A woman who is focusing her life on creating a family-like support system for traumatized teens has won the 2021 Greater Cincinnati Jefferson Award, making her a finalist for the national award – known as the “Nobel Prize for public service.”
Katie Nzekwu of Ft. Thomas was presented the award in March at the Hilton Netherland Plaza Hotel. She is co-founder and CEO of Found Village, which provides resources and support to help teens develop the skills and support systems needed for a stable life.
Found Village takes its name from the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. Started in 2015, the organization is for teens who do not have that “village” of support that often comes from family, mentors and close community. Through this “found village” they can discover talents, explore interests, build strong relationships and healthy lifestyles. After-school, one-on-one and community-based activities include job training, life skills, fitness, creative experiences and mentoring.
“We have served over 100 kids since we started,” said Nzekwu. “We’re with the kids for the long haul. The average age is 15. The oldest is 22. But we can continue providing some level of support until they are 25.”
Teens in the program had an 89% decrease in psychiatric hospitalizations, 90% graduated from high school and moved toward secondary education and 70% left governed custody and were reunited with their families. The program has saved the community an estimated $200,000 in services.
As the Greater Cincinnati winner, Nzekwu becomes a finalist for the one of five national Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Awards for Outstanding Public Service Benefiting Local Communities, part of the overall Jefferson Awards.
The national Jefferson Awards program was founded in 1972 by Cincinnati native Robert Taft and former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. It honors outstanding service in more than a dozen categories, from service by public officials and professional sports figures to service by private citizens, students and corporations. Winners from more than 90 communities across the country will compete in Washington D.C this summer.
Finalists for the Greater Cincinnati award were Attorney Robert Buechner of Hyde Park and Evangeline DeVol of Loveland – both originators of programs designed to stabilize the lives of young people.
Robert Buechner founded the BeEx Foundation in 2008 to empower at-risk teens. In 2018 he launched HEAT (Holistically Empowering All Teens) in response to rising teen deaths due to drug abuse, violence and suicide.
Evangeline DeVol created NEST (Nutrition and Education in a Safe environment equals Transformation) Community Center in Loveland. Through mobile classrooms, NEST serves children in suburban poverty, providing academic support and trusted relationships coupled with nutrition, educational and family resources and physical activity. NEST mobile classrooms have served more than 200 children since 2016.
Last year’s local winner was Craig Young of Inspiring Service.
The Rotary Club of Cincinnati administers the nomination program with local partners the Cincinnati Enquirer and WKRC-TV Local 12. Area co-chairs are Doug Adams, a past local winner, and Bill Shula of Clermont County. In the past 15 years, eight Greater Cincinnati winners have gone on to receive the national award.