A tall order

Growing Together targets two neighborhoods to promote education and community investment.



Reading Partners is one of five key partners of Growing Together, which unites organizations, residents and teachers to advance education and enhance communities. Gabriela, a student at Eugene Field, is one of 1,300 students helped by Reading Partners.

Growing Together provides no direct services, yet the nonprofit is the guiding force in changing the physical, social and educational landscapes of two of Tulsa’s most promising neighborhoods: Kendall Whittier and Eugene Field. 

The idea is to unite organizations, residents and teachers to advance the quality of education, bring communities together and invest in the neighborhoods’ physical environment. 

A tall order, for sure. That’s why Growing Together assembled gold-standard partners — including Communities in Schools, Talent Development, Reading Partners, City Year and the local YMCA — to collaborate in improving students’ futures.

“We’re the supporters of the tapestry,” says Kirk Wester, Growing Together’s executive director. “We help them work effectively, to feel supported, so they can do amazing work.”  

Other strategic partners have been added to the holistic mix, including the University of Tulsa, faith-based groups, Habitat for Humanity and Capital Homes. 

Why so many partners? “I always assume there’s someone out there who knows how to do this better than I do,” Wester says.

Kirk Wester

This is more than a job to him. It’s a calling. Wester grew up in Broken Arrow and married in 1996. Two years later, the couple decided to move into “a struggling neighborhood.” They chose Kendall Whittier, Tulsa’s red light district at the time. He and his wife felt strongly that they needed to be intentional about their support of social justice; that the best way to support a community was to be a part of it. They believe justice is truly a lifestyle.

Within a short time, a steady stream of projects popped up to improve the area led by a push among residents in the mid-1990s. Ultimately, in 2010, the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Community Action Project and Tulsa Area United Way decided to join forces to further ramp up the trajectory. GKFF provided funds to CAP, which formed a department in 2010 that ultimately resulted in Growing Together. 

The holistic approach started with improving third grade reading levels, one of the key measures in school success. Partners such as Reading Partners and City Year were assembled to provide the services necessary to support young students. Growing Together became an independent organization in 2014, but maintains a close relationship with CAP. 

Impact Tulsa, a nonprofit dedicated to high-quality education for all, conducted a study about Tulsa schools, which showed that although quality education is vital to every student, the greatest determiner of any child’s success is breaking the concentration of poverty within the school. 

Armed with that information, Growing Together expanded its focus to include neighborhood revitalization. To involve families and communities. To tear down poverty and attract middle incomes.

Step one was to improve school quality. Parents who could afford it were transferring their students out of the area. “We have to get to a place where our schools are sought after by all people,” Wester says. (Read on to learn how member agencies contribute to this effort.)

Step two was to get people to be neighbors, followed by connecting them. Today, Growing Together employs three full-time community organizers, who develop strategies to connect neighbors, like Zumba classes, soccer tournaments, movie nights and community dinners.

“For us to be sustainably successful, we can’t be 100 percent free lunch,” Wester says, meaning the neighborhood has to work toward a 60-40 poverty-to-mixed-income ratio to succeed.

Amid these changes, however, special care is directed to make sure current residents are not priced out of their own neighborhoods. The creation of a community land trust assures affordability while protecting against gentrification. 

Successes in this arena include West Park apartments, a mixed-income development at 2405 E. Fourth St. that now has a waiting list. Capital Homes, builder of 17 market-value homes in Kendall Whittier, offered $4,000 in closing costs; $4,000 was offered through TU as down-payment assistance to TU employees to live in the area. Capital will build up to 10 homes in the neighborhood in the future and will continue to offer its incentive, along with $4,000 offered by Growing Together for teachers at Kendall Whittier and Sequoyah Elementary Schools and Rogers Junior High. Additionally, Habitat for Humanity has designed a new business model that gives owners equity in their new home on the day they move in. 

In December the Westers moved into a new-construction residence, their third home in the neighborhood. 

 

 

• Communities in Schools • 

Three years ago, Growing Together brought the country’s No. 1 dropout prevention program to Tulsa. Communities in Schools of Mid-America created a local office in Tulsa, and Jania Wester, Kirk’s wife, became executive director.

