As we enter the week before Christmas, I would like to take time to reflect on the many people who have worked so hard to make a difference this year for the children of our state through the efforts of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA).  I know I will forget many, and I apologize as I only have a limited amount of space, but know we appreciate all that has been done to help the youngest Oklahomans over this past year.
 
I first want to start by thanking our staff.  We have had some staffers move on to other positions, but each has played a key role in helping elevate OICA into the organization that it now is.  Our current team has put in many hours over the past month to ensure that OK Foster Wishes comes to a successful conclusion this week, as well as working to finalize our daily desktop calendar, complete our end of year mailing to thank our donors and wrap up the work before we start a new year.  Our team, both full-time employees and contract workers, each play a vital part of our overall mission and I am thankful to have worked this past year with each of them.
 
I also want to thank our board members, including those who will be stepping down due to their term limit.  Our board is an all-volunteer organization and at the last meeting, we elected new members to step in to continue the mission.  When I was hired in 2016, we had nine board members who were dedicated to seeing the change come about for OICA to return to our advocacy roots and maximize the impact we have on Oklahoma’s children.  I am grateful the board members have allowed me the opportunity to take our organization back to that original focus and I fully expect great things to happen with our new board members who will begin their duties on January 1.  I am also appreciative of the applicants who have agreed to serve on committees to assist the organization with our various programs through the year.
 
The many volunteers and donors who have given their time and resources have made it all possible for the advocacy work done at the capitol and within the state agencies, for supporting the various trainings, programs and tasks which our staff has implemented, and for directing our mission specifically to improve the lives of Oklahoma’s children.  If it were not for the many people who are a part of Team OICA, there is no way our staff and board could show the success of providing fulfillment of 4,200 wish lists for foster children, of holding an annual forum with nearly 50 policy suggestions for lawmakers and agencies, for leading a task force to bring awareness to Adverse Childhood Experiences, and for serving as the umbrella organization for the many youth programs that need assistance in formulating, shaping and implementing policy to assist with their own work.
 
Finally, I want to thank those who read and share this column, whether it be through your local newspaper or through our weekly email sent to more than 29,000 Oklahomans.  By sharing the ideas we discuss here, you are doing your part to better educate yourself on the issues impacting our children, as well as sharing that information with your friends.  Thanks especially to the local newspapers who run this column each week to help!
 
So, to our readers and their families, our volunteers and advocates, lawmakers, and anyone who spends their time and resources to make Oklahoma better for our children: thank you for what you do, and let’s get ready for a great 2019!