Keith and Nicole Woolridge: Dallas, Chicago roots create unique leadership chemistry for Eagle’s Nest
By Eric D. Hackley
Eric Hackley: Why did you want to become the new directors and take on the task of rebuilding the Eagle’s Nest Youth Center?
Nicole Woolridge: Because we love working with children. With my husband Keith being from Texas and me being from Chicago, we see that there are so many children out here that need to be saved, that want to be saved, but they did not have that direction. They don’t have that much-needed role model.
There are so many kids that go home and there’s no one there to help them with their homework. No one is there to cook them dinner. No one is there to listen to their problems. We can’t be mom and dad. We just want to be that layer between home, school and community where we provide in these children’s lives that which they are seeking. They’re seeking this! That’s why they’re acting out!
Keith Woolridge: I’ll be honest with you Mr. Hackley, when I was growing up in my childhood, I was very sheltered…
Nicole: …and just I was the opposite.
Keith: I had no knowledge of the streets. I didn’t have many friends. My parents told me “no” a lot, but they never explained to me, why not? As soon as I turned 18, I went out and started experiencing all the things that I didn’t have a chance to experience as a child. I became very rebellious, but what’s worse, I came from a Christian background—three generations of preachers. I was born and raised in the church. I had spent most of my days in church.
But until today, I will say that most of what I have experienced that has made me a stronger person has come from the streets. I didn’t have to, but I took myself out there into the streets. Just like a lot of kids, I was curious. Anytime someone tells you no, no, no and they never explain to you why not, you become very curious. What my wife and I are trying to do is catch those kids now before they get to the point where…
Nicole: …they’re locked in the system.
Keith: We have an opportunity to tell these kids, “I don’t think that’s what you want to do.” But, we’ll explain to them and give them examples. We tell them our experiences with this. We’ll explain why you don’t want to choose this path right here. I chose this path. The mistake you’re about to make, I already made that mistake and let me tell you how that went.
We’re stepping up to be that bigger brother, bigger sister, father, mother. We’ll be what that child needs us to be for things they can’t take to their natural parents or brothers and sisters.
Nicole: Keith had a sheltered life. He was raised in a two-parent family. I was raised in a single parent home and my mom was a Chicago cop. He was sheltered, but I had a lot of family around me. I enjoyed the perks of roller skating, parties and everything like that. We were both straight “A” students well into college. My mom always gave me options, especially with her being a cop. It was always, “Hey, you can do this or you can do that.”
Keith: My address was my grandfather’s house. My grandfather was the elder of the Seventh Day Adventist church. My grandmother was a Christian lady and she ran the daycare. My father was the youth pastor. My great-grandfather was a deacon in the church. Everything surrounding me was church oriented. And that was all I knew. I didn’t know anything about gang life, drug life, none of that. I was kept away from that.
Hackley: Now here’s where it gets strange. You and your husband’s chemistry is so unique that I have never spoken to a couple who was able to finish each other’s sentence. What will both of your capacities be here at the Eagle’s Nest Youth Center?
Nicole: We’ll be working together. We work best together. Keith is my best friend. Like when we finish each other’s sentences, I can come to him and he’ll say that I knew what he was thinking. That’s how our chemistry is. We work best together as a team.
Keith: It’s been natural…
Nicole: …ever since we met.
Hackley: So it will be hard for a kid to game you.
Nicole: Oh yeah, we just had…
Keith: that done yesterday.
Nicole: The kid said that he pretty much knew he couldn’t pull it off, but he wanted to go ahead and try anyway.
Keith: We talk about things and have a game plan before things even happen. So if you take something to us, the other one pretty much already knows what’s happening.
Nicole: We tell each other everything. We have a really, really tight friendship relationship and a tight marriage.
Hackley: One last observation: You’ve taken the reins from the founders of the Eagle’s Nest Youth Center, George and Gladys Middleton. Tell me about their relationship with the two of you.
Nicole: Mr. George Middleton is a great mentor for the both of us. He always tells me that I am the one person who if he is thinking something, that I can put it into perspective to get the point across. He’s a wonderful mentor and he’s really funny.
He always tells Keith and I that, “I want you guys to grow the center up and put structure in it.” He wants us to do what needs to be done to make the center to be a consistent presence in the community. He sees the connection between Keith and me. He sees our closeness. We’re running the center just as Mr. and Mrs. Middleton envisioned it.
Keith: It’s like a professional basketball team. You have a general manager, head coach and the players. You can have the best head coach out there, but if you don’t have the right players in the game…
Nicole: …you’re going to lose every time.
Keith: That reminds me of what Mr. Middleton is doing because he’s a hell of a coach and a great guy. Not to sound arrogant or anything, but I feel that he has two great players in Nicole and me. And, we’re constantly building.
Nicole: We’re building our own dream team at the Eagle’s Nest and they’re awesome. They…
Keith: …they put the kids first and we’ve had people come through who say they don’t have to get paid.
Nicole: I just want to work with you all…
Keith: …and the kids. That’s the kind of…
Nicole: …attitude that we need…
Keith: …with these kids.
Nicole: And they believe in what we’re doing. And as long as they have faith in what we’re doing, we’re going to continue to have faith and we’re going to see this thing all the way through.
Hackley: On that note, I want to be the one to officially welcome you both to Fort Wayne.