DES MOINES, Iowa – Walking around the Variety Center in the Oakridge Neighborhood, Teree Caldwell-Johnson never thought her journey in life would lead her into the non-profit world. Still, it has, and for almost 18 years, she has served as the President and CEO for Oakridge Neighborhood.
“I think that working here in the Oakridge organization has taught me a lot about not only the patience that it takes to support the needs of the individuals that call Oakridge home, but I think it really allows me to understand what true resilience means,” said Caldwell-Johnson.
According to the President and CEO, 72% of Oakridge residents are refugees and immigrants from different countries. Since most Oakridge residents have diverse backgrounds, Caldwell-Johnson has helped residents assimilate to life in America.
“I think for so many people there’s a perception of what public housing is and what they think it should be or how it should look,” said Caldwell-Johnson
“I think the thing about Oakridge is really this is about being home, and it’s about creating an environment that does feel like you’re at home.”
But Caldwell- Johnson believes her care for others began early. She says her parents were educators in Salina, Kansas, where she watched her parents play substantial roles in the community.
“Everybody in town was either taught by my father or was taught dance by my mother, so I feel like we knew just about everyone,” said Caldwell-Johnson. “But because of their engagement and involvement, I just feel like I was raised to understand the importance of service.”
Since Caldwell-Johnson has been at Oakridge, she has served on numerous community organizations in the City of Des Moines and the Des Moines Public School board. She also helped to rebuild Edmonds Elementary school, located across the street from Oakridge Neighborhood.
“I ran understanding that kids that are in need and live in impoverished neighborhoods need a voice, and so I decided that I wanted to be a voice for our little brown and black children,” said Caldwell-Johnson.
Caldwell-Johnson’s longtime friend Dr. Andy McGuire nominated her to be recognized as a remarkable woman.
“She does so much with her time, so much with her energy for everybody and others,” said Dr. McGuire. [She helps] the kids here who are kind of how I got introduced to her just, it has such lifelong consequences for those people, and that’s why if you’re talking about remarkable, you’re talking about Teree.”
Teree says she cares about Oakridge residents and their success in Iowa.
“I care deeply about the people in the community, and so anything that I can do to show up and to really lift up the people of our community is where I want to be.”