Editor’s Note: The video for this story contains a blurring effect to conceal a child in the background who is in state care.
A backpack is sometimes more than just a much more than just a book bag; it can be a part of a child’s identity as they walk into school. A new backpack may not seem like that big of a deal, but for children who find themselves in the care of the state, it can be a bright spot as they may be facing a new school and a new family.
“The opportunity to fulfill that request [for new backpacks] for these kids that makes all of it worth it,” said Joe Dorman, the chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA), “to make sure these kids have something special going back to school.”
Hundreds of the state’s foster children and their foster families were the honored guests of the Governor and First Lady of Oklahoma for the First Lady’s Back to School Movie Night and backpack bash. The first of the events was held at Governor’s mansion in Oklahoma City. A second event was planned for Tulsa.
The OICA helped organize the event to ensure every student had a new backpack that was just as nice as any other child would be brining to the first day of school. The group also organized businesses from around the state to provide food and entertainment for the foster families. There were even free haircuts and massages to relax away those new school worries.
Dorman says the event provides some normalcy and a helping hand to foster families who volunteer their homes to take care of children who, for whatever reason, cannot be with their biological families.
“While the foster care parents have the children they are proving every aspect of a normal life, which means making sure they go to school and have all the necessities to go to school,” Dorman said.
The back-to-school party may have been hosted by Oklahoma’s First Lady, but there were two governors meeting and greeting the children.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have an amazing governor, and I’m not talking about Kevin Stitt,” Dorman explained, “I’m talking about our kid governor Luke Peterson.”
Peterson, a student at EPIC Charter Schools, was selected to serve as the Sunbeam Family Services and OICA Kid Governor. His job is to be a connection and inspiration to other children across the state.
“One of my main jobs is going to schools and I’m always told they are super respectful and listening a whole lot when I speak and I think kids can relate to another kid so much more than they can to an adult sometimes,” Peterson told the EPIC News Network.
Peterson said he loves meeting other kids in the state and talking to them about the issues affect the youth of Oklahoma; not just to point out the problems, but to offer solutions.
“My go to [advice] is always volunteering,” Peterson explained, “I’ve done a lot with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and I think whenever people think of volunteering, they think of this hard thing, but I tell them it is easy.”
“Luke, is an EPIC student, and has really dove into this job and provided that spark of what we had hoped we would have with a kid governor,” Dorman said, “Going around and serving as an inspiration speaking to different school groups and encouraging his peers to get involved and follow suite.”
One of the perks of being the kid governor, was getting to meet the elected Governor of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt. The Governor took a moment to talk with his kid counterpart and paused for photos as he took in the back-to-school party.
“I was so honored, kid governor and real governor, maybe we can partner together and do something, that was so nice,” Peterson said.
Peterson said he hopes his role as kid governor will inspire the next generation of leaders, who he said he might have just met among the crowd celebrating the children of Oklahoma preparing to go back to school.