Our Staff


Lorenzo Lawson, Executive Director

Keeping kids in school and out of trouble,” sums up the mission of Pastor Lorenzo Lawson, whose passionate commitment to youth must keep him looking youthful. Lawson is a founding director of the Youth Empowerment Zone. He’s been featured in nearly 400 news stories over the past decade, winning a number of leadership awards along the way. A Columbia native whose story has a familiar ring — drug addiction, 15 years in prison, and redemption. “When we were growing up, we couldn’t find jobs, so we had to make choices that now we regret, I can tell kids these things because they know I’m telling them for their own good.” After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Lawson went into action leading a city-wide recovery effort. He sought donations for relocation costs, utility deposits and rent, and helped families find housing through local landlords and other relief groups. Recognized for his efforts at the ninth annual Columbia Values Diversity Awards, Lawson explained his mission: “my whole purpose is to do what I can to solve some of these problems,” Lawson said. Columbia Daily Tribune columnist Bill Clark lauded Lawson for his vision: that every young person has unique talents and abilities and with a little help, every young person can create a successful future. Lorenzo Lawson is “living proof that all of these values work.


Loretta Schouten, Director of Operations

Loretta is originally from Iowa and holds a Juris Doctorate degree. Loretta comes to Youth Empowerment Zone with more than 10 years of experience in the non-profit and grant writing fields. She is a wife, mother of two, lover of sports, Curator of TEDxCosmoPark, self-proclaimed NASA geek, licensed ham radio operator and problem solver extraordinaire.


Katherine Wilson, Program Director

Katherine Wilson is a woman who believes that no matter what the situation or circumstance, if one never gives up they will eventually succeed. She is the oldest of three children, raised in a single family home by a mom that fell victim to the streets of Chicago. Her mom moved to Central Missouri when Katherine was a child and soon became addicted to drugs – an addiction that continued through a large portion of Katherine’s life. Katherine dropped out of high school in her junior year. By the age of nineteen she was pregnant with her first child and became a dependent of the welfare system. Katherine remained on public assistance ten years when she decided that she wanted something better for her (now) two daughters and herself. She went back to school obtaining a GED and Associates in Business degree from Columbia College. Katherine is currently finishing her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. She is proud to be the first in her family to break the cycle of poverty and to earn a college degree.

She is certified by the Center for Women’s Ministries to counsel abused and at risk women; and is the team leader of her local church Women Jail Ministry. Katherine is also the founder and lead minister of “Divine Women of Valor” an at risk women’s ministry. She loves to make people smile, play board games, and cook.

Our Board of Directors

Madalyn Gramke, AAMS

Edward Jones Financial Advisor

Janice Harder

Law Office of Janice A. Harder

Eric Johnson

Principal, Hickman High School

Ann Merrifield

Director of Business Development
Columbia College

Karen Mickey

Owner, Yevo Foods

Nicholas Orscheln

Orscheln Farm and Home

Paul Prevo

Owner, Tiger Tots

Chris Watkins

Watkins Law, LLC

Deb Valvo

Columbia Sales Director
Columbia Business Times