MANATEE — While dating and then after marrying, Lakewood Ranch residents Katy and Mark Walker found few young people like themselves going to church.
When young Catholics graduate from high school and leave home for college or new careers, they sometimes leave behind their church and their faith.
“I think there’s a big void,” said Mark Walker. “We weren’t seeing a ton of young adults attending church. A good amount were families and seniors at church.”
So the couple created iibloom.com as a way to inspire young adults to explore their spirituality, and ultimately bring them back to the Catholic church. It was the brainchild of Mark Walker, a former homebuilder turned real estate investor who wanted to reach out to young adults who have gotten away from their faith.
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The Web site is similar to Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, said the Walkers. And like the popular social networking sites, the Walkers hope iibloom.com will become popular with young adults on college campuses and other gathering places, but hopefully will provide an alternative interactive experience.
“We just wanted to give people a place where they could explore profound issues,” said Mark Walker. “This is a place people can go to ask questions, and people are not going to judge you.”
Warren Dazzio, Midwest Region Director for Legatus, an organization devoted to Catholic business leaders, and an advisor for iibloom.com, said there has been a gap in the Catholic Church when it comes to young adults like the Walkers.
Dazzio, also an iibloom.com contributor on family and relationship issues, hopes iibloom.com can change some of that.
“We would see young adults fall away from the church until they get married or baptize kids,” he said. “There are a lot of things that compete for their attention.”
The name iibloom.com is an acronym for “invite, inspire and bloom.”
“I wanted it to be that place to get answers that maybe friends or family couldn’t,” he said.
The Web site has three distinct sections. Invite is all about “community, socialization and communication,” according to the Web site.
Inspire offers the “opportunity to cultivate a spiritual life, to serve and to lead others,” connecting “service and faith, prayer and faith, entertainment and faith,” through videos and outreach.
The bloom section “fosters growth in the Christian faith through traditional Catholic teachings.”
“We wanted to be inviting, we wanted to be inspiring, and we wanted people to grow in their faith,” said Katy Walker.
The Web site is geared for the 18 to 40ish young adult crowd, and for anyone regardless of their spiritual background, said Katy Walker, an interactive marketer and technical guru behind the site. In their research prior to launching the site, the couple “definitely found a hunger” for this type of online interaction, she said.
“People are looking for spirituality and something of substance,” said Katy Walker.
Christian-oriented and Catholic-influenced, the Web site is not all about religion and spirituality though, said the Walkers.
“It could be up in a coffee shop,” said Mark Walker. “It’s mainstream in appearance, but traditional in its message.”
Current topics discussed on the site include President Obama’s health reform, Whitney Houston’s comeback, how to find a compatible mate, and discussing religion with friends.
“Ask an Expert” is an area of the Web site where people, once they have joined iibloom.com, also can ask questions.
Joining iibloom.com is free, and since launching the site about three weeks ago, more than 200 people have registered, said Katy Walker.
“We want to help young adults in their search for inspiration and spirituality,” said Katy Walker. “You can get lost very early. If we can help one person, then we can feel good about it.”