Many of our favorite love stories start in college, and this one is no exception. Erik and Kathryn (Kate) DeVriendt met while volunteering with Young Life while both were students at James Madison University. Kate got her BS in Communication Sciences and Disorders there, while Erik got his BBA in Hospitality and Tour ism Management at JMU, and an MBA from the University of Georgia.
Since college, Kate has obtained her teaching license and has worked in various schools in North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. She has worked as a teacher for the the Blind and Visually Impaired (TBVI) in Henrico, Chesterfield and Nottoway counties. Erik started his career in sales and marketing and as a corporate trainer with Newell Rubbermaid. Here in Richmond, he served as a Senior Consultant with SingleStone, as an IT Director at Capital One, and he opened the Chick-fil-A at Westchester Commons in November of 2011. Notably, Erik has a theater background and was the lead singer of a one-night only 80’s cover band called Limozeen back in 2014.
When asked about hobbies today, Erik says, “Well, we have five kids, so hobbies include things like laundry, carpools and lunch packing (we joke … kind of).” Erik and Kate are going to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary this fall, having married in September of 2003. But this couple isn’t wishing for crystal candlesticks or a Waterford mantel clock – they have been working hard for the past year to adopt their youngest children, Gabriel (Gabe) and Maya, to make their family complete.
The DeVriendt kids are a lively bunch. Jonah, 10 years old, is a rising 5th grader at Greenfield Elementary. He loves watching and playing sports of all types. He plays soccer with FC Richmond, basketball with Upward, and he previously played baseball with Huguenot Little League. Alice, a rising 3rd grader at Bettie Weaver, loves dance and art and loves her jazz and ballet classes. She has also been a Brownie with Troop 128 for three years and last fall, Alice played soccer with i9 Sports. El i, 4, attends Salisbury Presbyterian Preschool and will be in Pre-Kin the fall. He loves being a little brother, and he loves being a big brother. Eli participates in the Little Kicks soccer program at SPP.
Gabe and Maya, the family’s newest members, are 3. Erik and Kate adopted them from Burundi, Africa and the process took much of the past year, but the family is happy to report that the twins have transitioned well and are absolutely flourishing. Gabe, though relatively small in stature, is mighty, and loves to climb the tower at Wishing Well Park. Maya loves music and they both took part in a Kindermusik class this spring with “Miss Samantha” Vonderharr. The twins will start SPP in the fall.
The DeVriendts keep busy, as you would imagine any family with five kids would. Erik and Kate are very active at Crestwood Church’s Midlothian campus where Erik helps lead worship and Kate has helped lead their Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) ministry. The couple helped start and volunteered in Young Life and Chesterfield’s ministry to special needs students, called Young Life Capernaum, from 2013-2017. They have also helped with development work for Elijah House Academy, served on the planning committee for the Westchester Shamrock SK, coordinated Chick-fil-A’s partnership with Operation Christmas Child, and packed meals for Feed My Starving Children and Feeding Children Everywhere. Erik is an alumnus of and session facilitator for the Richmond Christian Leadership Initiative.
Erik and Kate have always loved to travel, both as a couple and as a family. Erik says, “One of our favorite trips was to Rwanda for Spring Break 2015. After visiting an orphanage in Kigali, our desire to adopt really took wings.” Erik also has a life goal to attend games at all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums. He only has three to go! Jonah is following in Dad’s footsteps, having now attended games at 8 stadiums after a 2017 road trip with Erik and his grandfather. The DeVriendts love to try new local restaurants (though their neighbor, Giuseppe Carollo’s, restaurant Frank’s Ristorante & Pizzeria in Bon Air is a favorite) and enjoy Flying Squirrels, Richmond Kickers, VCU and U of R games here in town. Erik and Kate also enjoy following their own sports teams, especially UGA and JMU football, plus the US Men’s National Soccer Team and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The family moved to Salisbury from Richmond’s Northside in the fall of 2012. The primary reason for the move was to be closer to their Chick-fil-A restaurant and they looked forward to living, working and worshipping all in the same community. Other than Salisbury’s central location, Erik and Kate were drawn to the mature landscaping and friendly neighbors there.
Erik says, “We love all the kids on our street. There are over 25 kids at our bus stop! Kate and another neighbor have started hosting a block party twice annually, and it has been really great to see new and more tenured neighbors get to know one another over tasty food and refreshments.” Erik also comments that it’s neat to see so many familiar faces in the restaurant. “Our team works very hard to create an environment where our guests feel cared for. Whether from school, church, or the neighborhood, our guests feel like a second family. It’s easy to get excited about the opportunity to serve the great folks in our community.”
The family likes to travel to the Outer Banks with Erik’s family every summer, and another week with Kate’s family in Sandbridge. One of 2017’s most memorable trips was to Burundi, Africa, where Kate and Erik traveled to meet Gabe and Maya. They then traveled to Kenya to complete their adoption, bringing them home this past September. Erik says, “We are so grateful for the many ways our community has cared for us as we brought our twins home. From meals, to rides, to babysitting and so much more, people have been so kind to our entire family. Words cannot express our gratitude.”
We have a guess that the DeVriendt family has such devoted neighbors because of their approach to life. Erik says that part of Chick-fi l-A’s corporate purposes is to have a positive influence on all we come in contact with.” That sums up what the family wants to be about too. And clearly, they are.
The DeVriendts are obviously in the throes of their own crash course on international adoption, but want t~ encourage our readers to think about what role their own families might play in the today’s global orphan crisis. Latest research estimates that there are 8 million orphans living in institutions worldwide – almost the population of New York City -and over 400,000 children in the foster system in United States. Whether it’s through volunteerism, donations, considering adoption or serving as a foster family, imagine the impact that families across Chesterfield could have on children without families across the county and across the globe!
Reprinted from James River Neighbors with permission. By Elizabeth Fickenscher Photos by Paige Stevens