Mayor Breea Clark and the City of Norman received a grant on June 22 to implement mobile programs that will connect impoverished families to existing health care and social services.
The Mayors Innovation Project announced 10 cities, including Norman, will receive funding and technical assistance as they work toward reducing the exposure of neurotoxins to children — which can contribute to autism, IQ loss, ADHD and cognitive delays, according to the project’s website. This grant is working alongside Healthy Babies Bright Future to create safer environments for children as they grow up.
“By addressing the social and physical determinants of health through access to healthy foods, lead abatement, and more, city leaders can play a major role in addressing children’s health disparities,” said Katya Spear, co-managing director of Mayors Innovation Project on its website. “We are excited to support these projects and the opportunity to promote them as best practices for cities across the country.”
Clark said she was introduced to the grant while networking and is honored Norman is being recognized.
“We have such amazing, talented city staff and community partners that when I threw (this) idea out there, they jumped on it,” Clark said. “It shows that we have many great ideas and when we can get the funding, that is recognized by the people who provide the grants. Being one of 10 is really cool.”
Clark proposed the creation of community access pop-up spots (CAPS) — a bi-monthly resource that will be placed in neighborhoods with consistently high levels of food insecurity, poverty and barriers to transportation and technology, according to the proposal. Its job will be to meet residents in their communities and increase awareness and access to available Norman resources through individual consultations.
“I think meeting them where they’re at is very important, as it (enables us to) … not only provide information but also build relationships with Norman citizens,” Clark said.
Staff will also provide residents with guidance regarding the necessary qualifications for local, state and federal service programs as well as education on how to reduce the neurotoxic exposure of Norman children. Topics will include healthy eating on a budget, quitting smoking and safer cleaning and disinfection methods, according to the proposal.
The Cleveland County Department of Human Services, among other organizations, plans to collaborate closely with CAPS by providing access to childcare, transportation and medical services to underprivileged families.
Despite the strong presence of community organizations throughout Norman, the geographic and economic spread of the city makes it difficult for residents to access their available services, according to the original proposal. Furthermore, COVID-19 elicited an increase in families with lower incomes, meaning more citizens now qualify for social support services.
Clark said this is an increasingly significant problem, especially for the 11.9 percent of Norman citizens who live below the poverty threshold. She said she is excited to see this program improve their overall quality of life.
“I think we have a responsibility generally based on … the local policy institute … (which) just came out with a very dismal report of the overall quality of life for children in our state,” Clark said. “It's imperative that mayors take advantage of opportunities like this — and I know this grant will really help.”
Amid the pandemic, Norman has experienced significant financial loss with the cancellation of events like graduation, OU’s spring game, the Medieval Fair and Norman Music Festival. Clark said this loss of revenue, along with a sales tax rebound, makes this resource all the more important.
“Perhaps it's my work in education at the university where I am no stranger to the process, but I'm hoping to be a mayor that taps into outside resources,” Clark said. “(Norman) has a history of taking advantage of grant opportunities in a successful way, and I believe we have the partnerships and experience to continue doing so.”
Ultimately, Clark said she hopes to see the children of Norman — who inspired her to propose this grant — gain from its benefits and continue to be a priority in the future.
“I fully believe when we invest in our residents on the front end, it actually is cost-saving in the back end,” Clark said. “My hope is we can see (through this) the benefits of having (grants) in our community … and how important it is to take care of our residents starting when they're young.”