$1M Donation Helps Tulsa Gym Start New Chapter After Devastating Tornado

Wednesday, March 9th 2016, 9:23 pm

A $1 million donation will help catapult a Tulsa gymnastic studio to new heights after a tornado destroyed the gym last spring.

Aim High Academy athletes have been practicing out of two different temporary gyms for the past year; and while the gymnasts are grateful for the space, it's time to build a gym of their own.

The tornado in March 2015 could have flipped Aim High Academy's world upside down, but instead has made an impact far greater than founder Jennifer Patterson or her gymnasts could have ever imagined.

"It was kind of like a life-changing moment," 11-year-old gymnast Donavynn Wray said.

Patterson said it was a blessing in disguise.

"God did protect our Aim High family, and we were given a platform, it may not have been in the way we would have ever asked for or wanted, but were given an opportunity to share His greatness," she said.

Patterson founded Aim High in 2007. It's a non-profit, affordable, faith-based gymnastics studio to help north Tulsa children succeed.

Patterson said, "God has blessed Aim High Academy every step of the way."

The 20,000 square foot gym Aim High was leasing was destroyed when a strong storm rolled through last spring. About 60 little gymnasts were inside starting practice.

"He literally whispered in my ear, 'Go now' and all the kids were safe," Patterson said.

She said when she heard that voice, she and the other coaches rushed the children to a  basement.

"It was scary,” Wray said. “I had never been in an actual storm like that."

The gym was gone, but no one was hurt.

Still, the gymnasts - barefoot and shivering in just their gym leotards - were carried out of the gym in the arm of Tulsa firefighters.

"God saw to it that each one of their little heads and hairs on their heads were protected, and I have nothing but honor and glory and thanks for that," Patterson said.

And that's where a new chapter at Aim High began.

"It's everybody's front row seat to a miracle in the making," Patterson said.For the past year, Patterson's athletes have practiced in two different gyms in two different towns.

"We are a family and we do feel kind of torn apart right now," she said.

Soon they'll be together again. On Wednesday, Aim High announced its $5.5 million capital campaign to rebuild a brand new 24,000 square foot facility. The hope is one day Aim High will expand past gymnastics and dance classes to other fine arts.

"It's gonna be wonderful. It's gonna allow us to grow a lot," Patterson said.

The campaign is starting off big with a $1 million donation from former Tulsa businessman Tom Naugle.

3/9/2016 Related Story: Tulsa Gym Damaged By 2015 Tornado Set To Get Major Gift

"I'm just amazed at how big that donation was and that he has a caring heart for all of us kids," Wray said.

"Tom Naugle, in my opinion, is Aim High's angel. He didn't have to be interested, he didn't have to be involved," said Patterson.

"It's not my money, God gave me this money to give away," Naugle said. "I can't think of anything better than to help give young people a better start in their life."

As for Patterson, she can't think of anything better than seeing her athletes’ dreams come to life - and that goes far beyond gymnastics.

"I want a place where moms, and dads and kids can come and they feel safe, and they feel the presence of God, and they feel like this is a place that is built especially for them. And they feel at home and they feel loved there," she said. 

Aim High is working with two landowners in north Tulsa to build the new gym. Both parcels are in between Gilcrease and Peoria and Pine and 36th St. North. Patterson said it's a lofty goal, but hopes to have enough money to break ground later this year so she can continue to empower and encourage north Tulsa youth.

"When you learn through hard work and perseverance and can finally conquer something that you thought was impossible, you feel that sense of accomplishment and it really does empower to think that you can go and do and be anything," Patterson said.

To find out how you can help Aim High Academy's mission, you can visit its website.