The organization supports schools and individual students, academically and socially. They can help schools with universal issues such as bullying or attendance, and provide case management services for students at risk of dropping out.

“Our students have adverse experiences on a daily basis,” Jania Wester explains. “We care for students after the loss of a home, following a visit to an incarcerated parent or in cases of neglect.” 

Jania Wester was a teacher and assistant principal at Kendall Whittier Elementary and a principal at Zarrow Elementary before joining CIS. “I wanted to get back to the folks I have a heart for — the Latino community, the impoverished and voiceless,” she says.

Because CIS helps with non-academic issues, dedicated educators can focus on teaching. “In a climate and culture of support, teachers feel more validated,” she says. The outcomes are nothing short of remarkable for CIS caseload students: 90 percent stayed in school, 94 percent were promoted and 94 percent of targeted seniors actually graduated.

Jania and Kirk Wester with their children, Isabela Wester-Rivera, Markos Wester-Rivera and Sanjuana Alvizo. The family has lived in the Kendall Whittier neighborhood since 1998. They believe the best way to support a community is to be a part of it.

 

• Talent Development •

“Education is the great equalizer,” says former TPS teacher Libby Tillotson, executive director of Talent Development Secondary in Tulsa. “No one can take it away. And it opens doors like nothing else can.”

Tillotson’s organization is an important cog in the collaborative Growing Together wheel. The program was developed by the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education to support teachers, and help teachers help students.  

Teachers are trained to use the Hopkins Early Warning Indicator system to monitor three key components (ABCs): Attendance, Behavior and Course in math and English. When teachers and counselors identify students who need special  attention, they work together to develop interventions.

For example, the system flagged an elementary student whose grades were slipping and who was breaking class dress code rules. The team of educators discovered the girl was experiencing problems at home, and was able to customize an intervention with the family. The group’s collaborative efforts resulted in the girl’s improved grades and an end to her behavior issues.

Studies have shown that if a student is off-track with just one component by sixth grade, there’s only a 25 percent chance he or she will graduate on time or at all. 

Tulsa produces some of Talent Development Secondary’s best results nationwide, putting 67 percent of students who are off-track back on a path to success.

Elena Snyder works with her Reading Partner, Kazhia, at Eugene Field Elementary.

 

 

• Reading Partners •

The path to success also involves helping young students read at grade level. Reading Partners — a nonprofit that provides one-on-one tutoring by pairing community volunteers and struggling readers — serves 1,300 students in 24 reading programs at 22 schools in the TPS district — including the 325 students served by Growing Together.

Program Director Jessica Smith was an assistant principal at Kendall Whittier when she heard Reading Partners was coming to Tulsa. She thought the job description was written for her.

“I was an elementary teacher who wanted to make a positive difference with a large group of children … to make a positive difference through literacy they wouldn’t get otherwise,” Smith says. She is a Reading Partner for a first-grader at Eugene Field. 

Amanda Bueno and Kei’veion read together during a recent Reading Partners session at  Eugene Field Elementary.

Students need to read proficiently to learn science, history and all other subjects. Missing this milestone can be catastrophic. Children who can’t read at grade level by the time they get to fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out according to a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Reading Partners volunteers build positive relationships with their students simply by paying attention to them individually and being there consistently. 

“Students with low confidence grow tremendously through this,” Smith says.

“It’s a great way to change a kid’s life. No place else you can volunteer and do that in an hour.” Potential volunteers can sign up at readingpartners.org.

 

 

• City Year •

While even a few hours a week of extra attention can make a huge difference to a struggling child, sometimes a more constant presence is needed for broader results. Enter City Year Tulsa.

“We are the extra people, power and hands to reach the needs of the students, through the whole school and individually,” says Hollis McAllister, City Year’s chief of staff.

City Year’s 17- to 25-year-old full-time tutors, mentors and role models show up before school starts and stay long after the last school bell of the day. Their job: to create a positive school climate and increase graduation rates.

