Fort Wayne Nonprofits Give Back
Nonprofits are challenged to do more with less. Constraints of time, money, personnel and resources mean they must find innovative ways to execute their missions. Here is a look at some of the ways local nonprofit organizations are serving the community and making a difference.
According to Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne President Susan Mendenhall, nonprofits by their very nature are a community of innovators, and they know how to get things done. Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne is no exception. It is a nonprofit arts fund and local arts agency that serves the communities of northeast Indiana by fueling the momentum of more than 70 arts and culture initiatives annually.
Among its many initiatives, the Arts Campus provides a professional edge to community-centered creative organizations and artists by offering spaces and resources to incubate and produce local artistic work and creative activities. This helps create visibility and awareness for the variety of arts and cultural activities available, which in turn helps the community at large become more vibrant.
The campus includes the Arts United Center, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Auer Center, Parkview Physicians Group ArtsLab, Hall Center, History Center and Rankin House. According to Mendenhall, 13 not-for-profit organizations reside on the campus Collaboration is a natural byproduct of this proximity. artsunited.org
There are no shortcuts to finding and maintaining employment. For some people, certain barriers complicate matters. Lasting Stability and Success for Individuals Works (LSSI) was founded to address this reality.
LSSI Works is a workforce initiative by Lutheran Social Services of Indiana committed to providing students personal and professional skills to help them find a career, not just a job. It’s a free and comprehensive system of training and coaching for motivated candidates who are focused on obtaining a career path. Over the course of the program, students gain expertise and confidence in tasks like interviewing, professional communication and follow up.
According to LSSI Development Coordinator Gillian Frazier, the program had been in development for over two years before it was introduced to the community in December 2015. lssin.org
Race, drug abuse and violence are not always easy to discuss, but through its monthly Diversity Dialogues program, the YWCA of Northeast Indiana tries to foster conversations around these topics.
YWCA Director of Empowerment Jennifer Rohlf, staff and volunteers organize the sessions and choose topics based on relevance or themes. The monthly dialogues, held at various venues and averaging about 30-40 attendees, are designed to start conversations about controversial issues in a safe way.
“The old saying ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ applies here,” said Rohlf. “If you take the time to get out of your comfort zone, it opens you up to so much more.” ywca.org
Entrepreneurship is often missing from the conversation when educators and advisors talk about viable post-high school career paths. Junior of Achievement (JA) of Northern Indiana is trying to change that with its 100 Entrepreneurs program.
According to Program Manager Jenee’ Johnson, the organization wanted to build on the momentum from Obama-era initiatives that encouraged entrepreneurship. To that end, last fall more than 100 entrepreneurs went into 20 high schools in Allen, Noble and Steuben counties with the intent of sparking interest about an entrepreneurial career path. Entrepreneurs’ backgrounds ran the gamut from food truck purveyors to technology tycoons.
The intended outcome is simple yet hard to measure: increased awareness. “We wanted to get students interested in something they hadn’t been exposed to before,” said Hayli Beck, who’s also a JA program manager. jani.org
Innovation is not just about a product, business model, process or experience–sometimes it’s about learning and growing professionally. That’s the mission behind the Women’s Economic Opportunity Center, according to Karl LaPan, the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center’s (NIIC) president and CEO.
A program of the NIIC, the Women’s Economic Opportunity Center (WEOC) serves as a resource center and business growth accelerator for women and underserved entrepreneurs across the state of Indiana. Now in its third year, WEOC provides timely and comprehensive peer-to-peer guidance to women at all stages of idea development and business ventures–from concept to scaling and expansion.
According to LaPan, WEOC serves 800-900 women a year. “Women are good at providing support and resources to other women,” said LaPan. “Having an organization dedicated to helping women specifically is a huge asset.” Theniic.org
What started as a grassroots group has evolved into a full-fledged nonprofit organization. Girls on the Run (GOTR) Northeast Indiana founder Hillary Knipstein saw a need and acted on it.
She was first exposed to the GOTR brand while doing the Chicago Marathon in 2009. Knipstein, who had long had a heart for youth and youth development, started a local GOTR in 2012. Today, the organization serves girls in Allen, Wells, Huntington and Noble counties. Volunteer coaches, who come from a wide variety of backgrounds, come to mentor and coach the girls.
According to Knipstein, GOTR completed its first season in spring 2013 with 11 girls. The organization has since grown exponentially; in spring 2017, there were 320 girls at 18 sites. Girls run in the spring and fall, and there are two programs to serve 3rd-5th graders and 6th-8th graders.
