Oak Studio – A Best Buy Teen Tech Center at Mainframe, Powered by Wellpoint

Oak Studio | A Best Buy Teen Tech Center at Mainframe, Powered by Wellpoint

Welcome to Oak Studio | A Best Buy Teen Tech Center at Mainframe, open to ALL metro-area teens ages 13-21! Drop in any time. It is free to use the equipment and resources available. Adult mentors are available to assist if you need.

A member of The Clubhouse Network, Oak Studio is loaded with cutting-edge technologies – including tools to help youth explore music and vocal production, audio engineering, digital media, robotics, drones, augmented and virtual reality, 3D printing, graphic design, sewing, engraving and more! Within the space, teens are able to participate in collaborative and individual projects, training and workshops.

In addition, Oakridge was awarded the opportunity to join Best Buy Foundation’s Career Pathways program. Career Pathways is available to tech center teens who will have the opportunity to vie for one of six internships in a STEAM field. 


Monday – Friday    1:00 – 6:00 pm


Mainframe Studios

900 Keosauqua Way


Des Moines, Iowa


Contact Us

To participate or volunteer

Derek Frank – Teen Tech Center Coordinator

Emmet Phillips – Career Pathways Facilitator


Oakridge Neighborhood: Serving Our Refugee and Immigrant Neighbors

Oakridge Neighborhood: Serving Our Refugee & Immigrant Neighbors

Over 70 percent of Oakridge Neighborhood’s residents are refugees and immigrants, a community of people gaining stability while preparing for the next step in their life’s journey. We are uniquely suited to providing our neighbors not only quality housing but also supportive programs, essential services that help them succeed and become economically independent in their quest to enjoy a secure and happy life.

Learn more here.

James Turner: Oakridge Neighborhood was “Family”

James Turner: Oakridge Neighborhood was "Family"

James Turner recalls a story from his childhood at Oakridge Neighborhood.

“I was on a bike and I tried to jump a dumpster. I cracked my head. Neighbors I didn’t know took me to the hospital. It was like that…a strong, positive community and safe. Everyone stuck together.”

Turner came to Oakridge Neighborhood as a child with a single mother. It was tough, he says, but now a grandfather, he looks back fondly on his years here.

“There was a sense of family right away. Sister Margaret Toomey embraced us. It felt good to be there.

“My mom worked hard. We were at Oakridge six or seven years and were able to move out, but she didn’t want to leave the support and what felt like family. It was a great place to start, to bring your family and build it up.

Turner went to North High School, where he excelled in athletics. “I gained a lot of confidence growing up in Oakridge because I saw a lot of tough times but people believed in me.”

Now Turner is in the position to pass along confidence and belief in others, not only as a father who worked to teach his own children to be “respectful and honest” but also through his career with Des Moines Public Schools, where he’s served for over 20 years. As an associate at Weeks Middle School, “I really like communicating with kids and giving them guidance and positive advice.”

He is undoubtedly making an impact on numerous students, in the same way Oakridge Neighborhood changed his life. “Oakridge impacted my life tremendously…the commitment people had to us meant the world to us. I will never forget.”

Hear more from James here.

Oakridge Neighborhood is home for nearly 1,000 residents, with over half of those being under 18 years old. To help make a difference, donate here or please contact Kristin Littlejohn, klittlejohn@oakridgeneighborhood.org or 515 | 244-7701. 


Shoulders We Stand On

Shoulders We Stand On

President and CEO Teree Caldwell-Johnson was the keynote speaker at a special 2022 Black History Month Celebration which included Governor Kim Reynolds signing Iowa’s African American History Month Proclamation.

Here are Teree’s inspiring remarks:

Our gathering today calls us to the high ground of our ancestors that said in a purifying love that passed all understanding that nothing could keep us from each other and the sun.

It is in this – the enduring essence and spirit of Black History and the opportunity to lift up those that have both paved the way and made a way – that calls us to this time and this occasion.

I was thrilled when I received the invitation to participate in today’s celebration and asked to share a few words on today’s theme – The Shoulders We Stand On. 

Emulating History

In so many ways today’s theme emulates the history – the struggle – the resilience and the collective triumph of our people – a people brought to this country in bondage on a slave ship that docked at Port Comfort, Virginia, over 400 years ago in the year 1619.

