Humble beginnings and hard work towards promising futures. That’s the dream, isn’t it? It is for Chief Accounting Officer Mark Wiltse. His own humble start is what drew him to Oakridge Neighborhood Services and is what committed him to their mission: creating pathways to success for adults, children and families by providing exceptional housing and comprehensive education and employability programs.
For over 50 years, Oakridge Neighborhood has provided secure housing and more to about 1,100 Des Moines residents, with more than half being children under the age of 18 and 90% of residents being low-income. They also offer nationally accredited early childhood care as well as programs ranging from after-school programs for youth to youth summer employment and workforce readiness training for adults.
Why does Mark support Oakridge?
For Mark, the Oakridge mission is about more than providing low-income housing — it’s about secure housing and an opportunity for residents to help their own situations. It also is the right step towards the hope immigrants and refugees are searching for. Lots of immigrant and refugee families leave their home countries, and Oakridge is a landing spot for many.
Over 66% of Oakridge residents are immigrants and refugees from 23 countries and over 29 different languages. They have even helped provide for young women, like Cecilia Awa — who migrated to the U.S. with her family when she was just six years old — as she earned her citizenship, graduated from high school and headed off to college.
Mark is drawn to the board of Oakridge for a host of reasons. He admires the leadership team at Oakridge. They don’t have a simple job, but they are talented, creative leaders who are passionate and committed to the mission. Plus, the board is actively involved in the Oakridge Neighborhood, and you’ll likely see a board member on the campus helping out any day of the week.
Overall, Mark is drawn to Oakridge because he grew up without much money but was lucky to have secure housing, access to education and support from a number of people and organizations which, he says, changed the trajectory of his life. He knows the educational piece can’t be understated because without a reasonable level of education, you’re going to be stuck. So, he got involved in a meaningful way because “there’s possibility for people regardless of where they start from.”
What would Mark say to those considering giving back to Oakridge?
“There’s lots of opportunities to get involved at Oakridge. For example, there’s a Book Buddies program where you read with the children. It’s truly a community with the needs that any community might have. If you’ve got a skill, get to know the organization and see how your skill can fit. And if you feel compelled, a little goes a long way with monetary donations. Nothing’s too small.”
What’s the annual Jazz, Jewels and Jeans event?
This fun, causal annual event provides live jazz entertainment, food and drinks, and both a silent and live auction that includes “jewels” donated by Des Moines area leaders. Participants are encouraged to wear denim and “glitz.” And all funds from this event go toward the comprehensive programs at Oakridge.
Take Mark’s word for it: This event is a “great opportunity for folks to get involved in the community to try it out.” He also suggests talking with board members and Oakridge staff to get a sense for what they do and to reflect on the passion they have for it. Mark says you can “take an evening to get to know Oakridge Neighborhood and have some fun in the meantime.”
For details on the annual Jazz, Jewels & Jeans or to learn more about Oakridge Neighborhood, visit oakridgeneighborhood.org or follow Oakridge on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.