2021 All-America City Finalist - Fort Wayne, IN

Over the last decade, Fort Wayne has experienced unprecedented momentum, investing in neighborhood infrastructure, business development, and quality of place amenities that have led to nearly a billion dollars in private investments and a renewed interest in downtown. The momentum has continued even throughout 2020, despite the challenges facing our nation, helping Fort Wayne become a more resilient and equitable community. Once known as “the city that saved itself,” Fort Wayne now prides itself on being a city that is “Moving Forward Together.”

Riverfront Fort Wayne

Like many communities, Fort Wayne began to withdraw from its downtown in the late 1900s and the historic three rivers, once the center of local life, largely fell to disuse. After major flooding in the 80s, ten miles of levees were built, hiding the rivers behind protective walls and natural brush.

In the 2000s residents expressed their interest in incorporating the rivers back into city life and in 2014, Mayor Henry commissioned a comprehensive riverfront study. Thousands of residents completed surveys, attended events, heard presentations, and shared ideas.

Based on feedback, a plan was created and a committee was formed to guide the project. Phase 1 was the creation of Promenade Park. The park’s grand opening, occurring over three days, was determined to be one of the most successful public events in city history.

Most importantly, the event was recognized as the most diverse anyone had ever attended. Members of ethnic, racial, and religious minorities were all present. The local newspaper included a story about one local immigrant’s fear about being part of a new community. She noted the park’s grand opening made her feel truly welcomed for the first time.

The park was designed not only for recreation, but also for the promotion of civic life and democracy for all. Promenade Park is a place to meet, talk, learn, and listen. People come for concerts, festivals, shopping, art shows, and parties, but they leave with much more.

The riverfront grappled with 2020’s abrupt changes, but staff quickly created an entirely new concept of programming. Each day, community members were given a new way to safely interact with each other through activities focusing on philosophy, science, art, literature, music and dance, wellness, and games.

Fort Wayne UNITED

Homicide is the leading cause of death among African American males ages 10-24, nationwide. Some lives are cut tragically short while others are funneled to prison. Fort Wayne UNITED is an effort to disrupt the cycle of violence and answer the call to enhance opportunities, advance youth advocacy and help create a safer city for all, but more specifically for black men and boys.

Programs of Fort Wayne UNITED have included:

  • L.I.V.E. (Listening to Input and Voices through Engagement) Sessions and Forums focus on building bridges and fostering healthy relationships between law enforcement and communities of color.
  • A Public Safety Academy Training exposes black men and boys to real life scenarios that allow them to experience training and challenges that local law enforcement face daily.
  • The Late-Night Basketball Program aims to take those who are statistically most likely to be the agents or victims of crime off the streets where and when crime happens most. Participants are invited to play basketball, engage with local leaders on and off the court, and take advantage of opportunities like on-site employment assistance, health checks and record expungement.
  • The Choose Success Initiative allows males, ages 14-18, to be exposed to the positive outcomes of good decisions and the negative consequences of poor decisions. Over a two-day period, participants witness sentencing in an Allen Superior Courtroom, spend a half day at a local university, and have a hands-on experience at the building trades with skilled instructors.

One of the most pivotal programs is the Fort Wayne UNITED TenPoint Coalition. The Coalition is comprised of 25 employees who are faith leaders, former gang members, and family members impacted by the cycle of violence. Coalition members are paid and trained to patrol identified neighborhoods to examine the areas of crime, education, health, and housing. Most evenings coalition members gather neighbors together for free, hot meals and conversation.

Fort Wayne UNITED’s most recent initiative, United Front, was rolled out in September 2020, during a climate of racial tension and civil unrest, to provide a safe environment for participants to learn a shared humanity, a common language, and a philosophy that will change the trajectory of the community for generations to come through a comprehensive cultural competency curriculum that fosters racial equity, healing, and unity.

Family and Community Engagement Center (FACE)

Over the course of the past 20 years the student body of Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS) became markedly more diverse. Additionally, the percentage of students qualifying for free/reduced lunch increased from 40.37% to 64.59%. Realizing the challenges and opportunities a diverse school population presents, FWCS decided that if it was truly going to meet its mission of educating all students to high standards, it was imperative to support students, families, and educators at a higher level. After assessing needs, researching best practices, and visiting other school districts, FWCS created the Family and Community Engagement Center (FACE).

FACE opened in the fall of the 2016-2017 school year, bringing together resources from across the district and community as a “one stop shop.” These resources were designed to close gaps, remove barriers, and provide supports that aid in the success of all students.

FACE was placed in a centralized building along the city bus line. The building was fully renovated and furnished to provide meeting, training, and office space, a health clinic, conference rooms, and state-of-the-art technology. Staff members were hired who had expertise in counseling, college admissions, scholarship obtainment, athletic coaching, music performance, nursing certification, school administration, philanthropy, as well as recruitment for and implementation of tutoring services. 

FACE houses and provides programming and supports in the following areas:

  • Enrollment, Placement, Recruitment, Retention, and Attendance
  • Well Being, Mental Health, Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Support, and Professional Learning
  • Health Clinic offering physicals, immunizations and health screenings
  • Learning Partnerships
  • Preschool
  • College and Career Readiness/Parent Engagement
  • Tutoring
  • Housing services

Through parent meetings, student focus groups and academic achievement data, FACE continuously monitors where it is and where it needs to go.

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