“The beauty I see is in near-peer relationships,” McAllister explains. “Our volunteers aren’t much older than the students they mentor. Students confide in them as they might not with other adults.”

McAllister herself was a City Year volunteer in an underprivileged Boston school. “My world changed meeting those kids,” she says.

A fourth grader she met there became the little sister she never had. “She struggled with the same things I struggled with at that age, but she gained the confidence I didn’t have,” McAllister says, adding proudly that the girl graduated from eighth grade as second in her class. 

“I came in (to the program) not having confidence as a leader,” McAllister adds, “but I did see myself as someone who can make a difference.” 

In Tulsa, City Year has seen significant results. Between 2013 and 2015, the graduation rate at Webster rose from 53.3 percent to 60.5 percent. In the 2015-2016 school year:

90 percent of the off-track students at Kendall Whittier Elementary improved in English Language Arts (ELA) from start-of-year to mid-year.

178 of 216 ELA students improved reading assessments (SRI) scores from start-of-year to mid-year with average growth of 79 points across all grades; 102-point average for elementary schools and 56- point average for secondary schools.

106 of 169 math students improved in their math assessment scores from start-of-year to mid-year with an average growth of 63 points; 92-point average for elementary schools and 20-point average for secondary.

 

“We have to get to a place where our schools are sought after by all people.” 

— Kirk Wester, executive director of Growing Together

 

• YMCA •

The YMCA was the logical choice for after-school services in the Growing Together partnership since it already managed similar programs in four Tulsa-area school districts. 

The staff does far more than babysit. “We help with homework, provide 30 to 60 minutes of moderate activity, and provide nutritious snacks and lessons on nutrition,” says Caitlin Turner, YMCA senior director for educational initiatives. Students have access to education specialists in science, technology, engineering and math, as well as performing and visual arts.

The Y extends learning times for school breaks, summers and even weekend events for students and families. These Kendall Whittier and Eugene Field elementary student services are free, and operate on a referral basis. 

The vision is for the elementary school to become the community hub — the gathering place. Not just for students, but where seniors, parents and kids of all ages can learn and experience new things. “This creates deeper connection to the school, so school becomes a priority,” Turner says. 

She is proud the Y is a Growing Together partner. “We really get to dream big. We have the freedom to imagine what all these connections and collaborations look like … on a large scale,” she says.

Connecting neighbors is a key part of Growing Together’s strategies. Organizers plan get-togethers at neighborhood landmarks, like the Kendall Whittier park, for camaraderie and a sense of community.

 

Although there is still much work to be done, the tireless staff, volunteers and supporters at Growing Together and its partner agencies no longer have to imagine what those ideas might look like in action. In 2013-14, all Growing Together elementary schools saw gains in third grade reading proficiency. During 2014-15, Clinton Middle School and Webster High School saw dramatic reductions in students failing English and math, being suspended and poor attendance.

 

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October 2018

The Arabian Horse Association is headed back to Tulsa, Okla. for the 2018 U.S. National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show from October 19-27. Join us for exciting new events,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Expo Square
4145 East 21st Street
Tulsa
Tulsa, OK  74114
View map »


Sponsor: Arabian Horse Association
Telephone: 303-696-4500
Contact Name: Kelsey Bergland
Website »

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We’re serving up our new chef-inspired fondue and traditional brunch options like Alpine Benedict Cheese Fondue, French Toast Fondue, Avocado Fiesta Toast plus bottomless mimosas. Reserve...

Cost: Varies

Where:
The Melting Pot of Tulsa
300 Riverwalk Terrace #190
Jenks, OK  74037
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Sponsor: The Melting Pot of Tulsa
Telephone: 918-299-8000
Contact Name: Alex Cooper
Website »

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FlyingTee is fun for the whole family and on Sundays, kids eat free! *Limit one free meal from the kids’ menu with each purchase of an adult entrée. Not valid on brunches or holidays.

Cost: Free with purchase

Where:
FlyingTee
600 Riverwalk Terrace
Jenks, OK  74037
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Telephone: 918-528-7717
Website »

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Wiener dogs are already funny to look at. Now try watching over 100 of them zig, zag, jump, and generally get confused in a test of speed and intelligence! Ok, we’re being dramatic. The pups...

