Landing in a detention center at age fifteen, her life was at a crossroads. With the support of family and community, Katie pulled out of a dark spot and transformed her life. The experience inspired a dream of helping other teens like herself. She completed boarding school, college and a master’s degree in social work.
But after twelves years of working with children and teens in social services, Katie was frustrated. She sat in meeting after meeting as kids were placed on various plans, given various meds or offered various services and yet most of them weren’t experiencing any real progress or change. Many were approaching adulthood with no real growth or success.
On a long day of meetings, Katie sat dazed, wondering how to help these teens. She was exhausted. She forgot to eat lunch. And missing yoga class had knocked her off center. As she sat in her hangry fatigue, the child in the room was asked what he needed. He was overwhelmed and discouraged. He had no idea. He wasn’t sleeping well because “his roommate at the home stayed up late on his phone.”
Katie remembered another case where a young man was struggling and mentioned that “the food was making his stomach hurt and he wasn’t playing football anymore because of his grades…” In other words, he wasn’t eating, and he had lost his regular exercise regimen, as well as the time he got with his football buddies. Those are legitimate bumps in anyone’s week.
Katie wondered if there could be another way. That maybe so many of these teens from hard places just need to learn how to be wholistically healthy. That a good night’s sleep matters. And eating healthy food matters. The therapy, meds, and work plans matter. But relationships and creative outlets and having fun matter too. It all matters. As the meeting went on, Katie began to sketch out the idea: A group of people that are passionate about pursuing teens from hard places.
People that understand the value of a healthy mind, body, and spirit. Assessing the kids’ needs, knowing their stories, teaching them self-awareness. But who will shepherd each one through the process? Who will refuse to give up? Answer: All of us. We will connect them. And support each other. Because it takes a village. We will teach them about the power of healthy, stable, connected relationships with other people and in their community. We won’t stop there. Our kids will learn to discover their abilities and passions. They’ll pay it forward. They will go past the edge of their potential. Because we’re Villedge. Now, please, someone, a sandwich.
Katie’s college sweetheart, loving husband and fantastic father of her three super adorable children. Born and raised in Nigeria, Iloba came to the U.S. as a young man with only a backpack and a positive attitude. Iloba’s first lesson was in geography: “Yes, Virginia is right outside Washington D.C., but you’re in West Virginia, son. A different state, entirely.”
Iloba’s story is chock full of overcoming obstacles and adversity. He welcomed opportunities to encourage young people with his story—that with information, relationships and opportunity, anyone can achieve success. (And smile, for crying out loud!) So, sharing Katie’s passion for changing the lives of teens from hard places, Iloba was excited about the vision and possibility of Villedge.
In his hip Nigerian accent, he said, “Yes, wife. Let’s do it.” And Villedge came to be. Together, Katie and Iloba, continue to relentlessly love on and fight for teens from hard places in the Greater Cincinnati area. They won’t stop until every young person is connected with an audacious and intentional community of relational resources. Katie and Iloba, along with those like-minded folks that have joined along the way, absolutely love empowering these amazing kids to discover their own self-worth and the power of relationship. And they have a lot of fun.
Important Story Notes: First, it’s pronounced EE-LOH-BAH. And IN-ZAY-KOO. You’re welcome.
Second, Katie sincerely apologizes to all the appropriate folks for zoning out in that famous meeting. We’re glad she did. Because Villedge is working. Join us.