While painful and often times uncomfortable, Black History must be acknowledged as part of American History for you to see – understanding Black History allows us to fully and completely embrace our shared history as Americans.

And celebrating it serves as a loving, humbling reminder that we stand on the shoulders of giants – giants who were not “slaves” but who were enslaved.

Giants who were both bought and brave – sold and strong.

Giants who embody what it means to be resilient; a resilience that paved the way for many shining examples of Black brilliance to emerge – indeed a level of bold and brave Black brilliance that transcends both time and circumstance.

A brilliance that allows us to stand tall and without apology claim our rightful place in history and the many accomplishments that can be attributed to Black people and the Black race.

There should be no doubt –

I – You – We – stand on their shoulders!


Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

The phrase Standing on the Shoulders of Giants was first used in 1675 by Sir Isaac Newton in a letter where he states – “If I have seen further – it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

Since then, this phrase has become a part of our lexicon and our everyday language is filled with analogies and metaphors alluding to shoulders.

Think about it:

People who are facing a hard challenge are told to “square their shoulders” – “shoulder the load” and “put their shoulders to the wheel.”

Friendly or gregarious people are ones with whom we like to “rub shoulders.”

And uncertain people “shrug their shoulders.”

While superstitious people “throw salt over theirs.”

Insensitive people “turn a cold shoulder” and proud or arrogant people have a proverbial “chip on their shoulders.”

Blunt, honest people “shoot straight from the shoulders.”

While sports heroes, after a tremendous victory or accomplishment, are “hoisted on the shoulders of their admirers.”

And finally, admirable people “stand head and shoulders above” everyone else and wise people, wise people are described as “having a good head on their shoulders.”

Have you ever thought that perhaps we have all these sayings about shoulders because so much of our everyday experience relies on either us or others having broad, flexible, strong and steady shoulders? Ones we can lean on – others that we can cry on, some that will carry us and without question – multiple sets of shoulders we can STAND ON!

I am sure that each of us can call to mind those persons in our lives upon whose shoulders we stand. For many of us this includes parents, coaches, pastors, close friends, favorite teachers, mentors, elected officials, community leaders and historical figures.

As we reflect back upon our lives, we know we would not be where we are today were it not for those “giants” who hoisted us on their shoulders and opened our eyes to new vistas of promise, possibility, and potential.

In the African American community, we celebrate the achievements of our ancestors, their legacies, and how we are connected to their work and their gifts with the phrase,” We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.”

And like a sculpture, a quilt or a colorful tapestry that is slowly crafted together, piece by piece, so are the achievements and legacies of Black people in this country.

And without waxing philosophical, perhaps it is a universal truth to say that none of us can birth an idea alone, nor nurture a school of thought without the support of many others.

The fact that we “stand on each other’s shoulders” is a representation of the ongoing and enduring oneness that spans the generations while connecting our past with our present as we position and plan for the future.

Throughout our history, certain men and women have changed us forever. Some of them are famous figures, like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman, and others are hidden heroes. It’s their struggle and strength that remind us of the rich legacies of our race and our people.

By standing on the shoulders of their greatness we too can manifest our own greatness in ways both big and small. It’s that notion of iron sharpening iron – those heroes and she-roes past and present upon whose shoulders we stand are like the silent champions who walk in our midst – testing our mettle and giving us the strength and courage to carry on.

Lessons Learned

When we stand on the shoulders of giants, I believe we stand on three things:

1. Lessons of History

2. Lessons of Others, and

3. Lessons of Experience

Let’s talk for a moment about standing on the lessons of history.

As we celebrate Black History Month in 2022, let us benefit from the perspective that history can bring. We are not yet the nation that we seek to become, but we are also not the nation we once were.

History can be considered an early warning system and our history is replete with examples of ordinary individuals making extraordinary efforts to move the nation towards racial equality.

We’ve all heard the ago-old adage: history repeating itself. When we choose to study history, we tap into the lessons of our past which provides the opportunity to avoid making the same mistakes.

Now let’s focus on “stand on the lessons of others.” Black History Month serves as both a celebration and a powerful reminder that Black History is American History, Black culture is American culture, and Black stories are essential to the ongoing story of America – our faults, our struggles, our progress, and our aspirations. Shining a light on Black History today is as important to understanding ourselves and our communities as it has ever been.

