By Morgan Taylor, Reporter
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma – All Indian Community Centers in the reservation have been under an executive order shut down since March 13, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under former Principal Chief James Floyd, the Okmulgee Indian Community Center had been placed on probation for reasons determining instability and inability to maintain the center.
Right before the executive ordered shut down the center, elections were held for the board. Virginia Thomas was elected chair of the board.
As a retired schoolteacher, Thomas ran for the chair of the board because she wanted to help.
“I’m in the retirement age, I don’t need to do this. I wanted to do this,” Thomas said.
Just days after the new board was put into place, Principal Chief Hill put the Nation under a state of emergency and shut down the centers.
“We had one meeting the afternoon that we took office and that was it, the pandemic had hit,” Thomas said. “Everything was in limbo and everyone was suffering.”
“When the pandemic hit and we saw tribal members, especially community members in Okmulgee, suffering by not being able to get anything done, not knowing who turn too, we tried to step it up.”
The OIC Board members took steps of action by making new Facebook page that was more accessible to citizens and used Zoom for monthly meetings.
“I have to give the board credit. They are young, enthusiastic, and never mentioned once about getting paid,” Thomas said. “They ran for their positions because they wanted a change in their communities.
“They all have special talents.”
The OIC Board in collaboration with Cox, a grocery store located in Okmulgee, the OIC was able to serve families by giving grocery vouchers.
“This was our Treasurer Melissa Sanders idea,” Thomas said. “We presented it to the community members and they approved so we all voted on it and decided we had the funds and we needed to do this for our community.”
According the Thomas, this was when membership numbers started rising. The Board had taken it upon themselves to reach out to members on the membership list to update it and from there people were calling to join.
“After reviewing the membership list, we had planned on originally serving 150 households at one voucher of a hundred dollars,” Thomas said. “We ended up serving 272 households and expending over $28,000 on our community.”
With no events taking place during the year, the Community Center had the funds to expend, which Thomas says is equal to what would have been spent on yearly activities.
“We always had a pretty full membership before I took office and we always had a lot of people at the center but they were always the same people,” Thomas said. “Whenever we got new members they would come every once in a while but nothing long lasting.”
Thomas hopes this upswing in membership encourages citizens to remain active or sign up with their own community centers.
Currently, the OIC is off probation and is hoping to open the doors to the public in the near future.
Monthly Zoom meetings are open to the public and can be accessed by following the Okmulgee Indian Community Center 2021 Facebook page.