TYRONE - As one of the team captains, Nate Verilla played a key role on the Tyrone Area High School 1999 PIAA Class AA state championship football team.
However, after graduating from high school, Verilla admits he was confused with no direction in his life.
"I felt lost," said Verilla, who today is property manager for Atlas Edge LLC, Tyrone, and an assistant coach with the Golden Eagles football team.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) Tracey Verilla, leader of Thirty One, puts a blindfold on Azia Barnett, 14, during an exercise that illustrates the difficulty of life without direction. Thirty One, based on Proverbs 31 in the Bible, is geared to girls in sixth to eighth grade and teaches them about character, leadership and finding their purpose in life.
"Where I am today is all because of Joshua House," Verilla said.
In 2000, Verilla met Jim Kilmartin, who in 1998 had founded Joshua House, a ministry geared to helping young people, in his mother's basement.
"Joshua House is an organization, but it is really Jim Kilmartin. He has played a significant role in my life. He helped me develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and on top of that, he taught me how to pray, who Jesus is and what Jesus can do for me," Verilla said. "Since I met him, my life has taken off. He would encourage me and push me into doing good things. He was hard on me at times. He told me I would have to change my life. He was loving, gentle and a true father figure."
Joshua House, which moved to its present location, 123 W. 10th St., the former Citizens Fire Hall in 2005, is marking its 15th anniversary today.
Kilmartin, a 1994 TAHS graduate, returned to his hometown after graduating from Grove City College with a degree in Christian ministry and is an ordained minister.
"I saw a real need for the youth. There wasn't direction or purpose in a lot of kids, they didn't know what they wanted to do. God put a desire in my head to reach out to that generation - to give them hope and purpose. I definitely felt called," Kilmartin said. "The ultimate goal is to provide hope and purpose to the younger generation, help them figure out what they want to do in their lives and help them accomplish that by being a catalyst. We work with kids in athletics, academics and faith."
Joshua House provides numerous sports leagues, camps and programs geared to the area's youth.
"We also provide after school programs with tutoring, small group mentoring, and we provide a safe place to just hang out, a safe place to be," Kilmartin said.
Joshua House has evolved from helping small groups of youth to hundreds a year and now relies on a strong volunteer base to provide the numerous programs.
"In the beginning, I did everything. My role now is executive director. I have a less hands-on role," said Kilmartin, who holds a full-time job as vice president of development for Keystone Property Care, State College, and serves as an elder and part-time pastor at Keystone Church and Ministries, State College.
Joshua House is a nonprofit organization and relies on donations, grants and proceeds from fundraisers to operate.
"There have been lean years. It has been amazing, a walk by faith that finances regularly come forward, how people come forward to help this mission and impact our community," Kilmartin said.
Some people - such as Kristin Hawley - have even moved to Tyrone to help support Joshua House programs.
Hawley, a high school friend of Kilmartin's wife Jessica, moved to Tyrone in 2009.
"I really appreciate the community of people that are involved with Joshua House, and I wanted to be part of the church [Keystone]. I think Joshua House is a catalyst for the life it brings to the community. The thing I appreciate is the life changing stories, the lives that have been changed through the programs," said Hawley, clinical director for ProCare's Huntingdon office.
She helped to establish the Kids in Motion program, the Joshua House Fit Club and serves as race director for the Tyrone Wellness Race Series through Joshua House.
Local business leaders said Joshua House has had a very positive impact on the community.
"Their efforts have impacted the lives of countless kids and has helped the Tyrone Community develop confidence and perseverance to improve and become one of the best communities in the region," said CEO Steve Gildea of Tyrone Hospital. "They have been one of the many shining lights in the Tyrone area, and the entire community should be proud and appreciative of the work that they have done over the past 15 years."
"Jim has done great work. He cares about the community. Joshua House has grown nicely and turned into a real asset. It has given the young people a nice place to go. We are pleased to have them as part of the community," said Sam Phillips, Gardners Candies president.
Kilmartin is pleased with what has been accomplished, but said much work remains to be done.
"We want to continue what we are doing and possibly see other locations develop. One thing I want to do is help impact and transform our community and ultimately our society by raising up leaders. We want to help them [youth] educationally and [with] entrepreneurial [endeavors] so they will be contributing factors and impact society, and we really need that," Kilmartin said.
Joshua House plans a 15th anniversary gala Saturday at the Blair County Convention Center. The guest speaker will be Bishop Bart Pierce of Rock City Church in Baltimore.
"We haven't done an event like this. We want to celebrate with everyone who has volunteered or been a donor or may want to partner with us in the future," Kilmartin said.