Fort Wayne has shown some remarkable growth in recent years. Downtown has become a hub of activity after years of neglect. Northeast Fort Wayne kicked off some geographic expansion and business activity several years ago, and no one can debate the explosion of commerce and residential growth in both Northwest and Southwest Fort Wayne.
Despite being overlooked and forgotten for too long, an important piece of the Fort Wayne renaissance has begun. Last year a few community and business leaders began working together, hatching a plan to show some love to Southeast Fort Wayne.
“So far we’ve raised almost $700,000, and while we got big contributions from Three Rivers Federal Credit Union and Sweetwater, most of that came through small donations,” said Kristin Giant, one of the organizers of the Family and Friends Fund for Southeast Fort Wayne.
“I trust black leaders to decide how that money should be spent, and we gave grants of more than $100,000 last September and will give out more in February.”
Giant and partner Ty Simmons created the fund to put money into the hands of African-American business and community leaders.
Simmons contributes to the community in many ways including Human Agricultural Cooperative. The HAC describes its mission as an effort “to educate, train, and feed the youth and the community by teaching them basic gardening and farming techniques and distributing food and supplies.”
There are plenty of ways for the public to help the Family and Friends of Southeast Fort Wayne in the coming months, including their third virtual telethon Saturday, Feb. 6, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 7, from noon-5 p.m.
The telethon will include speakers, local businesses, and entertainment to promote and raise funds for both Family and Friends of Southeast Fort Wayne and the Human Agricultural Co-op.
The money raised to help Southeast Fort Wayne empowers businesses and community leaders to use funds to bolster their economic position, to help businesses in the area grow and thrive.
Giant also suggests the community find their own ways to participate.
“We welcome all donations, and there are no deadlines,” Giant said. “This is an ongoing project, and we’re training people to do grassroots fundraising.
“We also have organizations providing in-kind support, and we are happy to have people with a particular skill volunteer in some capacity. Marketing, lawyers, all kinds of professions. Tell us your skills, and we’ll put you somewhere.”
A Passion for Social Justice
In an area that lacks even a major grocery store, that kind of autonomy has been a long time coming, for a variety of socioeconomic and political reasons.
“There’s been a lot of redlining, redistricting, and economic inequities over the years,” Simmons said. “We have to address those conditions. These neighborhoods are food deserts and have a higher infant mortality rate. There’s a perception that crime is higher in that area — in the 03 and 06 zip codes — when crime is actually higher in the 05 and 02. Our whole concept with Friends and Family of Southeast Fort Wayne is to be a piece of the puzzle in addressing those needs. And we’re just beginning.”
The effort has been so successful so quickly that it will soon spread to other cities, including Indianapolis, where similar economic issues stop progress in metropolitan areas that are otherwise beginning to see renewal.
These plan began building energy fairly quickly last summer when Giant, a South Carolina native who moved to Fort Wayne from Minneapolis five years ago, was launching her own consulting business, Hyper Local Impact.
“I launched my consulting firm last spring,” Giant said. “Between the pandemic and George Floyd’s death, I got to thinking. I’m passionate about social justice, I’m passionate about the cost of capitalism. One night in June, I couldn’t sleep. I decided I wanted to raise a million dollars, and two days later, I reached out to Ty.”
Points of Light
The effort was helped through participation in the Points of Light conference in July. Giant began pulling together a team of volunteers who each promised to raise $1,000. That kind of community buy-in and participation has helped the grassroots process take off.
“You have to have multiple parts to make it work,” Simmons said. “You need leaders — business owners, community leaders — and the heart and pride people have for this city. It’s how Human Agricultural Co-Op began. We said, ‘Let’s be able to create something, a fund that can help a variety of businesses and have family and friends step up.”
Although Giant defers to Simmons, minimizing her involvement compared to others, it becomes clear talking to both that they work very well — and productively — together.
“He has done everything that matters,” she said. “I’ve fundraised. He’s handled publicity, grant writing. I grew up without very much, but I married into a doctor’s family so I had no real vision. When I first talked to Ty, I told him I wanted to start a fund directed by black leaders, and I had no idea if he would trust me to do this.”
Simmons, who unlike Giant is a native of Fort Wayne and graduated from South Side High School, thinks much of what makes their partnership work is their differences.
“But a lot of it is a similarity in perspective despite our differences,” Simmons said. “We all know one obvious difference, but we have to get past all of that. We’re still learning about one another and who we are, but it’s a great balance of teacher and mentor. She teaches me things, and I teach her things.”
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