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Frank Gray

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Getting young adults committed to Fort Wayne

About 175 people who are old enough to have done estate planning have informed the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne that when they die, they’re leaving a gift of some sort to the foundation.

That’s good news for the foundation, whose assets have grown from about $5 million in the early 1980s to about $130 million today. It shows that people are committed to the community.

But there’s another statistic out there that’s a little bit troubling. According to a survey of 26 cities by the Knight Foundation, people between the ages of 25 and 40 in Fort Wayne don’t feel an attachment to the city.

Though Fort Wayne has things to crow about, “Fort Wayne, relative to the others, does not compare favorably” when it comes to young people’s commitment to the city, said David Bennett, executive director of the Community Foundation.

That is a worrisome fact.

“Thirty years from now, I’m going to be gone,” says Bennett. If you have an entire generation that doesn’t feel an attachment to the city, it spells bad news for a foundation trying to develop enough assets to accomplish big things.

The city is trying to change its image. It’s trying to transform the downtown and develop a district that offers more night life, things that are exciting to the under-40 crowd, Bennett says.

“I hope we can turn the tide,” Bennett says.

Next week, the foundation will launch an exercise called Let’s Give Allen County, designed to raise money for five charities selected by Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana.

The effort has gotten plenty of promotion in the past couple of weeks. In one 12-hour push Tuesday, from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., the foundation will try to raise as much as possible for Community Harvest Food Bank, Renaissance Point YMCA, the YWCA, Cornerstone Youth Center in Monroeville, and the Cinema Center.

They’ve got $25,000 in matching funds from the Knight Foundation and another $25,000 in matching money from an anonymous donor.

The plan is to get people to go to www.letsgiveallencounty.org and make donations using credit or debit cards.

Anybody can donate, but the plan is to focus on the 25-to-40 crowd, and using a website and accepting debit and credit cards is the logical way to do things for the Generation X and Y crowd, Bennett said.

The foundation has used social media – and old-fashioned things like the newspaper – to get the word out.

The project isn’t expecting anyone to make huge donations, Bennett says. He’s expecting people to make small donations, $10 to $20 a pop, maybe $50 if they’re lucky.

But it’s a start, a way to get a crowd that is young and in many cases single with no children to start taking part.

Allen County has more than 90,000 people who fall into the 25-to-40 bracket, enough to have a huge impact.

The population today is much more mobile, which might account for the lack of attachment, but a lot of younger people also might not think of themselves as the types who can make a difference in a community.

But if that segment of society can be mobilized, they might be surprised what they can accomplish and start suggesting visions of their own.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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