Cost: $10

Where:
Tulsa Oktoberfest
2100 S. Jackson Ave
Tulsa, OK  74107
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Sponsor: Tulsa Riverparks Authority
Telephone: 918-596-2008
Contact Name: Ryan Howell
Website »

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Are you staying in town for Fall Break? The Melting Pot is offering an extended weekend-long family special with kid-friendly fondue for the whole family.

Cost: $29.95 per adult | $19.95 per child

Where:
The Melting Pot of Tulsa
300 Riverwalk Terrace #190
Jenks, OK  74037
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Sponsor: The Melting Pot of Tulsa
Telephone: 918-299-8000
Contact Name: Alex Cooper
Website »

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Willkommen to four days of Oompah (or Bavaria or Oktoberfest) in Oklahoma with nationally-known German bands, authentic European foods, arts and crafters MarktHaus, full carnival and fun...

Cost: $10

Where:
River West Festival Park
2100 S. Jackson Ave.
Tulsa, OK  74107
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Sponsor: Linde
Telephone: 918-596-2007
Contact Name: Tonja Carrigg
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  Prepare to be delighted and entertained at Magical Family Evenings. Treat your family to a kid-friendly meal with mystifying magic from 6-9 p.m. at your tableside. Choose from the regular...

Cost: $29.95 per adult | $19.95 per child

Where:
The Melting Pot of Tulsa
300 Riverwalk Terrace #190
Jenks, OK  74037
View map »


Sponsor: The Melting Pot of Tulsa
Telephone: 918-299-8000
Contact Name: Alex Cooper
Website »

More information

The Fear Factory is Tulsa's newest haunted attraction.

Cost: $20

Where:
Tulsa, OK  74115


Sponsor: 75 Productions
Telephone: 918-947-9544
Website »

More information

TU Theatre presents Man of La Mancha on October 18-20 and October 25-27 at 8pm. October 21 at 2pm,

Cost: 10.00

Where:
Kendall Hall
3102 E 4th Place
Tulsa, OK  74104
View map »

More information

Show More...
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The Arabian Horse Association is headed back to Tulsa, Okla. for the 2018 U.S. National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show from October 19-27. Join us for exciting new events,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Expo Square
4145 East 21st Street
Tulsa
Tulsa, OK  74114
View map »


Sponsor: Arabian Horse Association
Telephone: 303-696-4500
Contact Name: Kelsey Bergland
Website »

More information

Think you can't do something, like sculpt, build a robot, or make a stamp? Think again! Come enjoy our 45-minute workshops held every Monday at noon at the McKeon Center for Creativity....

Cost: free and open to the public

Where:
McKeon Center for Creativity
910 S. Boston Ave.
TCC Metro Campus
Tulsa, OK  74119
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Sponsor: McKeon Center for Creativity
Telephone: 918-595-7339
Contact Name: McKeon Center for Creativity
Website »

More information

TU Theatre presents Man of La Mancha on October 18-20 and October 25-27 at 8pm. October 21 at 2pm,

Cost: 10.00

Where:
Kendall Hall
3102 E 4th Place
Tulsa, OK  74104
View map »

More information

Show More...
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The Arabian Horse Association is headed back to Tulsa, Okla. for the 2018 U.S. National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show from October 19-27. Join us for exciting new events,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Expo Square
4145 East 21st Street
Tulsa
Tulsa, OK  74114
View map »


Sponsor: Arabian Horse Association
Telephone: 303-696-4500
Contact Name: Kelsey Bergland
Website »

More information

Join the Red Shoe Society benefitting the Tulsa Ronald McDonald House in enjoying some yummy food at Red Lobster at 51st and Yale Avenue and support the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Tulsa,...

Cost: Purchase of appetizer, entree, dessert or drink

Where:
Red Lobster 51st and Yale
4525 E 51st St
Tulsa, OK  74135
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Sponsor: Red Shoe Society
Telephone: 580-399-7264
Contact Name: Bayli Hobson
Website »

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Our series concludes with roundtable discussions about specific issues in end-of-life care planning and decision-making. Resources, Toolkits for Healthcare and information consultations will be...

