Lifting Up Women’s Voices: Q&A With VHDA Co-Founder Katie Voelpel

Stay tuned for our new women-owned blogpost series that launches this month.

Virginia Highland District Association is always looking for ways to elevate the voices in our neighborhood and support the business district, and we love when we can do both! That’s why we’re excited to introduce our women-owned business blog series where we chat about all things women entrepreneurship, business inspiration, and what keeps them going with the women in the neighborhood. Up first, we sat down with Katie Voelpel, co-founder of VHDA, and discussed starting this association.

“My community is my everything, so it gives me great joy to see even the small changes before my eyes every single day,” she says. “I love this neighborhood for its historical character, walkability, and wonderful neighbors!”

What prompted you to start the Virginia Highland District Association?

I started VHDA, formerly Beautify VaHi, coming out of college because I was looking for my niche in my community, as well as my career. Sitting on the patio at Moes and Joes, then next door shop owner, Catina Stravoulakis and I dreamt of the possibilities as we watched metaphoric tumbleweeds pass along the empty sidewalks. I thought I could make a difference in the Virginia Highland business district by applying what I was researching and learning in my architecture and community design masters courses and year-long thesis, and if possible, I wanted to have fun doing it. 

How do you elevate women’s voices in the neighborhood? 

I don’t think Virginia Highland District set out to elevate women’s voices in the beginning. At first, our first goal was to create a trusted line of communication with the business stakeholders, men and women alike. Once COVID-19 hit, it was our woman residents who reached out to help and expand our mission. Now, our Board has a solid crew of females overflowing with ideas and action items! 

Who has been a big influencer in your life? What advice would you give to younger women getting a start in following their passion?

My mom is my greatest influence hands down, my number one fan. I still can hear her saying ”make good decisions” but I also stick to “done is better than perfect,” plus the power of saying “thank you.” For your second question I would say just start — and keep going! Be curious, and network, network, network!

What are some of the challenges women leaders face? On the flip side, how are women’s skillsets elevated in leadership?

I have found that being a woman in charge can be very taxing, as we’re always re-evaluating. Did I do too much, too little, not enough. It can mean doing the same job over and over. To break these barriers, I believe mental/physical health and self care should be number one, no excuses. A balanced body and mind can set you up to break those anxious habits. I believe women are natural leaders because of our attention to detail and general tendency toward compassion, empathy, and love. 

What’s your secret sauce? 

My special sauce is to start with a bunch of love + candid tongue + learn quick/listen up + a loud laugh (for flair) and voila! 

Anything else? 

Our biggest fundraiser ever is coming this May (Porchfest), and it would not be possible without 12-15 dedicated women. I am so proud to know them, and look forward to the many more wonderful women I will meet along this journey.

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