Young leaders’ love of community strong

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In 2011 the Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana submitted a proposal to the Legacy Task Force for the creation of a fund with less than 1 percent of the Legacy Trust toward long-term vitality of the community by investing in initiatives of young adults trying to make a difference in the community they call home.

With statistics from the Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community, YLNI requested a “leap of faith that by changing the way the community engages the younger demographic we will dramatically change the way the community feels about itself – and how we are perceived by others.”

The response: a nice request, and a nice mission, but they were looking for something bold and transformative, and that doesn’t happen with only $20,00 to $25,000 per year.

More than a year later, YLNI set out to show the potential of what a small investment in the young, talented human capital of the community could accomplish through My City Summit: Redefining Community Engagement.

Well more than 200 young adults missed work on Nov. 2 to attend a conference with the singular goal of helping make their community better.

Inspirational presentations addressed placemaking, diversity, leadership and community service; YLNI premiered Citizen Wayne, inspiring cinematic videos of Fort Wayne amenities; A Better Fort showed its hip-hop video that inspired the title of the summit; and throughout the day, dozens of community stakeholders visited and shared their own messages of inspiration.

Surveys from the day showed that fewer than 30 percent of young adults felt included in meaningful decisions of the community, yet nearly 80 percent indicated a willingness to serve on public boards or commissions.

A nearly identical number indicated a positive perception of Fort Wayne’s quality of life and willingness to champion Fort Wayne to those willing to relocate here.

Keynote speaker Peter Kageyama concluded with his inspirational message that finding the love of the community can matter as much, if not more, than spending millions of dollars on brick-and-mortar projects and filling potholes. Scores of inspired attendees left promising to be more engaged, sharing their love of community and putting their ideas into action. A newly unveiled My City pin served as a symbol of commitment toward fostering a sense of pride, attachment and inclusion in the city we call home.

The pin and symbol are already circulating among a community abuzz with ideas for next steps. Time will tell whether the summit was transformative. What is apparent is that YLNI found the love in its community – and that is a Legacy worth building upon.

-Michael Barranda

This Op-Ed appeared in the Journal Gazette on November 12, 2012.