National Education Association for the Education of Young Children Press Release

Oakridge Neighborhood

Contact: Kristin Littlejohn

515.244.7702 Ext. 136



Oakridge Neighborhood Services Earns Accreditation for Oak Academy from the National Association for the Education of Young Children


DES MOINES, IA, Mar. 14, 2018- Oakridge Neighborhood Services in Des Moines has received accreditation from The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), a professional membership organization that works to accredit early childhood programs. NAEYC provides a more reliable and accountable accreditation system along with encouraging the field of early childhood education to strive for a new level of excellence since 1985.

NAEYC evaluation of Oakridge Neighborhood Services includes a thorough review of the physical facility and quality of patient care. NAEYC interviews both staff, parents, and students while conducting a review of organizational documents, including records of children care.

“We are extremely pleased to have achieved this designation,” states Teree Caldwell-Johnson, CEO of Oakridge Neighborhood Services. “Accreditation is a rigorous process, but one that we welcome as a continuous quality improvement mechanism. Earning NAEYC accreditation is another measure of our excellence as a premier provider of child care and early enrichment education and reflects our commitment to our children and their families.”

Founded in 1926, NAEYC is a large nonprofit association representing early childhood education teachers, para-educators, center directors, trainers, college educators, families of young children, policymakers, and advocates and primarily focuses on improving the well-being of young children, with particular emphasis on the quality of educational and developmental services for children from birth through age 8.

Oak Academy provides high-quality child care and early enrichment education to an ethnically and culturally diverse group of infants and toddlers and prepares preschoolers to enter kindergarten ready to learn and on a level playing field with other children in their respective classes. The Academy utilizes the research-based Creative Curriculum, which is based on principles of child development, individualized for each child and incorporating culturally relevant practices.  Academy staff addresses the needs of the whole child by supporting their social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development in a safe child-friendly environment where they encounter daily experiences that mirror their ethnic and cultural backgrounds and those of their classmates.

“Receiving accreditation is a significant achievement, one that recognizes outstanding performance by Oak Academy,” says Bethany Davis, Oak Academy Director. “The employees should be commended for their commitment to providing quality care to the children. They are a huge part of the process since they are the ones being observed during the site visit.  They are also responsible for their classroom portfolios as well as their knowledge of policies, procedures, curriculum, and assessment,” says Davis.



Oakridge Resident Becomes US Citizen

During a time of heightened anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, more than 14,000 immigrants across the country became America’s newest citizens. One of the 14,000 immigrants is 18 year old, Cicilia Awa, an Oakridge Neighborhood resident.

Awa came to the states in 2006 with her family, just a year after the Second Sudanese Civil War had ended, at the age of six. Little did she know that would be the last time she would see her grandmother and other extended family members for 12 years.

Like most refugees and immigrants, Awa and her family came to the United States hoping for a better life and more opportunities. While living in the US, Awa and her family are living a better life and do indeed have more opportunities; however, the opportunities were limited due to the fact she was not a US citizen. This is why it was important for Awa and her family to get their US citizenship.

On August 16th, 2018 Awa had her Citizenship ceremony surrounded by family and close friends.

“I’m so proud of her,” said Awa’s mother, Ms. Nyibol Dhol, “I’m so happy for her, she deserves it.”

Being a legal citizen brings Awa freedom. Freedom to vote, freedom to voice her opinions, and freedom to travel. Freedom to travel is something most take for granted. Awa hasn’t seen her grandmother and other extended family members in 12 years.

“The first thing I’m going to do is visit my grandmother,” said Awa cheerfully. “I finally have this freedom, so I’m going to use it! I realize it’s hard, but as long as you study and put all your mind into it, you can pass the citizenship test.”

Now at the age of 18, Awa is a high school graduate, currently enrolled at DMACC, has a job as a CNA at Broadlawns, and is now a U.S. Citizen. After some well deserved traveling, Awa plans to finish her two years at DMACC and continue her studies at the University of Iowa to receive her BSN in Nursing.

Oakridge is proud to have helped Ms. Awa through her journey here in the states and is proud of all the things she is set out to do!



Luke Elzinga, Communications and Advocacy Manager, 515-277-6969 x10

Mobile Food Pantry site launches at Oakridge Neighborhood

DES MOINES, Iowa (August 16, 2018)— Beginning next Monday, August 20, the DMARC Mobile Food Pantry will be on-site in the Oakridge Neighborhood near the basketball courts from 12:00-2: 00 pm every third and fourth Monday of the month. Oakridge Neighborhood is located just north of United Point/Methodist Hospital on the northeast corner of Center and Crocker Streets.

