Learn more about Crossover Community Impact’s innovative outreach
The innovative network of outreach, education and development is revolutionizing one north Tulsa neighborhood.
Caleb Laird is a student at Crossover Preparatory Academy, a branch of Crossover Community Impact.
While playing college football, Philip Abode saw a lot of gifted athletes who excelled on the field but were completely unprepared for the classroom.
“It was almost like they shot themselves in the foot,” says Philip’s wife, Rondalyn.
The Abodes met as students at the University of Tulsa. Even then, Philip knew education was the key to a better future for those young men.
“That’s when the seed was planted,” Philip says. “Education needs to be a part of the solution” to breaking the cycle of generational poverty and seeing communities like north Tulsa become economically stable.
Seventeen years later, that seed has grown into Crossover Community Impact (CCI), a large tree with many branches in north Tulsa. CCI is the nonprofit affiliate of Crossover Bible Church, where Philip, now head pastor, leads a 200-member congregation.
CCI is dedicated to restoring the community around East 36th Street North and North Peoria Avenue through a multi-faceted approach that includes Impact Kids, an after-school tutoring and mentoring program at neighboring Hawthorne Elementary; Crossover Health Services medical clinic; Crossover Sports Association, a robust youth athletic program; Crossover Development Co., an economic and housing development company; and Crossover Preparatory Academy, a tuition-free school for boys, currently serving 58 seventh and eighth-grade students.
“We’re taking a comprehensive approach to a narrow geographic area,” Philip explains.
It’s a philosophy influenced by the teachings of John M. Perkins, minister, civil rights activist and author of “Restoring At-Risk Communities.” Perkins is the co-founder of Christian Community Development Association, which advocates a holistic approach to ministry in underserved urban communities. That approach includes living in and being a part of the community itself.
The Abodes, CCI Executive Director Justin Pickard, along with his wife and four children, as well as Crossover Prep’s principal, John Lepine Sr., his wife and two children, all live within blocks of each other, the church and the clinic, as do many other staff members and employees.
“We want to see north Tulsa getting tangibly better,” Philip says. “If you take this approach, you can see tangible change. We feel like we need to be ground zero in this one neighborhood on all these efforts.”
In the beginning
In addition to his role as head pastor of Crossover Bible Church, Philip serves as executive director of Crossover Prep. The school currently operates out of John 3:16 Mission’s Family and Youth Center, near East Virgin Street and North Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Philip’s second floor office has a bird’s-eye view of the basketball courts. The sound of squeaky tennis shoes and friendly competition punctuates the conversation as the Abodes talk about how they got here and their plans for the future.
Philip, who is originally from Stillwater, graduated from TU in 2002 with a degree in applied mathematics. Rondalyn, a native of Kansas City, holds an accounting degree from Langston University, along with her degree in management with a specialization in law and a minor in marketing from TU.
Although Philip never planned to go into ministry, his life changed during college.
“That’s when I had a crossover into faith,” he explains. “I became a serious believer, and that’s when God really gave me a heart for ministry.”
After graduating from TU, both Philip and Rondalyn attended Dallas Theological Seminary with a plan to return to north Tulsa to start a church.
“We knew we wanted to be a church that made a difference in the community,” Philip says. “We didn’t know exactly what that looked like, but we knew that’s where our hearts were.”
Crossover Bible Church started in 2006, and Philip became the lead pastor three years later. Well aware of the role sports had played in his own life, Philip began coaching a third-grade football team for the North Mabee Boys and Girls Club in 2008 as another avenue to reach out to the community. As a boy, Philip’s grandmother leveraged his love of sports with staying on track academically, and his coaches became some of the most influential men in his life.
“I learned how to properly shake someone’s hand from one of my coaches. I learned about how to make it in life from a different coach,” Philip says. “Sports also taught me the value of hard work, pushing yourself and finishing things. The combination of being a good athlete and having good grades gave me a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
The relationships that Philip developed were huge.
“He would always say he had conversations as ‘Coach Philip’ that he never would have had as ‘Pastor Philip’,” Rondalyn says, adding that he saw a lot of third-grade kids that were already statistics, such as academic failure, attitude issues and a lack of a father in their life. “That was a big part of why he wanted to start the school.”
Youth sports became a cornerstone of everything that followed, as coaching led quickly to after-school mentoring and tutoring. Philip had dreams of starting a nonprofit to address the issues he saw in the community, but he was busy keeping his fledgling church up and running.
In 2010, a mutual friend introduced Philip to Justin Pickard, who had been living with his family in north Tulsa. Justin and Philip soon discovered they shared a similar vision for restoring their community.
“Our lists were almost identical,” Philip recalls. “That’s when we knew we needed to partner up.”
In 2011, Crossover Community Impact was born, and Justin began a two-year graduate program in urban development at Harvard University, assuming the role of CCI’s executive director, along with his studies.
“We were on the phone every week, working on stuff while I was there,” Justin says.
It was a rough start. Not only was the executive director of their new nonprofit living 1,500 miles away, but that following summer, Philip, who had been diagnosed with cancer, went through seven weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. CCI had already begun a sports program, which he oversaw.
“It was crazy,” Rondalyn says. “Philip lost 22 pounds in four weeks. He wasn’t supposed to be in the sun, because they had irradiated the inside of his throat, so he’s out there coaching youth football, holding an umbrella.”
Philip nods in agreement. “We almost didn’t start, but we’d already gotten to the point where we needed to. I had a good prognosis, but after seven weeks of radiation, I was miserable. We got the team going, though,” he adds. “And we won the championship that year.”
Faith was, and continues to be, central to the Abodes’ life and vision.
“God does the heavy lifting because we don’t get to where we are just based on our ingenuity and know-how,” Philip says. “It’s connections and things coming about that are impossible to plan.”
