For The Children Weekly Column

It’s Time for Chili and Advocacy!

Each year, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) holds an Advocacy Day at the State Capitol to promote awareness of children’s issues before the Legislature.

These ideas come from what lawmakers file as legislation, or issues which might arise from state agency work. Sometimes, there are issues which come down from the federal level or which might arise from local issues faced by child-serving organizations.

OICA was created because of a lawsuit filed by teenage plaintiffs suing the state for the conditions which they faced in the custody of the state. Through the years, that lawsuit and others filed have brought changes to the system which moved from overly punitive with cruel conditions. Now, children in state custody have opportunities for effective therapeutic care, wrap-around systems which help provide mental health care and support services, and trained workers who truly attempt to help right the wrongs in which these children have often endured.

Our organization, while we send weekly newsletters to those who are signed up to receive them and share this column to help raise awareness and encourage people to act, cannot do it with just the five staff members that we have on our team. We have generous donors who help fund our $750,000 annual budget, but even then, our resources are limited to the work we do in monitoring legislation, running the grants work which we receive, holding our two annual conferences for advocates, and operating as a state affiliate for the national Kid Governor® program.

No, our staff and the resources we receive cannot do it all; we also need advocates who will reach out to their elected officials, who will volunteer to help encourage better policies by sharing their lived experiences, and those who will even consider running for office to fix problems within the systems of operation.

Our annual Advocacy Day helps individuals connect with lawmakers to share ideas and allows lawmakers the opportunity to hear from these individuals who “are in the trenches” of child-serving work.

Overlapping with this Advocacy Day, we hold a chili cook-off for entrants to have fun while also working for better policies. We set up on the back row of the south State Capitol parking lot for this event and lawmakers serve as the judges for the best themed entry. We have members of the Oklahoma Judicial Branch and Capitol reporters serve as the chili judges, and the voting for people’s choice is done with donations from individuals choosing their favorite chili.

This year, the donations from the people’s choice voting will be split between the Donna Nigh Foundation for developmentally disabled Oklahomans and the fund established as a memorial for Cathy Cummings to pay off school lunch debts. The theme of the cook-off and Advocacy Day this year is dedicated to Cathy and her work to raise awareness about hunger and feeding programs for young Oklahomans.

There are several ideas being discussed at the Capitol for ways to reduce hunger in Oklahoma, including acceptance of federal funds (the taxes we already pay to Washington as Oklahomans, which should come back to our state instead of going elsewhere) for summer feeding support systems. Additionally, a number of Oklahoma school districts qualify for Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) support which would feed a greater number of children in school districts with higher poverty levels.

Best of all, it is free to attend, so please join us for great chili and to use your voice to promote better policies which benefit Oklahoma’s children. If you would like to be a cooker (also free), please go to to sign up!