OKLAHOMA CITY – During its recently concluded annual Fall Forum meeting, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) announced four winners of two awards recognizing excellence in child advocacy and philanthropy. Nominations for the awards were made online by members of the public. From those nominations, a committee of child advocates selected this year’s winners.
Three individuals were selected for the Steven A. Novick Child Advocacy Award:
- Kevin Evans, executive director of Western Plains Youth & Family Services (WPYFS);
- Clotiel Howard, chief executive officer and founder of Hope for the Future, a nonprofit supervised visitation center; and
- Mark Mann, vice president of the Board of Education for Oklahoma City Public Schools and co-founder of the Onward Oklahoma Foundation.
The award is named for Steven A. Novick, legal counsel for the children who brought forth the “Terry D” lawsuit against the State of Oklahoma. His effort to represent those children improved conditions of Oklahoma youth in state care. It was in the aftermath of the “Terry D” lawsuit that OICA was created.
Jena Nelson, Oklahoma’s 2020 Teacher of the Year is the recipient of the Laura Choate Resilience Award. The award bears the name of a lifelong advocate for Oklahoma children and the first recipient of the Resilience Award. As a youth, she was a plaintiff in the “Terry D” lawsuit.
Evans was cited for his work with Western Plains Youth & Family Services. His nomination noted that when he began at the organization, it was “broke.” Evans took the organization “from that point to become the only mental health organization in the region that is capable of delivering the full range of mental health services to troubled young people & their families in northwest Oklahoma.”
“It is an honor for me to receive this award,” Evans said. This award is especially meaningful because of the great work and leadership that OICA provides in advocating for the hundreds of thousands of children all across Oklahoma. Receiving this award will make advocating for the children more meaningful as all of us continue to work together to make the lives of our young people better.
“It is with great appreciation that I accept this award. I thank the board members and staff of Western Plains Youth & Family Services for delivering the services that are the result of our advocacy.”
Howard’s work founding and leading Hope for the Future, a natural, safe, family-friendly homelike environment where families can engage in quality visitation and interaction, was why she was honored.
“I am so grateful for this acknowledgement of the work we have done,” Howard said. “There is no greater calling that to make the lives of our children better, and that is our goal here at Hope for the Future. My thanks to OICA and its members for helping to lead the charge for a better future for Oklahoma’s children.”
Mann, in his brief time on the board, has gained a reputation as an advocate for increased school funding, public transparency for school finances, and as an advocate for students. Recognizing the role volunteers can play in improving a community, he has served several local organizations and causes, including the Oklahoma State School Boards Association and Oklahoma Lawyers for Children, a non-profit organization assisting children with legal representation and educational advocacy. He is a board member for Oklahomans Alliance for Healthy Families.
Mann said he was honored to be recognized by OICA. “As a father of two, and as a member of the OKCPS Board of Education I’ve been afforded the opportunity to see firsthand the needs of Oklahoma children and am privileged I have been able to advocate and make a difference for those kids on a daily basis,” he said. “Everyone can play a positive role in life of a child, and I encourage everybody to do so.”
Nelson, the Choate Resilience Award winner and a native of Broken Bow, survived abuse and childhood trauma. Her life was changed by an educator who helped overcome that trauma. Following in her mentor’s footsteps, she became an educator and in 2020, she was named Oklahoma’s Teacher of the Year. Nelson has made it her mission to continue her mentor’s legacy of helping and educating the children of Oklahoma. Her students have earned more than $4 million in scholarships.
Nelson said she is honored and humbled to receive the Laura Choate Resilience Award from the OICA. “Like many of our children in Oklahoma, I did not grow up in a household built on love but was steeped in trauma, abuse, and mental health challenges,” she said.
“I was helped by a gifted teacher and have spent my life continuing my mentor’s legacy. I believe that we cannot be complacent in our empathy nor our advocacy when it comes to the wellbeing of our children, and I will continue to advocate on their behalf so that they can find success in their own lives.”
“The winners of these awards represent something special about those who fight for Oklahoma’s children,” said Joe Dorman, OICA’s CEO. “Steven Novick dedicated much of his legal career to improve the lives of youth in state custody. Laura Choate was one of those for whom Steven fought and she has dedicated her life to that same cause. Our four winners continue that spirt of service set by the awards’ namesakes.”