Cost: free

Where:
Clarehouse
7617 S. Mingo Rd.
Tulsa, OK  74133
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Sponsor: Clarehouse
Telephone: 918-893-6150
Contact Name: Britni Smith
Website »

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It's time to get spooky! Join us for Halloween fun in the garden. We'll watch Mel Brooks' comedy "Young Frankenstein" while we decorate pumpkins. We'll supply the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Central Library
400 civic center
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Sponsor: Tulsa City-County Library
Contact Name: Rebecca H

More information

TU Theatre presents Man of La Mancha on October 18-20 and October 25-27 at 8pm. October 21 at 2pm,

Cost: 10.00

Where:
Kendall Hall
3102 E 4th Place
Tulsa, OK  74104
View map »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Arabian Horse Association is headed back to Tulsa, Okla. for the 2018 U.S. National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show from October 19-27. Join us for exciting new events,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Expo Square
4145 East 21st Street
Tulsa
Tulsa, OK  74114
View map »


Sponsor: Arabian Horse Association
Telephone: 303-696-4500
Contact Name: Kelsey Bergland
Website »

More information

The United Nations Association of Eastern Oklahoma (UNAEO) will host His Excellency Ambassador Kai Sauer, the Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations, as guest speaker for the...

Cost: 100

Where:
Greenwood Cultural Center
322 N Greenwood Ave
Tulsa , OK  74120
View map »

More information

TU Theatre presents Man of La Mancha on October 18-20 and October 25-27 at 8pm. October 21 at 2pm,

Cost: 10.00

Where:
Kendall Hall
3102 E 4th Place
Tulsa, OK  74104
View map »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Arabian Horse Association is headed back to Tulsa, Okla. for the 2018 U.S. National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show from October 19-27. Join us for exciting new events,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Expo Square
4145 East 21st Street
Tulsa
Tulsa, OK  74114
View map »


Sponsor: Arabian Horse Association
Telephone: 303-696-4500
Contact Name: Kelsey Bergland
Website »

More information

Tulsa Metro Sound invites you to visit our weekly rehearsals - to be introduced to the women's All American craft of a cappella singing. We meet every Thursday evening at Christ Church Episcopal,...

Cost: 0

Where:
Christ Church Episcopal
10901 S Yale Ave
Tulsa, OK
View map »


Sponsor: Tulsa Metro Sound
Telephone: 918-352-6091
Contact Name: Candace
Website »

More information

TU Theatre presents Man of La Mancha on October 18-20 and October 25-27 at 8pm. October 21 at 2pm,

Cost: 10.00

Where:
Kendall Hall
3102 E 4th Place
Tulsa, OK  74104
View map »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Arabian Horse Association is headed back to Tulsa, Okla. for the 2018 U.S. National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show from October 19-27. Join us for exciting new events,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Expo Square
4145 East 21st Street
Tulsa
Tulsa, OK  74114
View map »


Sponsor: Arabian Horse Association
Telephone: 303-696-4500
Contact Name: Kelsey Bergland
Website »

More information

Bring your little ghouls to our annual Not So Spooky Halloween Bash! This is a costume party (only non-scary costumes please). It gives you a chance to see our gym, play a little, win door...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Little Gym of SE Tulsa
6556 East 91st Street
Tulsa, OK  74133
View map »

More information

The Fear Factory is Tulsa's newest haunted attraction.

