Still fighting poverty in the region
It’s not a stretch to note that social service agencies tend to be wary of changing anything fundamental about themselves. They’ve worked hard to develop an identity over years, if not decades. So when Community Action of Northeast Indiana (CANI) decided its name didn’t fully reflect what the agency was doing to fight poverty in the region, a name change was put on the table.
A grant from the Foellinger Foundation helped the agency do all the marketing studies and branding studies and focus groups that were needed to convince Community Action’s 18-member board to vote unanimously to change the name to Brightpoint, said CEO Steve Hoffman.
“We looked at a lot of names and went through a lot of discussion of ideas,” Hoffman said. “We’re trying to get people to a place in their lives, a point. We’re trying to change their lives positively (to create) a brighter future.”
Hence, a “bright point.”
The agency spent about a year on its name-change quest, Hoffman said, and in doing so was able to reconfirm its core mission of eradicating poverty in the region. Brightpoint offers a variety of anti-poverty programs, including Head Start preschool readiness programs for children, family self-sufficiency programs that include career development and child care assistance and family stability programs that include assistance with health insurance, energy costs and supportive housing for families and veterans with families. The agency also invests in the community through the AmeriCorps service programs, micro business loans and financial education programs. Brightpoint serves around 15,000 unduplicated people in 12 Northeast Indiana counties each year, with nearly 10,000 households receiving energy assistance to make it through Indiana’s harsh winters.
It’s not just the poor who benefit from Brightpoint’s programs: its poverty simulations teach area residents and business leaders what it’s like to live in poverty, something 48.7 million Americans, nearly 20 percent of whom are children, experience every day.
One project Brightpoint has not given up on is the Enterprise Pointe concept. After intense lobbying from area residents, Fort Wayne City Council rejected Brightpoint’s proposal to change the zoning of part of the old Taylor University campus to allow a live/work space for entrepreneurs, small business owners and artists.
“We believe in the concept, no doubt,” Hoffman said. “We are continuing to look for Plan B. What’s hard to convey is finding Plan B is not easy. There are a lot of pieces, there are a lot of requirements, there are a lot of elements of the project that have to come together.”
And part of developing that Plan B is working on a new, three-year strategic plan.
“We’re continuing to expand,” Hoffman said. “I feel more confident in my role. I know what to expect, and I’ve learned to deal with the pressure.”
First appeared in the November 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.