Tina Dobson: Giving Hope to the Hopeless
Tina Dobson grew up in a world without hope, but she has come to know a life of endless possibilities. Occasionally, she has to pinch herself to make sure she is awake, to make sure it’s all real.
Looking back, it’s easy to understand why.
Her family was living in a trailer park in Mustang, Okla., when she came home from junior high one day and told her parents that she wanted to go to college, that she wanted to make something of herself. A teacher had noticed her potential and had encouraged her to think about higher education. While many parents would be thrilled to have a teenager thinking about college, Dobson’s father reacted in a violent manner, threatened by his daughter’s desire for a better life than his.
Dobson’s father had only a fourth grade education, her mother only a sixth. The word “college” never had been mentioned in their home until she expressed an interest. Unfortunately, her father’s angry reaction to the idea wasn’t an anomaly.
“I came from a home where there was alcoholism and physical abuse. My parents didn’t understand the importance of education because they weren’t educated themselves. As far as I was concerned, my life was hopeless.”
Dobson’s situation at home progressively worsened. At age 15, she moved out to live with friends. Nonetheless, she graduated from high school, immediately began working in accounting and started attending classes at OSU-OKC. To make things more challenging, Dobson now was a single mother. She resolved, however, to keep moving forward.
“I was born with this drive to make something with my life, an inner strength. I had pride in what I did, and I wanted my life to be something that it wasn’t,” she said.
After marrying Stephen Dobson, she began accounting classes at Southwestern State University in Weatherford, Okla., all the while knowing that she wanted to do something to help others break out of the cycle of prejudice, poverty and abuse.
So, when the Dobsons moved to Edmond, she began classes at Central, but this time in psychology, with the idea of opening a home for young people experiencing hardships similar to those she experienced growing up.
After moving to Edmond, she also became close friends with two neighbors, Beverly Coon and Laura Mitchell, who like her, were mothers of young children. The close friendships, however, went to a new level when the trio attended “Live Your Best Life,” a seminar hosted by Oprah Winfrey in Florida. The experience instantly motivated them to look at how they wanted to positively impact the lives of others.
Returning from the seminar, Dobson shared with her friends her dream of opening a group home for children with no family support. She also decided to switch her major from psychology to sociology — and Coon and Mitchell decided they, too, would get sociology degrees. Furthermore, they would work to help those less fortunate.
After all three started attending UCO classes, they became known in the Central community as the “Three Amigos,” enjoying close friendships with classmates and professors.
“I know that UCO is a midsized university, but it has that small-college feel to it. I really enjoyed being a student at Central because the professors really care about the students,” she said. “At the time, Beverly, Laura and I were all raising kids of our own, but we became ‘The Moms’ to the rest of our classmates as well. We were all like a big family.”
The “Three Amigos” graduated with their bachelor’s degrees in sociology in 2005. They then began working on master’s degrees in social work from the University of Oklahoma, graduating in 2007.
While in graduate school, their idea of opening a home for young people experiencing serious hardships evolved into a different, very unique initiative — the University of Central Oklahoma Institute of Hope.
With Dobson’s leadership and the UCO College of Liberal Arts’ guidance, the institute was formed in 2006 through the University of Central Oklahoma Foundation with the support of Dobson and her friends. The institute’s mission is to fight prejudice, poverty and abuse through educational programming and flexible student financial aid. It’s specifically designed to offer aid to Central students struggling with distress in their personal lives, providing mid-semester emergency funding to help them stay in college.
Over the last four-and-a-half years, the Institute of Hope has provided more than $35,000 in assistance to nearly 50 Central students in need of emergency funding as well as some hope and encouragement. Dobson’s dream has become a reality.
Giving hope to others has become a strong passion that Dobson feels blessed to share with Central.
“There was a time when I didn’t think I would be able to succeed, that I would ever have the opportunity to go to college and be able to say that I am a college graduate,” she said. “There are kids out there who are stuck in life, without hope for a better future. The Institute of Hope provides these kids with the opportunity to succeed and hope for a positive future.”