Well known for his service and helping one hand at a time, George Oakman Jr. is making a difference in the Aiken community.
Oakman is the founder of the People of the World Holding Hands nonprofit organization, which is geared toward empowering, educating and elevating the community and is focused on bringing the world together one hand at a time. It was founded in 2015.
He was born and raised in Aiken, has made an impact on the community as a whole and has big plans for his organization. He is a Christian man who believes God led him to where he is today.
“I think my heart is what's going to allow me to travel the world and continue to pour out because God pours into me,” Oakman said.
Oakman started serving his community by helping out where he could, and once he figured out that starting a nonprofit would help him “elevate his work” in the community, he filed the organization as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit.
Oakman does not believe in an age limit when giving back to the community. He provides services to those as young as a month all the way to the elderly.
“My biggest pet peeve is just when people look down on someone and they don't truly know the struggle or the reason why that person is down, but they're quick to just want to look down on them,” Oakman said.
When he was in high school, his teacher, Betty Morgan, told him, "You can teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime, or you could give him a fish and he’ll eat for a day." Oakman held on to that concept when creating his organization.
“With this nonprofit, I wanted to teach people to fish,” Oakman said, “So teach people to get on their feet, whether it's equipping them with jobs, giving them the resources that they needed to go out and fill out an application or just pointing them in the right direction to able to get on their feet and not have to stand outside another day to ask for a meal.”
Oakman works with organizations like True To Your SOLE, Big Mama's Kitchen, churches, the Aiken Department of Public Safety, Aiken Technical College and more.
“There's so many people and honestly I can't say that I would have been able to get this far without the partnership that's grown over the years, and I've learned it's really about partnership over sponsorship,” Oakman said.
He said he partners with Public Safety to show people that one bad apple does not spoil the bunch when it comes to law enforcement. Oakman’s goal is to bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement.
“My goal for this organization is to continue getting out in the community to help other people and bring more people together, especially nowadays ... because we're so broken with police brutality,” Oakman said.
He wants to show people in the community that they can call the police when they need help.
Oakman realized the name of his organization is perfect for the time we are in now, with the world being so “divided,” in a sense.
“This name really means a lot because there's literally people of the world holding hands, people come together as one like God intended, so I think that in general has given me the faith, given me the resources to just overcome so much,” Oakman said.
Through his organization, he wanted people to see it as a resource and not a crutch. Oakman explained that some people are afraid to ask for help because they feel they are going to be judged, but everyone needs help whether they are afraid to admit it or not.
“Everyone needs help. Even we need help when we're in a good position,” Oakman said. “Someone always needs help and I figured that's what God put us here for: to love on one another and help each other versus tearing each other down.”
Oakman said his favorite service activity is the toy drive they hold every year around Christmas, partnering with Toys for Tots and giving toys away to families in need. They were able to hold one last year despite the pandemic, hosting it outside and receiving over 1,500 gifts.
Oakman is a father and understands what parents go through when it comes to budgeting around the holidays. He said this event gives parents the opportunity to provide for their kids and is his ultimate event that he loves and looks forward to every year.
“I say Christmas because growing up here, my mom was who I lived with; seeing her filling the Christmas tree, trying to work one or two jobs to be able to make ends meet and me being a father now I look back on it and I'm like, man, I didn't know how hard it was to really put gifts up under the tree,” Oakman said.
Putting a smile on people's faces is what Oakman loves most about serving his community.
“I think I've made a difference even if it's not globally. I think within each person that I've encountered over my lifetime, or even through me starting an organization, I definitely think I've made an impact with them,” Oakman said.
“Just by being able to give them advice, I've been able to help them in some way shape or form, or just being able to touch them rather spiritually mentally, or just (being) there for them at that moment.”
Oakman said he followed his heart and tried not to follow the crowd to become the man he is today. After pouring love into what his organization does around the community, he said the job became more fun versus just feeling like a job.
“I've made an impact with them (the community) and I know (by) the appreciation that I get, the love that I get, the feedback that I get, and just by the acceptance out in the communities,” Oakman said.
Serving the community is not always a walk in the park. Sometimes there are obstacles to overcome.
“People only see the success part. People only see the events. They don't know the hard work of it and any time I'm able to get a crowd to show up, or people to come out and see a smile on just one person's face, or someone saying thank you, I feel I have overcome that obstacle,” Oakman said.
Oakman’s organization has served the Aiken community and other areas like metro Atlanta, Texas, Mississippi and Florida. He looks forward to branching out to North Carolina as well as states farther north in the near future.
The next big event coming up for the People of the World Holding Hands is its annual back-to-school event. Oakman is still working on the details for the event, but it will be shared on the organization's Facebook page when available.