By Megan Alley Sun Reporter
Lori Conley, co-founder and executive director of Empower Youth, died on July 20.Pictured is Lori Conley, the co-founder and executive director of Empower Youth, who died on July 20, 2019 at the age of 49.
Conley, 49, of Batavia, died from gallbladder cancer, according to her obituary.
She was born in Versailles, Kentucky, the daughter of Larry and Diana Owen.
Lori had served as the children’s minister at Community Christian Church in Bethel.
She and her husband, Scott Conley, along with several other members of the church, started Empower Youth in 2015 using personal funds.
Empower Youth works with Bethel kids to instill the confidence and resources needed to break through generational poverty, and the nonprofit aims to help kids set and reach goals by building a strong sense of community.
“We want to make leaders out of these kids. We want to empower them,” Conley said to The Sun in summer 2015. “We want to take kids’ dreams and make them go higher.”
Conley, and Empower, started off by running a summer food program, offering kids and parents in Bethel a free meal every Wednesday.
“Often times, parents don’t have enough money to feed their kids,” said Conley. “Parents may not come to our church, but they’ll come to a picnic, and that’s great because we want to help.”
Conley spoke of her intentions for Empower Youth to serve as a gap filler between the education system and churches. Through grant funding and private donations, she hoped the nonprofit could offer social services to families in need.
“Sometimes, we look at someone and assume what they need, but we can’t assume,” she said. “It’s not just about poverty. We realized there are a lot worse things than poverty. The need is about educating parents or getting to know the kids, because it can be hard [for parents] to meet the needs of children.”
In 2015, Empower Youth started provided annual scholarships to underprivileged kids to attend summer camp at Woodland Lakes Camp in Amelia.
“Our goal is to send students who wants an opportunity to go to camp,” Conley wrote then in an email. “We believe that if students can get away from home, they can learn valuable leadership skills, independence, and just be a kid.”
That August 2015, Empower Youth took over Bethel-Tate Local School District’s weekend food backpack program, which provides food for kids to take home during the weekends when school meals are unavailable.
The organization planned to add a satellite food backpack program in 2016 at Amelia Elementary School, and organizers were fleshing out the details to fill a request to start the program at Clermont Northeastern Middle School.
“You don’t have to be poor to be food insecure,” Conley explained during a June 2106 interview with The Sun.
Also in 2016, Empower Youth was co-sponsoring a summer food site for students at The Shepherd’s Place in Bethel.
“We use the church van to pick up kids at home and bring them in for a free meal,” Conley said.
Empower Youth also purchased recorders for fourth and fifth graders at Hill Intermediate School, and it provided sponsorships to kids to attend William Bick Primary’s art camp.
The organization worked in conjunction with the school district’s Tiger Tools for School back-to-school event to provide homework kits that contain school supplies that students need in order to complete their homework.
The organization also started its Dream Big program, which provides pillows and stuffed animals to kindergarteners in the school district.
“One of the things we’ve learned is there are different kinds of poverty,” Conley said. “Many times, kids don’t have a response when we ask them what they want to be when they grow up because nobody has instilled big dreams into them.”
She added, “And, how can you dream big when you don’t even have a pillow to lay your head on?”
In 2017, Community Savings Bank gifted Empower Youth a 15.25-acre horse farm at 2800 state Route 125 in Bethel, and that would become the nonprofit’s headquarters, providing endless learning opportunities for youth and volunteers.
In January 2018, Lori emailed The Sun, excited to share news that Empower Youth was going to take advantage of a large food donation.
“We just got word that we have 42 skids of food coming at the Red Barn flea market and Batavia from the Rreestore Foodbank,” she wrote. “We then load those skids onto a 26 foot U-Haul and every other truck and trailer we can find and will be taking them to the ranch.”
“It’s kind of a big deal for us – almost too big of a deal for us.”
Just a couple months later, Lori called back to share more good news; Empower Youth had been awarded a $50,000 grant from the state, to put in a septic system at the ranch.
“This will allow us to work with even more volunteer groups as well as serve more student groups. I am especially excited to get rid of the little pink portalet!” Lori wrote, always weilding a sense of humor.
Lori, and Empower Youth, racked up a number of awards and accolades over the years.
Lori’s influence and impact is evident in the hundreds of comments that have been posted to social media since she died.
Empower Youth posted this message to its Facebook page on July 20, “We are proud to have known her, proud to have been changed by her and more than proud to continue her legacy and mission through Empower Youth. Please pray for the many friends, family and communities who are hurting and will miss her more than words can express.”
Lori is survived by her husband, Scott Conley, her sons, Davis Trousdale, Justin Conley, Christopher Conley, her daughter, Kayla Khan, her grandchildren, Kalace, Zoe and Ally Conley, her siblings, Bud Owen, Janeil Owen, Jody Castillo, and many nieces and nephews, according to her obituary.
A celebration of life will be held on July 27 at 5 p.m at Woodland Lakes Christian Camp, located at 3054 Lindale Mt. Holly Road in Amelia.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks to make memorial contributions to Empower Youth. Donation can be made at empoweryouth.me or during the celebration of life event.
Visit: 465 East Main Street Batavia, Ohio 45103 Call: T:513.732.2511 F:513.732.6344 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org