“Hunger happens 365 days of the year, and it happens for thousands of individuals right here in Polk County,” said Oakridge Neighborhood CEO Teree Caldwell-Johnson. “This Oakridge and DMARC partnership will bring the Mobile Food Pantry to the nearly 1,200 residents of our neighborhood.”

The addition of the site at Oakridge brings the total number of sites the DMARC Mobile Food Pantry visits to 15. Since its launch in July 2016, the DMARC Mobile Food Pantry has assisted thousands of people in Greater Des Moines living with food insecurity.

“We are definitely bringing the pantry to the people,” said DMARC Mobile Food Pantry Manager Joe Dolack, “we are fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with Oakridge.” 

The DMARC Mobile Food Pantry was made possible by the Polk County Board of Supervisors and the Partnership for a Hunger-Free Polk County. Special thanks to Stivers Ford Lincoln, Schneider Graphics, Snappy’s Trailer Store, H&H Trailers, and two individual bequests.



The Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) is an interfaith organization with a core membership of nearly 130 congregations from four faith traditions working together to meet basic human needs for the greater Des Moines community.

The DMARC Food Pantry Network consists of 14 partner pantry sites, 15 Mobile Food Pantry locations, two food warehouses, and numerous community partners. The DMARC Food Pantry Network is committed to providing healthy food options and fresh produce to the people we assist. Once per calendar month, people can select a three-day supply of food from any one of our partner food pantries, and AnyTime Items are available whenever our partner pantries are open. Last year, DMARC assisted more than 50,000 unique individuals living with food insecurity in Greater Des Moines.

DMARC could never do the work of feeding so many people without the partnership of many, diverse faith communities. Nearly 200 faith communities from across the religious spectrum support DMARC with cash support, donations of food, and service. Because we can do so much more together than we can on our own, DMARC has a commitment to helping our faith communities learn about one another and build relationships.

Jazz, Jewels & Jeans: Meet our Event Chairs

Now in its ninth year, Jazz, Jewels & Jeans- the signature fundraiser event to support Oakridge Neighborhood- is dazzling brighter than ever. This is due to our excellent volunteer event chairs and their committees. Busy working and planning the upcoming event we had the chance to catch up with them during one of their many meetings and ask them a few questions on why they decided to get involved.

Lana Jones-Gould
“Helping people who want to do better in their life, education, etc. I mean you can’t say no to that,” says Lana Jones- Gould event chair for Jazz, Jewels, & Jeans, when asked about why she’s involved with Jazz, Jewels & Jeans. Oakridge provides numerous different services that cater to education, workforce, etc. All the donations received in Jazz, Jewels & Jeans funds these various programs.


Mark Holub
Besides Jazz, Jewels, & Jeans being a major “fun” event, Mark Holub also enjoys the fact Jazz, Jewels & Jeans supports people in such a big way. “This event is a great fun way to raise money, engage people who don’t know anything about Oakridge Neighborhood Services and introduce them to all Oakridge has to offer, and hopefully that will help raise more money each year,” said Mark Holub, event chair for Jazz, Jewels & Jeans.


Marcia Leader Wanamaker
Marcia Leader Wanamaker has been a supporter of Oakridge Neighborhoods for years, so when asked by our CEO to co-chair Jazz, Jewels & Jean three years ago, she stepped up immediately. She’s been serving on Jazz, Jewels & Jeans ever since.
“I enjoy being involved with organizations that make a difference in the lives of everyday people,” Marcia says. “Homes of Oakridge is a bright light for those who are most vulnerable. They are committed to assisting families with all facets of day to day life, from ESL classes to rental assistance for daycare. When I think of the saying “It takes a village,” Homes of Oakridge is top of my mind.” adds Wanamaker, event chair for Jazz, Jewels & Jeans.

Jazz, Jewels & Jeans is scheduled for Friday, September 14th starting at 6 PM. During the event, guests will have the opportunity to listen to the sounds of smooth jazz, nibble hors-d’oeuvres, and bid in a silent & live auction, along with a raffle.

For more information or to purchase tickets click here.

Lilly & the Des Moines Social Club

Every summer Oakridge Neighborhood provides employment opportunities for low-income high schoolers, including ten weeks of paid, part-time experience at nonprofit and public agencies. The Youth Summer Employment Program (YSEP) has immediate benefits- staying busy and earning a paycheck- but countless long-term benefits as well: YSEP participants know the value of work, the value of giving back to the community and how academic achievement is essential to one’s career goals. This summer we decided to hear back from some of the participants and see what they learned throughout the summer and how they have benefited from the program.


“I spent the summer working as an intern at the Des Moines Social Club under the direction of Brand Watkins, their Director of Development. The first day I remember feeling a combination of nervousness, anxiety, and excitement, mainly because this was my first job! From that first day forward, I learned how to do a variety of tasks, such as: working with spreadsheets, researching marketing information, proofreading pamphlets, filing, and even painting.

