An old three-story jail, just seven years shy of being a century old, has been the headquarters for families in crisis for 30 years now.
Don Oldfield has been the executive director of the Graham Crisis Center for 20 of those years.
Not only does Oldfield operate the center, but he is also head of the Graham Community Food Pantry and Clothes Closet and is in charge of the crisis center’s benevolence fund.
As if he doesn’t wear enough hats, Oldfield also offers counsel to families and individuals in need of psychiatric assistance.
He has a master’s degree in education with a major in general counseling from Midwestern State University. He and his wife, Sharon, and daughter, Lauren, lived in Wichita Falls, where Oldfield operated his own private counseling practice called North Texas Christian Counseling Center.
His family heard about Graham and began traveling here on the weekends to shop in boutiques and antique stores.
“Each time we came here, we would say, ‘This would be a good place to live, but how can we live here?’” Oldfield said.
The family’s chance to move to Graham finally presented itself when Oldfield learned of a job opening at the crisis center. He took the executive director position on Aug. 15, 1994.
“When I came here in 1994, there was very little counseling being done here at the center,” Oldfield said. “The previous director had strengths in other areas, but counseling was my primary strength. Over the course of the last 20 years, counseling has picked up here at least tenfold.”
The job required the Oldfields to live in the center for three years.
Oldfield said that living in the center was at times challenging — especially because people would show up around the clock asking for help, often in need of assistance with bills, medical expenses, counseling or a place to rest.
“People would call in the middle of the night, and that took some time to put up boundaries,” Oldfield said. “We made it 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.”
After three years, the family moved into a home of their own, which allowed Oldfield some distance between his work life and home life.
“We learned some valuable lessons and learned the value of a home as a sanctuary,” he said. “Everything presses in on you as a job.”
The job can require a lot of time from Oldfield.
“It’s definitely been a juggling act,” he said. “We need to have at least one more paid employee that can carry some of that load. It’s difficult to do counseling when we have walk-up traffic (for benevolence funding) and people requesting other assistance.”
Although helping others is something Oldfield says that he enjoys, he also said that it can cause emotional wear and tear on him.
“People don’t come to talk to me because things are great,” he said. “When they come in here, they’re just weighed down with problems, and there’s a fine line, sometimes, with a counselor that can be sympathetic and empathetic, but at the same time don’t take all of that (emotion) upon yourself. Emotionally, nobody could possibly handle that load.”
In fact, Oldfield said there were some instances in which the emotional torments of work would follow him home and keep him up at night.
“Despite all of the training in the world, to not take emotionally from clients and care, there’s a certain amount of that which is going to stick,” he said.
That reality was made crystal clear six years ago when Oldfield had a heart attack.
“Two weeks prior, I took a stress test, and the doctor said that I was in the top 10 percent health of men who were my age,” he said, adding that after the heart attack, his doctor insisted Oldfield diminish the amount of stress in his life.
“I made some adjustments to where I could get away from it a little better,” he said.
Over the last 20 years, Oldfield has seen three generations of the same people needing assistance, and, due to their fixed incomes, has seen need increase in the local elderly population.
Oldfield has also seen the numbers of those acquiring food from the food pantry increase from 200 to 850.
Oldfield hopes to retire one day, but until then he is looking forward to a new crisis center, he said.
For Oldfield, the bottom line is that he has stayed in his position at the crisis center, food bank and clothes closet because he loves the community.
“Every good thing I heard about Graham and the people before I came here has proven to be true and then some,” Oldfield said. “(Graham is) one of the most generous communities I’ve ever been around.”