Reflecting on a fulfilling career, Ardmore resident Roxanna Newsom considers herself fortunate to witness the progress of the Chickasaw Nation’s programs and services, which are all designed to enhance the lives of Chickasaw citizens.
Throughout her 31-year career with Chickasaw Nation Nutrition Services, Newsom, along with the entire staff, worked diligently to fulfill the mission of the Chickasaw Nation: “To enhance the overall quality of life of the Chickasaw people.”
Her role in that mission changed over the years, as the Chickasaw Nation developed and expanded innovative and compassionate nutrition services to serve the community.
“I am very proud that nutrition services has really worked hard to have staff who have a servant heart and customer service is a priority, and to be sure people get what they need and they receive it in a caring, respectful manner,” Newsom, a Chickasaw citizen, said.
“We are service-driven people. I’m just so grateful I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of the Chickasaw Nation and to live the mission and serve our people.”
Recently retired, Newsom began working with the Chickasaw Nation Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program in 1989.
In the early days of her career, she coordinated food distribution services from her office on the former Carter Seminary campus. When it was first launched in the Ardmore area, food was distributed through “tailgate” events throughout the 13 counties in south central Oklahoma which encompass the Chickasaw Nation.
“We started with 16 tailgates,” she said.
A few years later the first Ardmore Chickasaw Nation food Distribution Center opened west of town. The new facility was designed as a grocery store, allowing participants to shop for their food selections.
“We knew it would offer an environment of dignity and respect where people could come in and select the food that they wanted. For many, it is very difficult to ask for help, and offering help (services) in an environment with no judgment, I’ve seen it make a difference in people being able to come in and get the assistance that they need. Often, people just need that contact.”
The establishment of the Ardmore center was followed by the opening of the Ada Nutrition Services building. In 2006, a new 10,000-square-foot Ardmore Chickasaw Nation Nutrition Center was opened at 2350 Chickasaw Boulevard. The new facility houses nutrition information and support through the Food Distribution Program, WIC services, Farmers Market programs, and the Get Fresh! cooking classes.
A few years later, similar facilities were opened in Purcell and Duncan, and last year the Chickasaw Nation Nutrition Center was opened in Tishomingo.
Newsom felt a sense of pride seeing the positive impact the programs have on families. She related a story about becoming acquainted with a family through the WIC program and years later having the opportunity to see the grandmother and granddaughter, who was now a mother, visit the Ardmore store at the same time, and shop and spend time together.
“They would spend time visiting and the grandmother would see the baby. It was just perfect, an added bonus.”
The Chickasaw Nation was just the second First American tribe in the United States to operate nutrition services through a store concept.
“We have had visitors from across the United States to see how we do it and how they can implement it at their tribes,” she explained.
Newsom said the steady leadership of Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby has ensured the progress of the programs.
“The fact that we have established, long-term leadership is just crucial. It has helped us move some things along, make changes and improvements that needed to happen, because of the government-to-government relationship that has been established.”
Countless hours of work helped improve the selection of food available through the program, she explained.
“It’s an amazing food package,” she said, listing fare such as ground beef, bison, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, squash and potatoes.
“It really is a beautiful, healthy food package. We’ve worked really hard and we are really pleased and proud of that package.”
Since the early days of tailgate events, a wide variety of Chickasaw Nation food distribution programs have been implemented; such as summer feeding programs for school-aged children, Farmers Market programs, nutrition education, expanded WIC services, and recently, “Farmers to Families.” In collaboration with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, the Chickasaw Nation provided more than 375,000 pounds of food through “Farmers to Families” events in 13 communities, serving almost 8,500 families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Newsom said many of these programs began as sublime ideas envisioned during staff brainstorming sessions.
“That is one of the wonderful things about the Chickasaw Nation. If you can dream it from the perspective of ‘does this enhance the overall quality of life of the Chickasaw people,’ then there is a good chance it becomes a reality, because we’ve seen it. We asked, ‘What if we did this? Is that possible?’ and made it happen. It’s staggering what is available. It is just amazing,” Newsom said.
The Farmers Market program is an example of a program that has expanded from being seasonal to meeting the nutrition needs of elders year-round.
The program provides Chickasaws and other First Americans funds for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables at authorized farmers markets throughout the Chickasaw Nation. It expanded to provide Chickasaw elders, Chickasaw Warrior Society members and disabled citizens with monthly winter fruit and vegetable packages.
“If an elder can drive to one of our locations, they can pick up a package. In Ardmore, there is a sizable group that comes in from Texas. It’s been fun to see how it’s grown and expanded.”
Oklahoma City and Tulsa were also recently added as pick up sites, she said.
Developing the FutureAlthough she retired in June 2020, Newsom is busy working with the Chickasaw Nation on special projects; including the development of a grocery pick up app for the food distribution centers.
“We have been testing it for several months,” she said.
Once the app is launched, staff will pull the client’s order, load it and have it ready for curbside delivery. COVID-19 precautions beginning March 2020 allowed for a trial run, and the delivery process was altered to allow for responsible distancing.
“Since (the pandemic), staff is calling clients, finding out what they want and scheduling a pick up time. Even through the new process, staff can order for the client if they are not able. The client will receive an email or text notification when it’s pick up time,” she explained.
Newsom is grateful to continue to work on this special project that was just a lofty goal a few years ago.
“I am just excited to be able to work on these projects and really dedicate some time to them, to see if we can pull this off and make this happen.”
Fulfilling the mission of the Chickasaw Nation continues to motivate Newsom.
“I’m just so grateful that I had the opportunity to be part of the Chickasaw Nation and to live the mission, and to work with so many people who have that servant heart and want to serve people and help. Chickasaw Nation employees don’t just speak it, they live it and they put it into action.”
A lifelong Ardmore native, Newsom has a son and a daughter who live in the area, as well as five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“Grandma status, it is so much fun,” she chuckled.
She appreciates the Chickasaw Nation programs that her children and grandchildren have been able to access.
“My children got to participate in the Summer Youth program and we thought that was just incredible. Now, my oldest grandson graduated with his associates. He works part-time for the Chickasaw Nation, and between his grants through the Chickasaw Nation and his employment, he was able to graduate debt free.
“It is just staggering that things have developed and grown over the years,” she said.
Asked if she envisioned her career path evolving the way it did, she answered, “Absolutely not. You just think you are going in and working and doing your job. Then you look back and see we really were able to have an impact on lives.”