Kris Steele at a TEEM graduation
Credit: Mark Hancock

Since November, he has led The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM) as its executive director.

Founded in 1987, the Oklahoma City-based nonprofit began as a support center for men battling substance abuse, but now focuses on providing free education and job placement services to men and women working to turn their lives around.

Steele, a Shawnee Republican who served as House speaker from 2010 to 2012, said TEEM gives him an opportunity to work on tackling poverty, homelessness and unemployment in a more hands-on manner. He said his background in legislation and ministry — Steele is a former Baptist minister — is a perfect match for his current work.

“TEEM combines these two worlds perfectly,” he said.

Of particular interest to Steele is corrections reform.

“For all the people incarcerated [in Oklahoma], the violent crime rate remains largely unchanged,” he said. “It’s even gone up in some places.”

Steele turned to TEEM as a tool to halt the growth of crime and poverty by helping people move on with their lives after drug and alcohol addiction.

Freddie Weaver is one such individual. After only a few weeks in a TEEM class, he attained a safety certification in forklift driving. “They bring the best out of you and make you think,” he said. “I have a new-found energy since starting these classes. They put you in the right direction.”

Although TEEM is a ministry, Weaver said, participants are not pressured to subscribe to a certain faith.

“They don’t cram spirituality down your throat,” he said. “Anyone can be comfortable here.”

At the beginning of the program, students are required to write down their short-term goals. Weaver’s was to start paying off his debt and learn more about how best to best run his lawn-care business.

“They teach you that you are somebody,” Weaver said. “They teach you that it’s up to you to make a change.”

Steele said working at TEEM has opened his eyes to the challenges faced by Oklahomans.

“These people have, for whatever reason, been marginalized,” he said. “TEEM reconnects individuals with the community and affirms their purpose in life. It’s amazing how wonderful the people living in this state are.”

For Steele, who was term-limited in the Legislature, there are no regrets about leaving the political sphere.

“[TEEM] is a magical, miraculous environment,” he said. “I get to be part of a staff committed to helping people rebuild their lives. I have no trouble getting out of bed every morning.”

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