Ask Jamar Giddings to pin down his favorite memory from a childhood spent with the Boys & Girls Club and he’ll tell you it was scatterball.
“Being able to go out there and compete and hit a friend or one of the staff with a ball and get them out, we had a lot of fun,” he said.
The game, a form of dodgeball, helped nurture an athletic ability and competitiveness that would eventually lead him out of an impoverished area of Lawton and ultimately back into the fold of the organization that shaped his life.
Giddings and his older brother grew up in the foster care system. They never knew their father and their mother left when Jamar was 5.
When he was 6, a relative who worked during the summers at the Lawton Boys & Girls Club took them to the club and he was hooked. He would stay an active member until he graduated high school.
“Not really having that stable family environment, the mentors that were there and being able to play sports was a huge thing,” he said. “It was tremendous to have those opportunities and a place to go and feel safe and have someone who really cared about you.”
Giddings started his collegiate career at Western Oklahoma State where he played basketball for two years before transferring to the University of Oklahoma in 1998.
Giddings came to Tulsa in 1999 when he transferred to Oral Roberts University. He walked onto the track team and earned an athletic scholarship while studying health exercise science.
In 2002, Giddings was named athletic director at the West Mabee Boys & Girls Club in west Tulsa, where he has been for nearly 15 years.
As unit director, Giddings handles an array of duties from acting as a mentor and helping students with homework to driving the bus to pick them up from school. He also leads a cooking class where he teaches the kids how to cook basics like pasta and salsa to more advanced dishes like gumbo, jambalaya and fried chicken.
Giddings learned to cook by watching his older brother and foster parents in the kitchen.
“With the lack of parents’ involvement in the kids’ lives in the community that we’re in, a lot of these kids don’t get fed properly,” he said.
“If you’re able to prepare food and feed yourself I think that will help knock off some of these kids going without having a meal. It also teaches them so when they decide to have a family they can teach their kids how to cook.”
Giddings work isn’t limited by traditional office hours and the impact he has on club members is as much from his interactions with them outside of the club as it is inside.
For instance, he invites members to join his family at church on Sundays and afterward to their house for dinner.
He also attends plays, sporting events, graduations and other activities in the kids’ lives outside of the club.
“I want to instill in them that you can become anything in life. You can get out of these circumstances you were put in, regardless of it was intentional or not,” he said. “I want them to know there’s nothing wrong with dreaming outside of the walls of these neighborhoods and anything they want to set their mind to they can get it done.”
Giddings’ work at the club recently earned him recognition as one of 12 Maytag Dependable Leader Award recipients. The award came with $20,000 that will be used to expand the club’s programming and provide scholarship opportunities for its members.
Capt. Ken Chapman, area commander of the Salvation Army of Tulsa, said that the work Giddings does is “probably the very thing in that community that is standing between brokenness and hope.”
“There are teenage guys over there that every time I talk to them they tell me that they’re not in a gang today because of Jamar, or that they’re going to college because of Jamar,” he said. “The man is literally helping to save an entire community.”