Past President Spotlight: Dr. Brenda Lloyd-Jones

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Gusher Online spoke with past Junior League of Tulsa (JLT) President, Dr. Brenda Lloyd-Jones, to learn more about her work with the Poverty Simulationthrough OU-Tulsa and her continued commitment to the community. Dr. Lloyd-Jones is an associate professor at OU, published author, and has won numerous service awards. She has remained passionate and active in community volunteerism since serving as JLT President in 2002-03.

JLT: Share with us why you’re passionate about your work with the Poverty Simulation:

Dr. Lloyd-Jones: As a scholar and researcher, I have found that poverty is a reality for many individuals and families in Tulsa. What is more, deepening poverty is inextricably linked with rising levels of homelessness, food insecurity, health disparities, and education inequities. Unfortunately, children are particularly affected by these conditions; 24.3% of children live in poverty. Although conducting research studies on poverty and identifying the resulting findings are significant methods for ending the cycle of poverty, I have concluded empirical research is not enough.

As a Human Relations Professor at the University of Oklahoma, it is important that I go beyond lectures that provide awareness and understanding of poverty and actively involve students in practices that empower then to evaluate and change social inequalities. In the case of poverty, unless you have experienced it, it is difficult to actually comprehend the day-to-day reality of poverty.

OU-Tulsa Poverty Simulation serves as a transformative function for those interested or engaged in combatting the cycle of poverty– from policymakers to community leaders to service providers to students. The Poverty Simulation at OU-Tulsa functions as a role-playing experience that offers participants the opportunity to learn more about the realities of living in conditions of poverty. Participants enter the simulation with an assigned identity and family profile and experience one month of poverty compressed into the real time of the simulation of about three hours.  Afterward, in the debriefing, they share insights of extraordinary vividness and intensity.

It is my hope that the Master of Human Relations students will not only acquire knowledge about the human cost and emotional toil of poverty but also feel compelled to end the cycle of poverty. Students have provided feedback and have shared powerful narratives about the experience of walking in the shoes of low-income families, including single parents, people with disabilities, and senior citizens on Social Security. The OU-Tulsa Poverty Simulation has given them insight into the state of chronic crisis that consumes so many working poor families.

JLT: What other community work have you been involved in?

Dr. Lloyd-Jones: As an avid volunteer, I have immersed myself in Tulsa’s volunteer infrastructure, serving on the boards of multiple non-profit organizations. Of late and in addition to serving on the Junior League of Tulsa (JLT) Community Advisory Board, I am a board member of Retired Senior Volunteers Program (RSVP) of Tulsa. Like it or not, we all are advancing in age, and if we are granted the fortune of long life, we will eventually occupy a space within the ‘senior’ community. I enjoy linking my academic knowledge of the aging process with RSVP’s mission. The mission of RSVP is to connect volunteers (55 years and older) with meaningful community service. In this instance, examining aging from the perspective of Activity theory, I know that individuals who remain active, replacing old roles with new ones, and maintain interaction with others are best adjusted to the physical changes of aging. The good news about aging is because of the advances in medicine, health care, and nutrition, the ‘elderly’ are not only living longer than previous generations but also are doing so in reasonably good health.   

JLT: You were a League President – how did your time in JLT prepare you to serve and volunteer in other areas of your life?

Dr. Lloyd-Jones: JLT continues to be a highlight of my tenure as a community volunteer and leader. As a JLT member for many years, I was active in a number of placements including Provisional Admissions Co-Chair, which enhanced my collaborative skills and my capacity to manage a relatively large number of diverse and community-minded volunteers. Also memorable was the opportunity to represent JLT as a Service Provider and consultant for the Association of Junior Leagues International (AJLI). As a Service Provider, I attended high-quality seminar sessions acquiring competencies essential for building high-functioning Leagues, developing exceptional civic leadership, and providing powerful board governance. As a consultant, I traveled domestically and internationally providing leadership development opportunities and customized consultations to member Leagues. Through regional, national, and international meetings, I presented keynote addresses, seminars, and workshops. Additionally, I assisted with developing AJLI resources for the use of League Members and Sustainers. In each experience, I was favorably impacted by smart and supportive women–many with whom I am still in contact.

JLT’s influence is observable in my approach to supporting the non-profits boards on which I serve, engaging directly and deeply in the substantive work of the organization, providing effective governance, and offering ongoing community development opportunities (i.e., OU-Tulsa Poverty Simulation).

JLT: You’re a professor, avid volunteer, published author, and have won many awards that recognize your involvement in the community and accomplishments. What is one of your accomplishments you are most proud of?

Dr. Lloyd-Jones: Perhaps the accomplishment I am most proud of is as the founder of The Mothers Group Inc., which is a 25-year plus non-profit organization (501(c)3), and as the creator of its widely acclaimed annual educational event known as the Santa Community Project, which features a Black Santa and Mrs. Claus who promote children’s education, books, and reading. In 2014 The Mothers Group recognized 25 years of hosting this community-wide literacy event.

It all started while I was waiting in the checkout line at Rudisill Library. I overheard a child ask her mother to be taken to another part of town where her picture could be made with Santa. Citing the travel distance and the rising cost of gasoline, the mother reluctantly said no. The youngster’s heartbreak touched me, and I was moved to do something about it. Approaching the officers of The Mothers Group, I shared a simple idea: Invite Santa and Mrs. Claus to the library and create an event that would have them present to take photographs with children in the North Tulsa community. Members of the Group were enthusiastic about the idea and promptly voted for the project. Soon, the Director of the Rudisill Library agreed to have the library host the event.  In 1989, The Santa Project was born. From the beginning, standing room only crowds of children filled the library welcoming the jolly couple to North Tulsa. In addition to a free photograph with the Clauses, each child received an age-appropriate, new book, which helped to address the statewide issue of children who scored below the ‘basic’ level on national reading tests. As a university professor, I thought it important to link educational objectives to the Santa Project.

After only a few years, the Santa Project outgrew the library, and a larger facility was needed to accommodate the hundreds of excited children waiting to see Santa and Mrs. Claus. The large open spaces of the Center seemed like the perfect solution. I engaged members of The Mothers Group, and we used our circle of influence to develop a partnership between The Mothers Group and the Greenwood Cultural Center. Hence, the Greenwood Cultural Center became the new home for the Santa Community Project. The expanded space at the Cultural Center allowed The Mothers Group to showcase performances by local talented youths at the event and school and church choirs as well, which all added to the holiday cheer.

JLT: What is one of you fondest memories of JLT?

Dr. Lloyd-Jones: One of my fondest JLT memories is of receiving a JLT presidential scrapbook at the end of my term. Presenting the outgoing President with a book filled with memories of her presidential year is a long-standing JLT tradition. I could barely wait for time alone to peruse the contents of my memory book. I reviewed each of my JLT placements over 11 years (e.g., Training VC Community, Sponsor Committee, Breast Health Project, Membership Council VP). Also included in the compilation were the 2002-03 General League Meeting schedule, each issue of Pipeline, a 2002 Gubernatorial Debate announcement, Tulsa World articles describing events celebrating JLT’s 80th birthday, an article announcing JLT’s participation in the City of Tulsa’s annual Martin Luther King celebration, John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted as the featured speaker for JLT 2003 Spring Gala booklet, and tons of personal notes and pictures. I keep my scrapbook close by because it serves as a genuine source of inspiration, motivation, and pride for me as I continue to honor my purpose and passion through community service and leadership.

JLT: What is your motto or favorite quote?

Dr. Lloyd-Jones: One of my favorite quotes is: We should seize every opportunity to give encouragement, for it is oxygen to the soul. George Adams