Youth Villages stories
Cortez Ingram: Building relationships that heal In Youth Villages’ residential programs
They call Cortez Ingram “the child whisperer.” At the Bill’s Place Campus, he’s often the one who can resolve conflicts, help a child calm down and learn effective ways to interact with others.
Sometimes Cortez’ way with kids seems almost magical, but he laughs and says it’s not.
“I’ve always liked working with kids. I think it’s just because I’m still a kid myself at times,” he says. “I’m a jokester, and I like to play. I always try to look at things from a child’s perspective and meet them on common ground.”
Cortez is one of hundreds of staff who work in Youth Villages’ residential programs, striving to help children overcome emotional and behavioral problems and return to their families or to a pathway to adoption quickly. Youth Villages has residential programs in Tennessee and Georgia.
He began work here five years ago as a night monitor, a position that requires only a high school degree. His job: keep children safe at night. It was a good place to start.
Cortez thinks one of the most important qualifications for staff is “a good listening ear.” He honed his approach talking to children who had trouble sleeping.
“They couldn’t sleep or had had a hard day so they would talk to me,” he said. “Sometimes all kids need is someone to listen to them. It’s very fulfilling to be the person they trust, when many people have let them down.”
After five years at Youth Villages, he’s unit leader on the crisis response team for the Bill’s Place school, but he says the best way to avoid a crisis is to build a strong, caring relationship with the kids.
There are 82 children and young people at Bill’s Place today, and Cortez makes it his business to have a personal relationship with all of them.
“I like to meet them when they first arrive and get to know them,” Cortez says. “If I know them, and they know me, that makes everything better.” He knows where they’re from, what sports team they support, what video games they like, whether they like cheese on their burgers, what their dreams are.
Children come to our residential campuses for help with serious problems, but Cortez says it’s most important to remember that they’re still just kids.
“You can’t see them as a diagnosis or an issue,” he says. “They’re just kids, and I’m always looking to help them find some joy in the moments of their day. Have some fun. Laugh some.”
When he’s first introduced to a child, he lets them know straight away. “I want to help you get to where you want to go – that could be back home, it could be to find an adoptive home. I want to help you do the things that will get you there.”
“Some kids come to us hopeless,” Cortez says. “We have such a good team here. We have such a good program that you can soon see the change – the puzzle starting to come together, and it’s beautiful. When a child leaves, it’s like looking at a different person.”
Cortez’ work has been recognized by the leadership at Bill’s Place and the organization overall. Last year, he was one of five Gold Kite Award winners, our highest employee honor. He’s working on his bachelor’s degree in communications with the support of Youth Villages’ tuition reimbursement.
Learn more about Bill’s Place.