By Mindy Ragan Wood
The fifth annual Center of Family Love’s Gift of Love Gala brought thankful residents of the center together with the patrons who support them
Malcomb Tubbs, FOX 25 news anchor and Oklahoma City Thunder emcee, was the master of ceremonies last Friday at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
“We have a very unique and rare occasion tonight,” Tubbs said. “We are incredibly blessed to not only be surrounded by not only many of God’s most faithful servants, but this is one of the only events where we have the honor of recognizing four of the most influential Catholic leaders in the state, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, Bishop Dave Konderla, Bishop Emeritus Eusebius Beltran and Bishop Emeritus Edward Slattery. Thank you for giving us 168 years of combined service in leading the churches in our state.”
The Center of Family Love (CFL) in Okarche serves adults with intellectual disabilities through group home care and their vocational work programs. It is financially supported by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization. The gala raised $860,940 through silent and live auctions, cash prize drawings and tickets to the dinner.
Tubbs said the center is close to his heart as his sister, Hannah Grace, is a special needs adult who just graduated high school.
“She’s our grace and love,” Tubbs said. “She’s a light in our family and always has a positive attitude with us and anyone she comes into contact with. She’s the center of our family and the center of the room wherever she goes.”
The center cares for Brian Senn who attended the gala with his sisters Cheryl Yost and Maegan Yost.
“They take very good care of him,” Cheryl Yost said. “It’s reassuring to know that he wants to go back to the center. He comes home on the weekends but he can’t wait to get back.”
Senn is the son of a founding member of CFL who started working in the greenhouse and flower shop at the center and now works at the recycling worksite. He was diagnosed with Downs Syndrome, a heart defect when he was born and later overcame leukemia. Senn proudly took the stage with CFL Executive Director Debbie Espinosa to draw the winning names for cash prizes.
Special patrons of the center were recognized and included Pat Loosen, of Okarche, who received the Harold J. Wittrock Humanitarian Award. Loosen was one of the initial founders of CFL, served as a board member and her family donated a large portion of the land where the center is located. Loosen dedicated herself to fundraising for the center.
“I think we have to be aware and never be afraid that these are God’s children,” Loosen said. “There is a reason that we have to get involved, not just come one time for a gala and entertain ourselves or have a lovely dinner, but to be informed and educated. Come out and visit the center. This is a joyful time and have hope. This can happen to any of us, to have a child with a handicap and the reality captures us all. Come and visit, don’t be afraid. It’s a place of joy, friendship and lots of bear hugs.”
Bishop Emeritus Edward Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa received the Carol and Bill Brown Outstanding Community Ambassador Award for his charity work with the poor all over the state.
Espinosa said the center is a place where residents receive Christ-centered care that demonstrates the value of human life.
“I think the CFL shows the value, the dignity and the pride that these individuals have and the gift that they can share as well,” she said.
Each year CFL provides residents with $138,059 in medical care, $227,136 in food. It spends almost $200,00 on maintenance, $149,000 maintaining vehicles, and $218,000 on utilities. Residents earned a total of $167,775 at CFL jobs. The cost to house a resident in group homes is $23,597 per year. The center raises $1.5 million annually.