Community Outreach Spotlight

Reaching At-Risk Youths

Submitted by Captain Michelle Henderson of the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Police Department.

Students in a classroom.

In 2007, the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Police Department (OCPD) established the Family Awareness and Community Teamwork (FACT) Unit as a one-of-a-kind program to focus on at-risk youths. Its goal is to reach area young people and provide healthy alternatives to gang involvement, which often leads to criminal activity and arrests. The initial push was for mentorship of the youths. It was not to preach to them or "scare them straight" but simply for officers to be positive role models and hopefully change the trajectory of their lives.


Through a series of grants and other monetary donations, a run-down, outdated community center on the city's northeast side was remodeled and reopened to house the new unit. FACT started with two officers, and the only planned activity at that time was a Monday movie night. The two officers would sit down with a group of about 10 to 15 mostly young men; have dinner with them; and talk about their lives, grades, and school. They would then transition to a movie carefully chosen for a life lesson to discuss.

FACT's popularity grew quickly in the community. It expanded to the south side of Oklahoma City and was given an office space and room at another community center for events. The same programming was instituted on Tuesday night.

Continued Success

The unit has since grown to four full-time officers, a dedicated supervisor, and a full-time civilian program coordinator. In addition, numerous other OCPD officers volunteer their time. FACT still holds the Monday and Tuesday events, but, with the addition of a program coordinator, the format is a bit different than a movie night.

Forty-five kids now participate in each session. While there is still discussion, mentoring, and dinner for everyone, planned activities and games illustrate the character trait chosen for the night's activities. Many students who have gone through the program have come back and volunteered their time with current students. It is extremely rewarding to see the changed lives over the last 16 years.

Students at Ohio State University.

In addition to Monday and Tuesday events, FACT officers coordinate closely with school resource officers to identify students with certain needs, such as clothing or food, or those in need of an intervention.

FACT also works with the leaders of tomorrow in its Youth Leadership Academy, a 9-month program for 35 students selected from the area. They meet once a week all day and are connected with peer and professional leaders in the community. Each year, the new class chooses a topic to focus on and a nonprofit organization to advocate for. After identifying that nonprofit, students raise resources and awareness by researching their topic and presenting their pitch to local businesses. Students have raised a considerable amount of money over the years.

Since 2016, the FACT Unit also conducts a Juvenile Intervention Program (JIP) that is court-ordered intervention for first-time nonviolent misdemeanants. It exposes the youths to new perspectives and helps set their path in a positive direction. JIP works very closely with the courts and probation officers, allowing the students to defer their charges. Upon successful completion, their charges are dismissed.

During the summer, FACT officers make sure they do not lose touch with the students. They continue with Monday and Tuesday activities but shift to daytime hours, giving students a safe place to "hang out" during the day while their parents work. On Wednesday, FACT offers college tours for college-bound students. Officers also assist with job placement, which might entail vocational-technical learning, and continue to mentor the youths.

Kids pictured with and officers from the Oklahoma Police Departments FACT outreach program.


The Family Awareness and Community Teamwork program has expanded immensely over the years and has developed its own philosophy for interacting with the youths — providing them with the support and opportunities they need to empower themselves. One thing that has not changed is partnership with the community, businesses, and faith-based organizations. FACT is now funded through a 501(c)3, and there are many fundraisers and donors who contribute to its success.

Captain Henderson can be reached at