Sisu Youth Services was created around the belief that the OKC metro community can and will find a way to ensure that its most vulnerable youth are cared for and protected to the very best of its ability. In the last several years, through volunteerism and small donations from hundreds of local residents, this grand community experiment has been brought to life, ensuring that all of us, in at least some small way, are helping to support our city’s endangered youth.
Sisu Youth Services began when one Oklahoma City spouse and adoptive mother of five, Penny Reynolds, decided to no longer accept that, “There’s just not any other options out there.” as the concluding statement to the conversation on the nearly non-existent availability of emergency services for teens and young adults living homeless in the Oklahoma City metro.
The work that led up to forming what is now the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Sisu Youth Services. It began in 2010 as a simple mission to collect and share emergency resources for at-risk youth with the greater community via social media. What at first was a few phone calls around the city, quickly became a statewide campaign to complete what was stacking up to be a very short list of resources for these youth. The campaign became a years long research study of local, state and national data on youth homelessness.
By 2013, the simple mission had become a full-scale intention to create a program that would simplify the process of connecting youth in crisis to emergency support services at every level of care.
In March of 2014, Ms. Reynolds attended an impromptu meeting with a “land man” downtown to discuss the possibility of attaining land for a future youth crisis center. By the end of what was scheduled to be a 20 minute meeting, four hours had flown by. The next week the wonderfully kind and humble man from the meeting reached out to Ms. Reynolds and offered her a one-year/one dollar lease to one of his vacant (and not tiny) business suites to “see what she could do.”
On June 5th 2014, after a social media call for help and an unbelievable outpouring of clothing, food and monetary donations from generous men and women all over the city, the Sisu Youth Day Center officially opened its doors. Ms. Reynolds opened the center for walk-in service one day a week, personally connecting 15 to 22 year olds to the resources she had collected for her list over the last several years. On the days the center was closed, in any spare time she could find, Ms. Reynolds would follow up with the youth and make a plan for the next week’s walk-in day. A snack kitchen, library space, clothing closet and media room were all available on site. Case managers from local social service agencies would stop by to assist interested youth with enrolling in their programs. Volunteer counselors, hair stylists, yoga instructors, artists and tutors became regular helpers at the center and a long list of amazing volunteers, that felt more like family, began to take shape.
The coming together of the whole grand experiment was absolutely miraculous to witness, but at the end of the day, with only a handful of temporary shelter options available for homeless youth awaiting permanent housing, we could never be sure that we’d see “our kids” again the next week. It became increasingly difficult to stomach that we were empowering these youth by day, then possibly losing them to the streets by night. We knew the “kids” needed a place to sleep safely each night.
In early 2016, with Sisu quickly outgrowing the day center, we began leasing space to expand from a day center to a full overnight emergency shelter and resource hub. We thanked our favorite land man for his kindness and generosity toward homeless youth, and moved to a new location to provide more services. Volunteers began transforming the newly leased location into an inviting and safe overnight shelter.
We began offering services at our new space in September 2016 with our clothing closet and drop in resource hub where the youth could rest and get toiletries and clothes. We then opened the overnight shelter 2 nights a week in August 2017. At the time, Sisu operated solely on volunteers. As we evolved, through the generosity of our donors, we were able to bring in staff. In April of 2018, we opened our overnight shelter 7 nights a week. In 2018 alone we saw 208 individual youth, provided over 2,900 safe, warm beds, served over 6,400 hot meals, and connected youth with more than 4,000 services and resources. Sisu Youth Services’ emergency overnight shelter, called The Dorm, is specifically for 15-22 year-olds. These older teens and young adults have proven to be the most in need of overnight shelter, as they are the most vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
Friends, together we have built it, and with more volunteers we will continue to succeed in our mission. Thank you for your consistent support.
Penny Reynolds, Founder
Jamie Caves, Executive Director
Sisu Youth Services Board of Directors
Heather Johnson, President
Andru Dallaly, Vice President
Alexandra McGowan, Secretary
Rachel Bradley, Treasurer