That is why it is essential that we take time to celebrate the immeasurable contributions of Black Americans, honor the legacies and achievements of generations past, reckon with centuries of injustice, and confront those injustices that still fester today.

And finally, let’s briefly talk about “standing on the lessons of experience.”

Our nation was founded on an idea: that all of us are created equal and deserve to be treated with equal dignity throughout our lives. It is a promise we have never fully lived up to but one that we HAVE never and SHOULD NEVER walk away from.

The long shadows of slavery, Jim Crow, and redlining, and the blight of systemic racism that languishes still today, holding us back from reaching our full promise and potential.

But by facing those tragedies opening and honestly, talking about it, teaching it, embracing it and working together as one people to deliver on America’s promise, we become a stronger and more perfect version of ourselves.

When and only when we lift up and stand on the lessons of history – the lessons of others – and the lessons of experience will we truly be able to validate, honor and dignify those that came before us – the heroes and she-roes on whose Shoulders We Stand On. 

Think about it – who isn’t still inspired by Martin Luther King’s oratory, commitment to racial justice, and his ultimate sacrifice?

Or by the tenacity and fortitude of William and Ellen Craft or Henry “Box” Brown, whose cleverness allowed them to escape from slavery.

And who can’t draw substance from the creativity of Madame CJ Walker or the audacity and courage of prize fighter Jack Johnson?

Who could not continue to battle hate and injustice after listening to the mother of Emmitt Till share her story of both sadness and perseverance?

When life and circumstances get in my way, I take solace in the poetry of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, or Gwendolyn Brooks.

I find comfort in the rhythms of Louie Armstrong, Sam Cook or Dinah Washington. And I draw inspiration from the anonymous slave who persevered so that the culture, Black culture, could continue.

I believe that Black History Month continues as a beacon of hope, light and inspiration in part because of the ultimate giant whose shoulders we stand on – Dr. Carter G Woodson, the found of Black History Month.

Experiencing Black History Month as Woodson envisioned it reminds us that history is not dead or distant from our lives.

Black History – and its celebration throughout February – is just as vibrant today as it was when Woodson created it in February of 1926 – 96 years ago. Black History Month helps us to remember there is no more powerful force than a people steeped in their history.

And there is no higher cause than honoring our struggle and ancestors by remembering the shoulders upon which we stand.



Mike Hill: The Mayor of Oakridge Neighborhood

Mike Hill: The Mayor of Oakridge Neighborhood

Mike Hill is known as “The Mayor of Oakridge.” It’s no wonder.

The long-time facility director at Oakridge can regularly be seen being stopped by residents to chat – about their home, the weather, or goings on in the neighborhood. People look to Mike, and he’s there for them.

“I feel real good about the place,” Mike says with pride. “I’ve spent 2/3 of my life there. I have a sense of respect for the place.”

“I look at ways I can help,” he says. “I feel good when I come in and can help touch lives of the kids and adults by providing maintenance, answering questions, talking with them.”

Like so many of those that work at Oakridge Neighborhood, Mike’s position has become more than just employment. It’s a way of life and a service to others that has become part of the fabric of Mike’s life.

A Long-Term Relationship

His relationship with Oakridge started even before Mike was old enough to have a job.

“I had family members who lived there,” Mike remembers. “It was a nice place to go, to hang out at the basketball courts. It still is.”

Mike began working at Oakridge 40 years ago, starting as a groundskeeper. Today Mike is responsible for maintaining the quality living conditions of Oakridge’s 300 Section 8 housing units, plus 30 senior living apartments at Silver Oaks.

“When I first started Oakridge was a little rough around the edges,” he says, remembering a period in the 1980s when Oakridge struggled with gang and drug activity. “The property was a work in progress, maintained but not where it should have been.

Margaret Toomey, who was a nun, was the head of it,” Mike says. “Her interest was children and their living conditions and what to do to keep the property up. She had a vision still relevant today.”

That vision included beginning to introduce some of the many wrap-around services that today distinguish Oakridge from similar housing neighborhoods across the United States. That has expanded into a robust portfolio of human service programming, including adult workforce readiness/development, family case management, financial literacy, ELL and citizenship classes, early child hood and preschool, student enrichment for children grades K-8, plus summer employment programming for 14 to 21-year-olds.

“We’ve advanced in what we have to offer,” Mike says. “We’re more than just housing, so kids can envision more for their future than they used to.”

