by Bobby “Trae” Trousdale, 2020 summer intern, OKCNP

I have had the opportunity to work as a student professional in Oklahoma City University’s Office of Advancement for the past year. Being a part of that team hallmarks some of my favorite memories and most impactful professional experiences. Slowly but surely, each mentor and member of that department began to open my eyes to a possible future in purpose-driven work and nonprofits. Of course I still dreamed of status symbols and early retirement, but day by day my “G-Wagon-want” faded into a deeper want of expanded representation and systemic change. That was solidified this summer.

Two months ago I was selected to participate in the Inasmuch Foundation’s Community Fellowship Program. As part of this program, the Inasmuch Foundation works to place fellows in organizations that align with their passion and professional goals. I applied knowing that I wanted to work with an organization that affected wide-spread change and supported other organizations in pursuing their goals. I was lucky enough to be accepted by the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits.

I was brought on to the OKCNP team as an External Affairs intern. Within my first week I had been tasked with contacting the offices of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation, drafting annual report publications, and possibly working on Marnie Taylor’s social media. I quickly discovered that the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic would alter not just my summer assignment, but my perspective and aspirations in life. By my second week on the job I had been moved from all of my initial assignments to one large project: OKCNP’s PPE Distribution. Grace, the other intern, and I were tasked with monitoring and receiving request forms, communicating with outside organizations, assisting with the logistics of receiving freight, and coordinating organizational pickup in the midst of a global pandemic. It was an undertaking. I quickly discovered that 21-hour semester loads paled in comparison to meaningful work that was urgently needed. The OKCNP staff that was physically working in the office found the time to guide and direct two interns in the midst of everything else. To them, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work alongside them and for the examples they set.

Now that our internships are completed, both Grace and I return to our campuses for our last years of college, knowing that Oklahoma’s nonprofit sector sits at a precipice. Nonprofit organizations did not close. Nonprofits across the sector continued to offer services and direct care as need expanded and funding sources dwindled. The full effects of the pandemic are not yet evident. We only know that change is coming. Grace and I also know that we will be looking to enter the sector at an unprecedented time. This has not dissuaded my hope for the future though.

Oklahoma’s resiliency is historic and unquestionable. The Native Nations we are founded on, the diverse communities of color throughout the state, the vibrant metro areas, and our deeply-rooted rural communities speak to this. It will not be easy. I am not trying to assert that. Rather, I believe that we sit at the precipice of innovation. We have an opportunity to rethink established systems and reimage what entire sectors mean to our state. The social responsibility and transparency needed by younger generations and the security and safety required by older generations can begin to form a hybrid in which all Oklahomans are united for good now and into the future. This is where I see myself working. Specifically, I hope to return to rural Oklahoma and begin addressing the lack of opportunity and its long-term sustainability. There is no “normal” for us to return to. There is only acceptance of a state in constant reactive recovery and the pursuit of proactive communities that encompass everyone. For the sector and the future of Oklahoma, I plan to pursue the latter.

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