OKO reaps benefits of membership in Macon County Legacy

Standing in the Gap

Devor Joyner and Alida Graham

Above, Devon Joyner and Alida Graham of Old King's Orchard Community Center

“The people we serve have been banging their heads against barriers all their lives,” says Devon Joyner, Executive Director of the Old King’s Orchard Community Center (OKO). “We work to help by building bonds and relationships with the people we serve based on trust.”

Joyner describes OKO as a haven of help for inner-city youth, young adults and their families since 2001. The nonprofit’s wrap-around services provide quality programming to help fill in the gaps beyond traditional social services to include tutoring and education services, plus vocational and career counseling support.

Additionally, Devon and the OKO staff lead multiple programs allowing youth to develop their own perspectives and reshape dominant-culture narratives about black youth.

“We stand in the gap,” says OKO Board member Alida Graham, who joined the board in 2010. “We try to identify the barriers to the people we serve so we can address them.”

Devon notes that when an individual asks for help, it’s usually “because they’re at their wit’s end.” In many cases, their dignity has held them back from asking for help, but unfortunately that tends to dig an even deeper hole of misery and anxiety, he adds.

“So much of our community’s peace starts with the individual’s inner peace,” Alida says. “OKO provides the assistance, or we find someone who can. Ours is a model that takes time. But when we get to that, you see beautiful things happening.”

A recent example: The positive results of offering schooling at the OKO Community Center when area schools shifted entirely to remote learning during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Remote learning was difficult if not impossible for students living in poverty who lacked access to the fundamentals needed, including regular access to technology. OKO stepped in to offer iPads, meals, 1x1 support and other means of help at the center, plus rides to and from home.

It worked. Some students passed classes for the first time. Two students made the honor roll. “These kids started to thrive,” Devon says. Word of mouth was so positive that more students asked to join.

Success stories like this are dependent upon financial support, including a recent $20,000 grant from The Community Foundation of Macon County to support Youth Recreation for Success, a new OKO program to provide organized sports in the martial arts.

“Organized sports teach you teamwork and discipline,” Devon says. “Research shows that youth who participate in sports are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors. Sports-based youth development has the power to reduce youth violence, while promoting health, building resilience and coping skills, and inspiring academic success for kids. The sports we selected – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, martial arts grappling, judo and wrestling – also help students learn mental toughness and critical thinking.”

“We’re hoping to occupy more time and space in their lives,” Devon adds. “We’re hoping these programs give us more contact with the kids. We’re giving them more tools to take away from us.”

Other recent funding includes significant individual donations that directly resulted from OKO joining the Macon County Legacy (MCL) group in 2019. The donors’ gifts included a match challenge grant of $45,000 to help pay for a new gym floor in response to MCL’s “wish list” for the funding needs of area nonprofits. OKO’s wish, plus the complete list of items needed by Macon County Legacy nonprofits is posted on The Community Foundation of Macon County website and updated quarterly.

“Joining the Macon County Legacy group opened up a whole other stream of support,” Alida says. “The gym is an important entry point for those we serve. Once they are here, you can start to build relationships and trust.”

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