Like the medical clinic, for example.
Health and wellness
Although for families with Medicare and Medicaid there are good options for free health care in north Tulsa, finding a general practitioner for those not on Medicare or Medicaid in north Tulsa often meant traveling across town, Rondalyn notes.
When a retiring physician with an existing medical facility on property adjacent to Hawthorne Park, 940 E. 33rd St. N., offered to sell his land to CCI, Justin and the Abodes saw the opportunity to create a clinic near their existing after-school sports and tutoring programs in the heart of the neighborhood they were seeking to transform.
With generous donations from CCI supporters and a fortuitous land swap with George Kaiser Family Foundation, CCI was able to close the deal.
Dr. Kent Farish, a physician on the CCI board not only loaned CCI the additional money needed to get the clinic up and running, he closed his own south Tulsa practice of 30 years and moved to north Tulsa, where he still works about 10 hours a week at the facility. According to Rondalyn, the clinic, which also has two full-time providers, serves 4,400 patients per year while offering general, pediatric and prenatal care.
Focus on the future
While Crossover Bible Church is the birthplace of this vision for north Tulsa, Crossover Prep is the heart of CCI. In its second year, the school educates boys in seventh and eighth grades, with a goal of adding a new grade level each year. There are plans to create a parallel girls’ school, too. The majority of students come from north Tulsa and the associated zip codes. Students apply and complete a family interview where they sign a covenant with the school.
“We started with this age group because we saw that you could start with seventh graders and still have the type of outcomes that we hoped to see,” Rondalyn says. Also, the initial class of students were some of the members of the first Crossover Lions football team Philip started in 2012, allowing the opportunity to continue to influence the young men to be “Crossover Men.”
“One of the goals in our mission statement is to restore our community by developing godly young men who love north Tulsa,” Philip says. “Communities like this get this way because everybody who can leave does.
“If we can get them to where they are ready to go to college and actually finish and be godly men, responsible and loving fathers and husbands, but then also move their families back to the community, then north Tulsa will never be the same. We want to create the school as a pipeline of leadership development for our community.”
Crossover Prep Principal John Lepine Sr. also is a TU graduate and has taught in north Tulsa since his start with Teach for America.
“I was teaching at McLain High School and working on my graduate degree at OU-Tulsa,” Lepine says. “Some friends of mine at Crossover Bible Church told me they were going to try to start a school. I knew Crossover did great things in the community, but I had no interest in starting a school.”
After attending a planning meeting and talking to Philip, Lepine changed his mind.
“I met Philip, and I really respected him. I saw the vision he had for the school, and I was attracted to that,” Lepine says. “We started meeting, and eventually, he offered me the position to come on as principal. I finished my Ph.D. as quickly as I could and graduated in time for the school to open up in 2017.”
John is pleased with the growth he has seen in the two years the school has been in operation.
“I didn’t expect it as quickly as it has happened,” he admits. “The first year was really tough, whether it was with behavioral problems or students just not buying into the vision or the culture.
“Things have changed in this second year. We have kids who have grown two or three grade levels in reading since we started our reading program in October. We have had one kid who is set to finish two years worth of math in the space of one year.
“It’s not just that we as adults are trying to keep the kids in line; kids are trying to keep each other in line. The student leaders will come borrow my phone during convocation if one of their classmates is missing. They’ll call him or his mom and say, ‘Hey, where are you? School is getting ready to start,’ and that is a powerful thing to see.”
Meet Caleb and J’Ron
Seventh-grader Caleb Laird and eighth-grader J’Ron Mason are enthusiastic about Crossover Prep. Caleb likes math, English and history. Basically, he loves school.
“It’s my first year at the school. I like it! It’s fun,” he says. “I’m doing a lot of work in class. I used to do as much work, but now it’s in a better environment. Everybody knows each other, and people are nice to each other. They’re making sure you do your work. That’s what I like about it.”
J’Ron lives around the corner from school. He’s a big fan of the sports program, but he likes the academics, too.
“What makes this school different is that they’re actually trying to help,” he explains. “Some people don’t get that. They ask me, ‘This is an all-boys school. Why do you want to go here?’ And I tell them because I want to focus on my future. It’s not a race. It’s a marathon. Life comes at you fast, so I want people in my circle so I have help.”
Caleb thinks he might want to go to Penn State and pursue a career as an international real estate broker. J’Ron thinks he’d like to be a crime
“I’d like to leave and go explore other places, but I’d like to come back,” J’Ron says. “One of our staff members did that. He left, but he said that God was trying to get him to come back and help people here.”
If J’Ron and Caleb are indicators, the future of north Tulsa — and the rest of our city — is in good hands.
“We’re just crazy enough to try this,” Philip Abode says of CCI.
“We’ve got to just trust God and do what we say we’re doing,” Rondalyn Abode agrees.
Philip smiles. “Just having a good team has been encouraging,” he says. “We have folks who are committed, folks who really trust in God to work through them. We are going to figure this stuff out.”
What’s next for Crossover Community Impact?
CCI has plans to build a community center on the same property as its health facility. It will house the school during the day and the after-school program, youth sports and adult recreational activities outside of school hours.
Rondalyn Abode, who serves as CCI’s director of development, notes they’re halfway to their capital campaign goal, with $6.95 million raised to date. The majority of the funding for CCI operations has been from private and corporate donations, but foundation support and grant opportunities are becoming a larger part of the financial picture.
CCI also holds an annual “Restoring Our Community” banquet. This year’s event is scheduled for Sept. 20. It’s a chance to bring in guest speakers and raise awareness about CCI’s work in north Tulsa.
For more information on CCI, visit crossoverimpact.org.