As 2021 fades into the sunset, like the conclusion of a good Western, the end credits are rolling with what has happened over the past year and the individuals and organizations that shaped the past 365 days.
The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy [OICA] was fully engaged in the effort to get students back to in-person learning. We partnered with several other organizations to call upon school boards to implement policies to return youth safely to the classroom.
You can see our commercials at maskok.org; they helped raise awareness of keeping people safe during this pandemic. Even the Oklahoma Legislature had to implement rules to allow lawmakers to cast votes remotely, along with voters being able to mail ballots with additional conditions during the pandemic.
Thanks to the tremendous effort of many school districts around the state, classes resumed with safety protocols in place. Vaccinations were extended to youth to allow for COVID-19 immunizations for families who chose that path for their children.
Sports and other extracurricular activities resumed, families were able to gather, and life slowly began to return to something like we remember before that fateful day – March 17, 2020 – when the OKC Thunder had to cancel their game, marking the unofficial beginning of the pandemic in the United States.
We also saw unrest increase. Pandemic, race, and election protests became center stage across the nation. Additionally, laws across our nation were passed relating to voting rights and various other political “hot button” issues, which led to further discord. Families and friendships have been torn apart due to many of these differences.
Still, there also have been positives. This past session of the Oklahoma Legislature was one of the best ever for mental health and educating Oklahomans regarding how improved brain health enhances positive outcomes for healthier, more productive lives.
Adverse Childhood Experiences, also called ACEs, are negative events that impact children and lead to adult health issues. ACEs took center stage for many policymakers in all three branches of government. That awareness led to a better understanding of the consequences of not dealing with issues early enough in life.
We thank lawmakers who worked on these issues, especially those who ranked highly on our annual report card. You can find the report card at oica.org if you want to see how your representatives and senators scored.
Many advocates and non-profits took the year’s burden onto their shoulders, improving upon their current work and modifying their missions to directly address issues faced from isolation, health, education, and a myriad of other needs. Tens of thousands across our state fought through these obstacles and worked to provide aid where needed.
OICA was proud to be at the table through various collaborative efforts and will continue to work with other organizations to help fill those gaps in the coming year. You can do that by joining other Oklahomans who are members of OICA. You can go to oica.org to become a member and put your stamp on the year ahead.
I am optimistic for 2022, with a healthy dose of caution mixed into my anticipation. The way to improve the next year will be for all of us to remain engaged and safe. Thank you for reading this weekly column, and as they say, “Happy trails to you until we meet again” next year!