Cost: $20

Where:
Tulsa, OK  74115


Sponsor: 75 Productions
Telephone: 918-947-9544
Website »

More information

TU Theatre presents Man of La Mancha on October 18-20 and October 25-27 at 8pm. October 21 at 2pm,

Cost: 10.00

Where:
Kendall Hall
3102 E 4th Place
Tulsa, OK  74104
View map »

More information

Its painting party time! Grab your friends and favorite bottle of wine and join us in painting this lovely painting of two kitties gazing at the moon

Cost: 40

Where:
DECOPOLIS
502 S. Boston Ave
Tulsa, OK  74103
View map »


Sponsor: DECOPOLIS
Telephone: 918-382-7388
Contact Name: Kathleen
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Arabian Horse Association is headed back to Tulsa, Okla. for the 2018 U.S. National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show from October 19-27. Join us for exciting new events,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Expo Square
4145 East 21st Street
Tulsa
Tulsa, OK  74114
View map »


Sponsor: Arabian Horse Association
Telephone: 303-696-4500
Contact Name: Kelsey Bergland
Website »

More information

We’re serving up our new chef-inspired fondue and traditional brunch options like Alpine Benedict Cheese Fondue, French Toast Fondue, Avocado Fiesta Toast plus bottomless mimosas. Reserve...

Cost: Varies

Where:
The Melting Pot of Tulsa
300 Riverwalk Terrace #190
Jenks, OK  74037
View map »


Sponsor: The Melting Pot of Tulsa
Telephone: 918-299-8000
Contact Name: Alex Cooper
Website »

More information

Come celebrate the arrival of fall!  With hayrides, games, trunk or treating, train ides, emergency vehicles, a petting zoo, and more,  Asbury is bringing in the Autumn season!  This...

Cost: Free, except food items for purchase from Food Trucks

Where:
Asbury UMC
6767 S. Mingo Rd
Tulsa, OK  74133
View map »


Sponsor: Asbury UMC
Telephone: 918-392-1165
Contact Name: Kim Broadhurst
Website »

More information

BaseCamp Spook-tacular: A camping, music, Halloween festival. Be prepared for a kid-friendly spooky night filled with friendly ghost, tent-o-treating, a mini-spook glow hike, and tons of great live...

Cost: Free Entry, $55 Camping Permit, $70 Early Entry Camping Permit

Where:
Turkey Mountain
6850 S. Elwood Ave
Tulsa, OK  74132
View map »


Sponsor: Tulsa Riverparks Authority
Telephone: 918-596-2008
Contact Name: Ryan Howell
Website »

More information

Once a year, the Oklahoma Aquarium opens its doors to trick-or-treaters of all ages to enjoy a safe, fun, indoor alternative to traditional Halloween activities. HallowMarine 2018 will feature our...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Oklahoma Aquarium
300 Aquarium Drive
Jenks, OK  74037
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Aquarium
Telephone: 918-528-1507
Contact Name: Liz Medrano
Website »

More information

America’s LARGEST interactive comedy murder mystery dinner show is now playing at the Hilton Garden Inn Tulsa Broken Arrow! At The Dinner Detective, you’ll tackle a challenging crime while you...

Cost: 59.95

Where:
Hilton Garden Inn Tulsa- Broken Arrow
420 W Albany St.
Broken Arrow, OK  74012
View map »


Telephone: 866-496-0535
Contact Name: The Dinner Detective
Website »

More information

The Oklahoma Swing Syndicate (TOSS) hosts a Swing dance and lessons  The Oklahoma Swing Syndicate (TOSS) is the only UNESCO recognized dance organization in Oklahoma.  We are a 501c3...

Cost: $7

Where:
Community Center - South Minister Presby Church
3500 So Peoria
1/2 west of Peoria, on 35pl behind the church
Tulsa, OK  74102
View map »


Sponsor: The Ok Swing Syndicate
Telephone: 918-450-691
Contact Name: Rita Robbins
Website »

More information

The Fear Factory is Tulsa's newest haunted attraction.

Cost: $20

Where:
Tulsa, OK  74115


Sponsor: 75 Productions
Telephone: 918-947-9544
Website »

More information

TU Theatre presents Man of La Mancha on October 18-20 and October 25-27 at 8pm. October 21 at 2pm,

Cost: 10.00

Where:
Kendall Hall
3102 E 4th Place
Tulsa, OK  74104
View map »

More information

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TULtalk


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From the editor: Only in downtown

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An Insider's Guide To Downtown Tulsa

Experience downtown with these tips and tricks for navigating the districts — where to eat, get a drink, and find entertainment.

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Our social calendar is jam-packed for the month of October! Which of these worthy causes will you support?

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