United Methodist church women bearing wrapping paper, candy, cookies and bows recently descended upon a small building in south Oklahoma City like elves anxious to get to their North Pole workshop.

The “Santa Operation” had officially begun.

Methodist women from across the state wrapped gifts, filled jars with candy, stuffed stockings, created holiday cards and baked cookies — all to be delivered to individuals and families served by the Neighborhood Services Organization (NSO).

Stacey Ninness, the nonprofit’s president and chief executive director, said Neighborhood Services Organization was founded and operated by Oklahoma United Methodist Women for many years. Although the two entities are now separate, the women’s group has continued to help support the nonprofit, which is now a United Way agency, she said.

The annual Santa Operation, a half-day Christmas service project, provides the women with an opportunity to offer aid in a personal and fun way, Ninness added.

Many of them wrapped, stuffed and baked holiday items at the office, 431 SW 11, while others traveled to decorate the agency’s supportive living centers to provide a bit of Christmas cheer to the residents.

“Not only are we getting ready for Christmas festivities here, but we’re also connecting people to our mission,” Ninness said.

Nancy Koplowitz, a member of McFarlin United Methodist Church in Norman, baked chocolate chip cookies in the NSO kitchen so that other volunteers could fill gift boxes with the sweet treats.

“We come every year to help them get ready for Christmas,” she said. “It’s one of the things that we do as United Methodist Women because our aim is to to serve.”

Christmas at the door

Ninness and NSO communications director Amber Brooks said the Santa Operation brings Christmas literally to the doorsteps of individuals and families participating in the agency’s programs.

These include: Martha’s House, which provides temporary housing for homeless families; Gatewood, a transitional living program for single mothers who are pregnant or have a child five or younger; the Carolyn Williams Center which provides a temporary home for young men 18 and older who have aged out of the foster care system or living on the streets; and Palo Duro living centers for adults with mental illness.

In addition to the gifts, candy, cookies and stocking that were to be distributed at the agency’s annual Christmas party, some United Methodist Women members spread out into the community to add garland, ornaments and wreaths to decorate the living centers for the holidays.

Chris Massey, a member of Chapel Hill United Methodist, said she was part of a group that decorated at Palo Duro.

“We decorated the tree, and we put wreaths on the windows,” she said. “It was amazing. I don’t think you can do something like this without being touched.”

Glenda Gilpin, of Hooker Methodist Church in Hooker, will be the new president of Oklahoma United Methodist Women come Jan. 1.

During the recent Santa Operation activities, she sat with a group of women filling stockings for young men living in NSO’s Carolyn Williams Center with items like men’s cologne and shower gel, trail mix, socks, hand towels and hats and gloves.

She said many of the winter wear items were hand made by United Methodist Women while others items, such as children’s coloring books and toy cars for children’s stockings, were donated.

Gilpin said Neighborhood Services Organization was started in 1920 when a group of Oklahoma United Methodist Women decided to pass a hat around to gather funds for needy families in the community.

“It was women seeing the need and stepping up,” she said.

Not much has changed since then, she noted, as busy women all around her filled boxes with cookies, placed gifts in bags and made Christmas cards designed to bring holiday cheer to the recipient.

Santa Operation 2016 — mission accomplished.

OKC Beautiful is partnering with NSO’s Carolyn Williams Center through the
OKC Harvest Program

OKLAHOMA CITY (Nov 9)- Neighborhood Services Organization is partnering with OKC Beautiful and the OKC Harvest program to educate and impact the lives of the young men living at NSO’s Carolyn Williams Center.

Volunteers with Blue Cross and Blue Shields along with the NorthFace Store built a four-bed garden at CWC that provides fruit and vegetables year round for the residents who live there. According to OKC Beautiful, of the 26 gardens they’ve helped build, NSO’s garden is one of the top producers thanks to the care provided by the staff and residents.

“We are so grateful for the opportunity to partner with OKC Beautiful and OKC Harvest to teach our residents about eating healthy and working together,” said Stacey Ninness, President and CEO of NSO. “Our residents love having the garden. They tell us that caring for the garden is a very calming activity for them.”

NSO’s Carolyn Williams Center provides a two-year transitional housing program and a 90-day emergency shelter to homeless young men ages 18-23. The residents who live there receive essential life skills classes, such as preparing meals, so they can learn to live independently.

“We hope the residents are perfecting their gardening skills and then enjoying and preparing wonderful meals with the fresh, healthy produce,” said Lisa Synar, CEO of OKC Beautiful. “OKC Beautiful looks forward to working on additional garden projects with NSO.

OKC Beautiful’s goal is to have a positive impact on the economic viability of our community. Their mission is to improve the image and appearance of Oklahoma City through beautification programs and community engagement. NSO’s mission of transforming lives and encouraging independence through safe, healthy homes, dental care and nutrition, is a great compliment to OKC Beautiful’s mission, making them a natural community partner.

OKLAHOMA CITY (July 8) – Neighborhood Services Organization’s dental clinic manager, Laura Gutierrez, was awarded a certificate for Nonprofit Management through the Nonprofit Management Certification Program. Gutierrez was among the 25 students who participated in the six-month professional development program. According to the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, Gutierrez accumulated 36 hours of Continuing Professional Education in the following content areas: Leadership Essentials, Managing Support for the Organization, Managing Budgets and Leading Meetings, Human Resources, Conflict Management and Diversity, and Coaching as Supervision.

“Participating in the course was a wonderful opportunity,” Gutierrez said. “The course has great instructors who give continued support and the topics were extremely relevant to every day nonprofit life. I am very proud to have been selected and I can’t wait to put my new skills to use in our office.”

Oklahoma City (June 10) – Neighborhood Services Organization had the unique opportunity to host Chef Ryan Lopez for a cooking class at the Carolyn Williams Center on Monday, June 6. The young men who live there were able to join in and learn how to make his amazing coconut corn curry sause along with fresh salmon and summer vegetables.

Chef Ryan Lopez is the personal chef of Kevin Durant and the corporate chef for Swadley’s Bar-B-Q. He has become extremely involved in the OKC community and has already asked to come back for another class.

“Those kids just need more people to come in and show them some love that’s all,” said Lopez. “I hope the kids and staff all had as much fun as I did.”

The Carolyn Williams Center is a housing program and emergency shelter that serves young men, ages 18-23, most of whom come directly from foster care or youth shelters. With NSO, they get help finding jobs, take weekly life skills classes, share chores and learn how to live independently to ensure their future self-sufficiency. The Carolyn Williams Center is the only housing program of its kind in region.

Please visit nsookc.org for more information on Neighborhood Services Organization. You can find more information about Chef Ryan Lopez on his website chefrl.com.