Over the course of the ten-week program, the girls develop essential skills to help them navigate their worlds and establish a lifetime appreciation for health and fitness. Running is the just the conduit to build self-esteem. gotr-nei.org
Homicide is the leading cause of death among African-American males ages 10-24 in the US–and Fort Wayne is no exception. Fort Wayne UNITED is a strategic response to this fact. The organization started in July 2016 with support from Mayor Tom Henry’s office.
Today, the organization has several initiatives designed to address the problem of violence by enhancing opportunities, advancing youth advocacy and helping create a safer city for all. The efforts are varied, but all have the objective of uplifting young black men.
For example, its late night basketball program is designed to be an attractive alternative to being on the street and potentially getting into trouble.
“It bridges the gap between stereotypes and reality, because all people are coming together behind the issues and creating an environment in which black men have opportunities,” said Joe Jordan, steering committee member and president of Boys and Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne. fwcommunitydevelopment.org
Arts have the power to reach people on a deeper level–and the Fort Wayne Dance Collective is invested in this belief through its Healing Arts program. In collaboration with Parkview Health, the Healing Arts program integrates literature, movement, music and visual arts into patient care.
The Healing Arts program focuses on the mind-body-soul connection. Research has shown art therapy is helpful in fostering healing and recovery, alongside conventional medical treatment.
“The artist will work to engage the patient to get them toward a position of calming and easing the mind,” said Mandie Kolkman, artistic director. fwdc.org
Black Pine Animal Sanctuary in Albion is at the forefront of caring for exotic animals in need of a place to live. The nonprofit, which relies solely on private funding, primarily takes in animals who were voluntarily surrendered by owners, according to Lori Gagen, the sanctuary’s executive director. She said the organization started as a privately-owned enterprise that evolved into a rescue operation.
About 30 percent of its animals were confiscated by authorities, and at any given time the sanctuary houses about 100 animals including big cats, bears, monkeys, reptiles, parrots, etc. Beyond the mission of providing these animals with a safe environment, the organization also has an educational focus. bpsanctuary.org
Oftentimes, securing employment requires more than just having the necessary skills. Making a solid impression also enters into the equation.
The mission of Dress for Success Fort Wayne –a program of the Women’s Bureau — is to provide women with professional attire as well as a support network and career development tools to assist them when entering the workplace and continuing to thrive.
The clothes may be the tangible piece, but there’s so much more to the program. “The neat thing that happens is that it’s not just about dressing the women,” said Loaine Hagerty, Women’s Bureau interim CEO and COO. “It’s empowering them.”
Many of the clients come from shelters and domestic abuse situations, so the confidence-building component is critical. fortwayne.dressforsuccess.org
Wabash Marketplace Inc. started as a historical preservation organization, but has since expanded its focus.
“We quickly learned that it doesn’t pay to save buildings if we don’t have people in them,” said Steve Downs, executive director.
Today, the organization has moved beyond its original brick-and-mortar focus and now is a catalyst for economic development activity in the Wabash area. The organization works with economic development corporations, the city and the county’s visitors bureau to fulfill its mission. wabashmarketplace.org
Founded in 1971, the Volunteer Center serves the community by connecting volunteers with meaningful opportunities for community service relevant to their skills, abilities, interests and passions.
Volunteers apply their knowledge and skills in one of four signature programs and at 93 local non-profit, civic and faith based agencies.
According to Executive Director Jean Joley, opportunities range from assisting low-income people with tax preparation to gleaning produce at local food banks. She said volunteers range from retired professionals looking to apply careers skills to college students looking for a way to give back.
On the other side of the relationship are the non-profit organizations, which benefit from the unpaid help. “Staffing is limited due to limited funding,” said Joley. “Volunteers serve as supplemental help.”
Joley said in 2015, more than 1,200 active volunteers gave more than 81,000 hours of their time. This amounted to a value of more than $1.87 million dollars in labor.
So, why volunteer? In addition to the opportunity to make a difference, Joley said volunteering provides on outlet for socialization and fun. Looking to make an impact? Here are several opportunities, listed by interest:
The Volunteer Center serves the community by connecting volunteers with meaningful opportunities for community service relevant to their skills, abilities, interests and passions. Volunteer Center, 3401 Lake Avenue, 260.424.3505, volunteerfortwayne.org