Giving Thanks

As a result, Mike says many Oakridge residents are parents who go to work or school, thanks in part to the on-site childcare provided right on the Oakridge campus.

When they advance and make progress in life they always come back and say thank you to people that helped them,” Mike says. “Oakridge gives them a sense of hope; we give them the opportunity to know they can move on that will help them through their journey in life.

” A lot of young men and ladies looked up to the maintenance crew as father figures,” Mike says. “Many come back and thank the crew. A lot of them did really good. They got degrees and became providers for families.

“Lives change because Oakridge offers so many programs, ownership, pride,” he says. “We’re a safe, clean, loving neighborhood. Come and see us, check out our programs, talk with our residents and staff. This is a really nice place.”

Hear more from Mike here.

Employees like Mike help make Oakridge Neighborhood home for 1,000 residents, with over half of those being under 18 years old. To help make a difference, donate here or please contact Kristin Littlejohn, klittlejohn@oakridgeneighborhood.org or 515 | 244-7701. 

Amran’s Journey: From Somalia to Oakridge

Amran's Journey: From Somalia to Oakridge Neighborhood

Amran Farah’s journey from arriving in the United States 12 years ago to earning a scholarship at a prestigious university exemplifies the power of Oakridge Neighborhood in helping families gain stability while preparing for the next steps in life.

Amran was just seven years old when she fled war-torn Somalia with her parents and seven siblings. “I remember a lot about Somalia, things kids shouldn’t see,” she says.

When Amran’s family first arrived in Iowa, it was snowing and they didn’t have coats. People in Iowa didn’t look like her family. Grocery stores were an entirely new concept to the family, who’d been used to shopping in open-air markets. And only Amran’s dad knew English. “Then I started elementary it was really hard to fit in,” she says. “But I was able to learn the language pretty quickly.”

Today Amran is an incredibly accomplished young woman, who carries herself with a confidence that reflects a worldliness that surpasses her age. She has been tapped more than once to speak about her experiences with Oakridge to large groups, including community influentials and donors to the organization, and does so with ease. At the same time, she’s also very much a typical all American girl with the requisite mannerisms.

Life Changing Impact

Amran says the people at Oakridge Neighborhood, where the family settled upon arriving in the United States, were especially welcoming. For over 50 years, Oakridge Neighborhood has provided a secure, safe and affordable place for some of the city’s most vulnerable to live, plus support services to help adults and families move to sustained self-sufficiency. “What you need they will provide,” Amran says.

“I joined the youth program at Oakridge when I was 13 and it was a blessing,” Amran says. “They encouraged me to join in. They helped me believe in myself and be more confident.”

Amran has also been a part of the Youth Summer Employment Program (YSEP), a 10-week paid worksite learning and career exploration program for low-income students ages 14-21. As part of the program, Amran was selected to be a student teacher at Oakridge’s Project OASIS summer and after school program serving children in grades K-5. The experience convinced Amran that she would like to become a special education or grade school teacher. “I really love working with kids,” she says. “I’m very interested in the mind and how kids think. Seeing their growth just amazes me.”

A Natural Leader

To watch Amran leading a classroom of students, one can see that being an educator would suit her. She confidentially controls the hub of activity in a spirited room of nearly 20 students – all who clearly look up to her – leading them seamlessly through hands-on learning exercises and projects.

Amran excelled at academics at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, and earned a scholarship to Drake University, where she felt she could get the best education and still live at home. She started her freshman year in Fall 2019.

“Oakridge is a huge part of my life. Not only have they helped me with my career choice, but they have also helped my parents with whatever they needed. They help you with many aspects of your life such as emotional, financial, social and so much more,” she says. “Anyone who has been a part of Oakridge knows the impact they make on the lives of others. I can say this because I know the impact Oakridge has made on me.

“As I move toward my purpose of becoming a teacher, I’ve learned not to compromise who I am,” she says. “When things aren’t going right, I go to individuals in the youth department who tell me to dig deeper and never forget…I am destined for greatness.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Hear more from Amran here.

Oakridge Neighborhood positively impacts the lives of hundreds of students and immigrant families every year. To make a difference in the life of a student like Amran, donate here or please contact Kristin Littlejohn at klittlejohn@oakridgeneighborhood.org or 515 | 244-7701.