Home Nonprofit organization Roanoke nonprofit becomes a home for people with disabilities, changing lives one smile at a time

Roanoke nonprofit becomes a home for people with disabilities, changing lives one smile at a time


ROANOKE, Va. – Located in Southwest Roanoke, Katie’s Place is a non-profit community day program for adults facing a variety of unique learning challenges.

Members of Katie’s Place (KP) learn to develop social skills and practice lifestyle activities such as cooking, cleaning, gardening, community outings and more.

Upon entering KP you will be greeted with a celebratory toast and told that anyone who walks through its door must feel at home. The organization has a message: it’s okay to be perfectly imperfect.

A vision turned into a dream with a mission

Katie’s Place was originally started by a group of parents who had a vision of having a farm where their children with disabilities could live, work, learn job skills, and develop relationships and friendships.

Bonnie Whitlock, one of the program’s original founders, named the organization after her daughter, Katie, who also had a disability but passed away.

A d

The organization became an all-inclusive community program and was later taken over by St. Vincent’s Home Services (SVH), which offers a wide variety of family support programs and educational opportunities.

Angie Leonard, SEO at SVH, said the program goes beyond helping people with disabilities feel capable of ordinary life experiences.

Leonard, who is also the former executive director of SVH Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center, has an autistic son who attended school programs and needed an adult program.

“There was a need for full life experiences for adults with disabilities, so KP was an existing program that we could scale, and it grew 170%,” Leonard said with a smile.

Leonard and other parents wanted to help these adults develop relationships with everyone, whether or not they had a disability. The purpose of this, she explained, is to help develop independent living at any stage of their life.

A d

There is no “I” in the team

Zoe Paxton, program manager at KP, said one of the core principles of the program is to encourage group collaboration and promote choice.

“They express what they want to do even if they don’t have the verbal skills to do it. So we figure out what they want to do,” said Paxton, who also worked at SVH for five years as a behavioral technician in private school before working at KP.

Painting your nails, going to Zumba, playing bingo, learning how to spend and budget money, volunteering at the rescue mission, and riding a cart around the Roanoke area are just a few of the activities what members can do.

With help from each member’s family, activities are diverse and specific to their interests and goals, whether it’s developing social skills, managing money or practicing health and safety, Paxton said.

“Mom, KP tomorrow? »

A photo of Katie’s Place employee Lisa Chowder with her son Shannon (Photo by Lisa Chowder)

Lisa Chowder, an employee and member of the original KP team, also shared how the program has been a home for her and for her son, Shannon, who was Katie’s best friend.

A d

Chowder explained that one of the first things Shannon asks before she goes to bed and wakes up in the morning is, “Mom, KP tomorrow?” or “Mom, KP day?”

Since Shannon joined KP, Chowder said she has watched her son grow up to socialize and form instant relationships with his friends and the community.

“If you ask him he will say he is family and if he misses anyone he will ask about them and cares deeply about them and his staff. Once you are his friend , you two are friends for life,” Chowder said.

Looking out of her office, hearing laughter and seeing the joy of the members performing, Chowder expressed how blessed she was to have this job.

“I know Katie would have loved the program here if she had the chance to see it,” Chowder said.

To learn more about the program and how you can volunteer, check out Katie’s Place Facebook page and stop by for a tour.

Copyright 2022 by WSLS 10 – All rights reserved.