Family-Centered Emergency Assistance at CAP Tulsa

Sep 1, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated long-standing inequities in our community, shining a spotlight on issues of race and poverty. While no one could have foreseen the devastating impact of COVID-19, CAP Tulsa took action by adapting an existing emergency assistance program to meet the immense financial need faced by their families. Lindsey Cabaniss and Brandy Holleyman took on the task of designing this process. Throughout the program’s implementation, Lindsey and Brandy have ensured family perspective is centered in every step of the ever-adapting process with the understanding that respect for families’ autonomy is a vital part of any efforts to support financial resiliency.

To meet the needs of the moment, CAP Tulsa took a paper-reliant system and adapted it with families’ voices and autonomy at the center of the process. Paper forms were moved online, and intake was done over the phone so CAP Tulsa could actively receive referrals and help families in need while adhering to the necessary public health precautions. CAP Tulsa is a community action agency focused on interrupting the cycle of poverty, taking a two-generation approach, not only preparing young children for future success in school but also working alongside the family. CAP Tulsa’s focus on providing holistic supports to the child and family make them uniquely positioned to launch these efforts, ensuring special attention is placed on centering family voice in the design and implementation of the program.
Since last Spring, through Brandy, Lindsey and the Family Advancement team’s efforts, CAP Tulsa has been able to provide emergency assistance to 792 of their hardest-hit families impacted by COVID-19. Through trial and error, CAP Tulsa has been able to find the process and methods that provide much-needed support to families while “thinking about the family’s autonomy and doing this work and designing these processes with respect,” Brandy said.

For me, emergency assistance is about asking, “how can we provide supports to the family in a way that really honors them and respects their autonomy and decision making?”


While much of Brandy and Lindsey’s time is spent coordinating and bringing together different departments in CAP Tulsa, during greater periods of family need, the two of them dive into all parts of the process, including answering calls from families. Lindsey recalled a phone call with a mother whose family was living without electricity in November. Lindsey was able to act quickly, providing utility assistance to turn their electricity back on before the holiday season. She was struck by the mother’s optimism and vulnerability during the call. Even amidst challenging times, this mother was resilient, strong and positive. This interaction was a reminder to Lindsey of the resiliency of families even in difficult times, and the mother’s ability to impact Lindsey is a testament to the power of human connection and a strength-based mindset. This was just one of many stories that their team was able to share with one another through their interactions with families. These stories emphasized the human connection in their work; at the end of the process and every operational aspect of the program, there is a Tulsa family being helped.

Even amidst challenging times, this mother was resilient, strong and positive. It was a reminder to Lindsey of the resiliency of families even in difficult times.

The devastation of COVID-19 has been met with efforts like CAP Tulsa’s emergency assistance program, where organizations have quickly adapted and innovated to meet families where they are. And while no one could have foreseen the tragic results of the past year, no one could have foreseen the ways that our community would rise to the moment. Moving forward, Brandy and Lindsey plan on retaining the lessons learned from this past year in emergency assistance: continuing to work with families and children first-hand to bring data to the family advancement team to ensure their programs honor and respect families’ autonomy, maintaining an active presence in emergency assistance and bringing narrative to fuel the mission driven work at CAP Tulsa.

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