If you ever want to know what it feels like to hang out with an A-list celebrity, go to a Norman Walmart with former coach and OU legend Barry Switzer. This is what I learned last week when Coach Switzer generously volunteered his time and money to join the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) on a shopping spree to support OK Foster Wishes, our holiday gift drive for children in the care of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

Weaving through fans snapping pictures and asking for autographs, Coach Switzer diligently searched for items on several wish lists submitted by foster kids. After almost an hour, his cart was filled with Spiderman toys, radio-controlled monster trucks, and a healthy selection of sporting goods (mostly footballs). We were also joined by Chanse Sylvie, a junior-year safety from the Sooners who took time away from class to fill his own shopping cart, picking out headphones, Dragonball-Z DVDs and lots of Sooners gear for several lucky kids.

Together with our staff and several volunteers, we purchased several thousand dollars (generously funded by contributions collected through OKFosterWishes.org) for our “Santa Store.” We will continue to add to that impressive collection later this week when we shop in Stillwater with Larry Reece, “the voice of the OSU Cowboys,” as well as others from the OSU athletic department.

The toys we purchase, together with those donated by hundreds of participating individuals and companies, will allow us to distribute holiday gifts to thousands of Oklahoma children in foster care. We are still buying gifts, so it is not too late to donate: please go to OKFosterWishes.org to make a monetary donation and help ensure the success of our gift drive.

While we continue our work on OK Foster Wishes, we are also actively working to prepare for the 2019 legislative session. Last week was the first deadline for lawmakers to request a bill number for new legislation, and we will soon have a clearer picture on what policies and priorities our elected officials will pursue.

We greatly appreciated the many lawmakers in both parties who stepped up to file legislation related to child-wellbeing, especially those who utilized ideas and suggestions from the OICA Legislative Agenda and OICA Fall Forum. I will highlight many of those issues and legislative items over the next few weeks and into the session, which will begin the first Monday in February.  We will also be working with policy experts from around the state and nation to provide data and information to lawmakers, so they will be equipped with facts about these ideas prior to the time to vote.

We also believe in strength in numbers, so we need our readers and supporters to become more active with us in reaching lawmakers. We would like for more fans of this column to commit to support our advocacy effort in 2019. OICA will host a serious of advocacy trainings and legislative updates and we welcome you to join us for these if your time should allow.  If you are interested in more information about our trainings or updates, please go to oica.org for that information and also follow our social media for immediate updates. Through this combined effort, I am certain Oklahoma citizens can better engage and help direct better policies through the process.

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