Chicago, Illinois, United States
Ryan Banks Academy
Valerie Groth is the founder of Ryan Banks Academy, a private school that serves trauma-exposed youth in Chicago.
I always knew that my calling in life was to be a social entrepreneur, but it took a winding path to find my way to that point.
I dedicated the first years of my career to serving as a school social worker in Chicago Public Schools where I saw first-hand that the students I worked with were not receiving the quality instruction they deserved. The majority faced incredible challenges outside of school, including homelessness, food insecurity, exposure to violence, abuse, neglect, or other forms of trauma that negatively impacted their ability to achieve academically to their highest potential. I lost a student I knew well to gun violence when he was only 12 years old, which inspired me to create an educational experience that would provide Chicago’s most underserved youth with an exceptional education in a more supportive, wrap-around environment. I founded Ryan Banks Academy, named in honor of that child, to serve these students.
Under my leadership as CEO of Ryan Banks Academy, we overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles, including lack of access to traditional sources of public funding that are typically available to schools that serve low income youth. Despite the current economic challenges facing our city and nation, we did what many thought was impossible.
I came into this work with no MBA or formal business experience, so I had a lot to learn as a founder. I taught myself how to fundraise, build a network, and how to galvanize a community of supporters. I also had to immerse myself in various verticals in order to become our resident expert in areas such as architecture, construction, marketing, public relations, financial management, board development, managing staff, and more.
Leading at the helm of RBA was a challenging, but incredibly rewarding experience. For anyone who is considering going into nonprofit management or to be the founder of a new nonprofit, I very much encourage this path! There are SO many things that I didn't know when I first started that I wish I knew, and I'm happy to be a resource for you during your exciting journey.
Aside from my work as a nonprofit founder and CEO, I'm also a professional speaker and author, and in a past role I also hosted a podcast - all items that I'm happy to discuss if you have any interest in those pursuits.
I look forward to speaking with you!