Coming into the Des Moines Social Club without any previous job experience, I expected to discover and learn how to develop work skills, as well as hot to handle particular information. For example, I have learned how to successfully and proficiently conduct research on surrounding organizations situated in Des Moines, how to nearly organize information, so it’s accessible and useful, and how to efficiently and professionally set-up workspaces for incoming guests and performance groups. However, although I learned several valuable skills that will help me in the future at other jobs, I also indirectly absorbed other important social and life lessons. For instance, I learned what to do and how to handle situations when clients or guests approached me with question or concerns. I also learned how to be socially respectful and believe appropriately in an office setting with coworkers and supervisors; and maybe most importantly, I grasped how vital it is to always have a positive attitude with everyone–both in and out the office.

Working at the Des Moines Social Club has prepared me for future employment and career opportunities. Now, I can converse with strangers and coworkers in a professional manner while maintaining eye contact the entire time! Plus, I gained experience with various technology tools that companies currently use, as well as a new sense of appreciation for the arts and how they truly impact the Des Moines community. Leaving the Social Club will be sad, but I will be able to leave with a fresh perspective and a better sense of how non-profit organizations operate and thrive.

I want to thank Oakridge for giving me the opportunity to work with such amazing people at the DMSC in the heart of Des Moines. Oakridge not only gave me an opportunity to earn my first real paycheck this summer, but they also gave me the chance to discover what kind of career I might want to pursue in the future. Thanks, Oakridge, for allowing me to embark upon this astounding journey with a talented group of helpful individuals to help me along the way.”



Levo & the City of Des Moines Public Information Office

Every summer Oakridge Neighborhood provides employment opportunities for low-income high schoolers, including 10 weeks of paid, part-time experience at nonprofit and public agencies. The Youth Summer Employment Program (YSEP) has immediate benefits- staying busy and earning a paycheck- but countless long-term benefits as well: YSEP participants know the value of work, the value of giving back to the community and how academic achievement is important to one’s career goals. This summer we decided to hear back from some of the participants and see what they learned throughout the summer and how they have benefited from the program.


“This summer I had the opportunity of working for the City of Des Moines, in their communications office. I had the chance to learn first hand what communications is all about. For example, I learned the customer the City of Des Moines is trying to reach is us! I learned the best way for us to communicate with the people of Des Moines is to get them more involved in what’s going on. I learned the city offers many resources such as:

  • City Source– The City of Des Moines’ quarterly Newsletter
  • DMTV 7- The City of Des Moines’ cable channel
  • And so much more!

I also learned the importance of teamwork. For the communications office to run smoothly, we must connect with the other offices such as parks & recreation, Public works, housing services, and much more. We are the voice for all the other offices.

This position has prepared me for the future because I had the chance to work with teams and learned how to be a good team player. Lastly, I also had the chance to further my public speaking and communicate my thoughts better.

I appreciate Oakridge for giving me this opportunity. Letting me experience the business world and how it works, I truly enjoyed it. It was nice to learn a lot from them. I would also like to thank the City of Des Moines. Having an internship at my age doesn’t happen very often which is why I am forever grateful. I will take this internship as the shaping of the beginning of my career.”



JULY 17th, 2018– We are so proud of Amran Farah for her recognition from Principal Financial Group at the recent Charity Classic. She is truly a Kid’s Champion! To celebrate the big occasion Amran wrote a piece on what the recognition meant to her. Make sure to read the passage below!

“The cost of college is unimaginable. There were many times I would look at the expenses of college and look down upon myself because I knew there was no way I could pay an amount that large. Even with that voice inside my head I knew, I would not let anything stop me from reaching my number one goal, which is to become a teacher. Now, with the help of Principal, I have some money that goes toward my college fund.

Walking through the Wakonda Club doors Saturday, June 9th, 2018 I had no idea I would be leaving that day with money to help me on my journey to college. When I first arrived, I met with Sara Terpstra, the Foundation Program Coordinator at Global Community Relations. She led me to a room where I was then greeted with Mr. Vernon and Teree Johnson. We had a great time over lunch, taking plenty of photos and discussing many stories. Later in the lunch, my family and I were approached by Sara again; she called us outside where I was awarded a laptop computer and a generous contribution to my college education funds. I have NEVER been more grateful than I was on that day. To share that moment with everyone I love and admire around me was one of the best feelings. This moment reminded me of a quote I heard by businessman and columnists Harvey Mackay “None of us got to where we are alone. Whether the assistance we received was obvious or subtle, acknowledging someone’s help is a big part of understanding the importance of saying thank you.” Without the help of my parents, Principal, and Vernon & Teree Johnson I would not be where I am today. Thank You.”