Cathy Spaulding: Okie from Muskogee: Perkins helps others make life better

·7 min read

Oct. 24—Cynthia Perkins keeps two Bible verses by her desk at Muskogee County Council of Youth Services.

Ephesians 4:1 — "Walk worthy of the vocation you are called."

Luke 12:48 — "For everyone who has been given much, much is demanded."

She said she has seen those verses fulfilled throughout her life.

"Father was always involved with volunteering, so I always thought you're supposed to give back because I saw him doing it," she said, recalling that her mother, a retired typist with the Department of Human Services, volunteered with her church.

At Muskogee High School, Perkins was active in DECA, a club dedicated to marketing and management. She worked part time in a day care center.

"Working with kids, that's the reason I knew I would eventually get back to doing that," Perkins said.

It took several years, however. After high school, Perkins attended a fashion merchandising school in Dallas.

"At the time, I thought I wanted to own a retail store," she said. "The more I worked in retail the more I knew that wasn't what I wanted to do."

She found her way out of retail when she visited a volunteer fair in 1994. She had earned a degree in human development at University of Oklahoma. At one table, representatives of MCCOYS got her interested in a new position.

"I went to a table to volunteer; they said they had a position I could work in," she said.

She was hired as a counselor through the Oklahoma Children's Initiative, working with families to help keep their children at home.

Perkins worked her way up to assistant director, and now is executive director.

"I feel like I'm making some difference," she said. "Work is maintaining families trying to prevent them from going any further."

Helping adults

be better parents

Cindy Perkins recalled the squalor in her first MCCOYS case.

"It was horrific, the environment," Perkins said. "And I remember this little girl was like, 'does your house look like this.' And I had to think. And I said, 'no, it doesn't, but we're going to do what we can to show you that you can have a better life.' To her, that helped."

Perkins' first job was "wrap around services," which involved whatever could be done to maintain the home.

She recalled getting help from the health department and finding ways to teach the family how to keep the house clean. She often found herself doing simple tasks that made a difference.

"If I needed to do respite care because parents were stressed because they needed someone to babysit their kids, I watched their kids for them," Perkins said. "I did whatever I could do to make sure those kids were safe."

She said MCCOYS seeks to offer intervention services rather than reactive services. She discovered that, over the years, it has not been easy.

"There are some kids I had seen when I first started, I'm now seeing their kids," she said. "Even if it's just with one child that you're helping in some way, I know that it's needed."

Perkins learns

to overcome fears

Perkins said backpacking trips she took with MCCOYS youth changed her life, as well as that of the youths. One trip took them into the wilds near the Continental Divide in Colorado.

"There was a train between Durango and Silverton, and we got off in the middle and hiked up," she said. "I had never done that. I had never been in a tent."

She said they tried to hike up to the peak, but a storm prevented it.

"We wanted to give them an experience they never had, because many of them had never been outside Oklahoma," she said. "We took them to the Great Sand Dunes when we came down."

The trips were learning experiences, she said. "Team building, and just the knowledge that you can do this if you put your mind to it."

Perkins recalled overcoming her fears, too.

"Truly, if it had been just me and a bunch of friends, I'd say, 'I'm not doing that,'" she said. "But because I had those kids, I had to go 'I can't tell you no, and then expect you to do it.' I had to lead by example, like crossing a river over a log. I did it, so they could do it."

Volunteering to

help women in need

Perkins seeks to serve the community even beyond her job.

"I've been tremendously blessed," she said. "I feel that I should give back. Even though I work here, I feel I should volunteer in the community and help other people."

She said she volunteers with Women in Safe Home (WISH) and Soroptimist whenever she can.

Perkins said she and other volunteers have helped set up and take down settings for fundraisers. She also has helped paint rooms at the WISH shelter.

Perkins said she has been in Soroptimist since 2004.

"Truly, why I joined was that I was looking for a way to give back, and because they are involved with women and girls," she said.

For several years, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Soroptimist worked with prisoners at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center.

"The inmates would sign up and they would read a book for their children, and we would record it, take a picture of them, then send it to their children," Perkins said. "And I loved doing that."

Other projects include helping women return to school and providing feminine hygiene items at food banks.

Perkins said she works with women and girls because "a lot of time we are left behind or left out of things."

"And being a woman is like, 'OK, we can make sure we have what we need and that it is fair and it's equitable," she said.

HOW DID YOU COME TO BE AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?

"I was born here. I did take care of my mother until she passed."

WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?

"I like the small town. I like the size of Muskogee. We have so many things to do in Muskogee. We have Muskogee Little Theatre, museums, lakes, parks. Just a lot of things to do. I'm close enough to larger towns, I can get to those."

WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?

"Probably more community involvement. More taking pride in the appearance of the city. Cleaning yards and not dumping trash everywhere."

WHAT PERSON IN MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?

"My uncle, Cedric Johnson, retired educator. At his age, he is able to continue to be involved with the community. And if it were not for COVID, he would still be substitute teaching. He is involved with his family and his church. And I just hope, when I get to be his age, I'm still that involved with the community."

WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?

"Probably purchasing the house I live in now. In purchasing the house I live in now, my mother had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She could no longer live alone and would have to live in with me. For me to be able to purchase a home that was big enough we could live in together meant so much for me."

WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?

"Shop. I shop a lot. I don't shop as much because we don't have as many places anymore. I like keeping things local. I buy a lot of books and travel when I can."

HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?

"Perfect combination of city and country living."

MEET Cindy Perkins

AGE: 57.

HOMETOWN: Muskogee.

EDUCATION: Edison Elementary; Alice Robertson Junior High; Muskogee High School, class of 1981; Associate's degree from Miss Wade's Fashion Merchandising College, Dallas; Bachelor of Science degree in human development, University of Oklahoma.

PROFESSION: Executive director, Muskogee County Council of Youth Services.

FAMILY: One sister, two brothers.

CHURCH: Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church.

HOBBIES: Reading, travel, working out.

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