The Little Ax Community Center received many improvements and developments this year that county and city officials said were desperately needed in a rural part of Cleveland County.
Located at 1000 168th Ave NE, Little Ax’s Center provides residents of Cleveland County east of Thunderbird Lake with recreational and educational amenities and programs through the Norman Parks and Recreation Department.
Recent additions across the city and a grant from Oklahoma State University’s extension course program at the center are giving Little Ax residents, young and old, access to new educational and recreational activities. Gabby McGarrah, recreation coordinator for Norman Parks and Recreation, said recent efforts have been instrumental in improving the quality of life for residents of Little Ax during COVID-19.
Jason Olsen, director of Norman Parks and Recreation, said that following the retirement of the former community center coordinator last year, McGarrah has also led efforts to connect the community to different programs and resources.
“She’s done a lot of good for the community there, and we want to make sure we have a full range of programs there, and [McGarrah] does a good job with it, ”said Olsen.
One of his first efforts towards quality of life projects at the community center was to contact the town of Norman regarding fiber optic internet. She said she knew it was important for residents of Little Ax, young and old, to have free high-speed internet access.
Until January, McGarrah said WiFi at the community center was not an option. Internet access at the community center was connected to a landline through Pioneer Library Systems, which meant that upload and download speeds were so slow that some online activities were not feasible.
WiFi access has proven to be a vital resource in helping children learn outside of the classroom at a time when many students were being taught online due to COVID-19, she said. . The centre’s WiFi will serve as a resource to help those who do not have high-speed internet access at home, she added.
Olsen said that although the Oklahoma Electric Cooperative has expanded its area of fiber-optic Internet service coverage in eastern Cleveland County, not all residents, especially in the Little Ax area, are there. access.
McGarrah was able to have the Oklahoma Electric Co-op’s fiber optic internet installed in the center. Since then, she said she has run free zooming classes for kids and classes on how to surf the internet better for Little Ax residents of all ages.
McGarrah said she also created the centre’s first real after-school program for kids in kindergarten to grade five. Students benefit daily from recent additions, especially free WiFi, she said.
On weekdays after school, Little Ax school buses now stop at the center for children who participate in programming which consists of indoor games, crafts, basketball and helping out. homework.
“It was a big addition that was never an option here at Little Ax and other than child care there was nothing like it before,” said McGarrah.
In addition to help from the Town of Norman, McGarrah reached out to OSU Extension to restart a home education group that meets for classes and projects at the Little Ax Center.
After interviews with Little Ax residents and community center staff, Brenda Hill, a home and community education course instructor in Oklahoma, applied for a sewing machine grant as part of her ambassador program. .
Hill said she knew access to sewing machines and classes would be heavily used at the center.
“It’s a long way in Norman and it’s wonderful that they can have their own little community with a place to grow and a place to learn and have the equipment to do it,” Hill said.
Cleveland County Commissioner Darry Stacy said he has a long history of supporting organizations like OSU Extension that benefit the LIttle Ax center. He said he was present at the recent presentation ceremony at the center as they received the two machines.
“It was great to see a lot of people come out and be a part of this,” Stacy said. “These sewing machines will not only be used by [Oklahoma Home and Community Education Group] members, but also the general public.
But perhaps one of the most important benefits of the additions to the center is increased unity, as community members encounter common interests such as sewing and learning how to communicate better with their families online, Stacy said. .
“It’s really about the quality of life, and now people can come together and do these things together,” Stacy said.
“It’s important that these resources are available so people can go there to consult a book, pay bills, take a class or check their emails and stay in touch with friends and family,” Olsen said. “We are happy to have it on the market and plan to use it in many ways. “