Cherokee Nation breaks ground on first Head Start storm shelter


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(L-R) Cherokee Nation Cherry Tree Head Start staff TaLesha Newman, parent Cheyenne Valdez and staff Tootsie Summers, Cherokee Nation Special Projects Officer Canaan Duncan, Marshal Service Admin Operations Manager Suzanne Drywater, Marshal Shannon Buhl, Tribal Council Secretary Frankie Hargis, Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr., Maintenance Foreman Steve Sams, Head Start Director Verna Thompson, J2 Construction owner Jason Luttrell, Senior Program Specialist Barbara Littledave and Cherry Tree Head Start staff  Stephanie Ross and Robert Ketcher.

STILWELL, Okla. — Cherokee Nation leaders broke ground recently on the first of six new storm shelters being constructed at the tribe’s Head Start campuses located throughout northeast Oklahoma.
Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr., Cherokee Nation Marshal Shannon Buhl, Tribal Council Secretary Frankie Hargis and Cherokee Nation Head Start Director Verna Thompson gathered with Head Start students and staff at the Cherry Tree campus in Adair County to break ground Sept. 24.
The above-ground storm shelters will protect a total of around 300 toddlers, preschoolers and staff throughout the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction. When not in use as storm shelters, the buildings can also be multipurpose facilities.
“Here in the 14 counties of the Cherokee Nation, we must be prepared to respond when dangerous thunderstorms develop in and around our communities,” said Crittenden. “While we hope we never need to use these buildings as storm shelters, it gives us peace of mind to know our children and staff will have a safe place to be if a life-threatening storm develops in their area. I’m glad to see work begin on these new shelters.”
Storm shelters built at the tribe’s Head Start campuses will be for the use of students, teachers, parents or visitors who are on-site during an emergency. Each shelter will be approximately 230 square feet and have an occupancy rate of around 40. They will not be open for general community use.
Funding for the shelters is provided by an $800,000 grant awarded to the tribe in 2017 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Indian Community Development Block Grants are meant to improve housing conditions and community amenities and to stimulate economic development across Indian Country.
“I can think of no better investment than in the safety of our children and our Head Start staff,” said Hoskin. “I commend the Cherokee Nation departments that had a hand in securing federal dollars for these projects. Once complete, these facilities will give us peace of mind for years to come.”
Cherokee Nation’s Head Start program worked with the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service and Cherokee Nation Emergency Management to apply for the grant.
Head Start campuses receiving storm shelters are as follows:
Cherry Tree campus in Stilwell, Adair County
Redbird campus in Stilwell, Adair County
Jay campus, Delaware County
Kenwood campus, Delaware County
Wauhillau campus in Nowata, Nowata County
Pryor campus, Mayes County

Cherokee Nation News Release

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