day, in every way, as players, as people, as future husbands and dads.”
Graham mentions a fundraiser raffle in development and other activities aimed at enhancing TU’s football program. “Being a small university is a blessing and a challenge. One in 10 students at TU is an athlete, 10 percent are National Merit Scholars; our players are in a very competitive environment athletically and academically.”
She points out the time commitment involved in playing football. “Our players dedicate a lot of time to practice, and strength and conditioning, and they have classes to keep up with. It can put a lot of stress on the body and mind.”
Despite the demands involved in playing football, TU’s players are, as Graham describes, “unique.” “They care about academics,” she says. “They know they have to work hard and they do. We have one of the highest graduation rates in the nation.”
Graham credits the people in Tulsa for their support of the team. “We have great fans and generous supporters. They add so much to the program and really make an important and positive difference. The fans’ support is deeply appreciated.
When Graham talks about TU and the Tulsa community, she mentions diversity, optimism, openness and authenticity. “People here have character. They’re genuine and they genuinely care about helping others. People here really extend themselves,” she says.
When asked what advice she would offer to those interested in getting involved in charity work and volunteer opportunities, Graham says, “Ask yourself some questions: what is your passion? Are you working? What kind of hours do you have? How do you want to help?”
Graham says, “It’s important to remember that an hour of time makes a difference. People can invest in a long-term volunteer commitment, a short-term project, or even an hour a week. Everyone has something to offer.”
She adds, “Volunteering will not only change lives of others in a positive way, it will change yours as well.”
For more information about the organizations mentioned in this article, visit: Arthritis Foundation www.arthritis.org; The Mental Health Association of Tulsa www.mhat.org; The Church at Battle Creek www.thechurchatbattlecreek.com; University of Tulsa Football program www.tulsahurricane.com
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