Fort Wayne's evolving downtown skyline and riverfront are deservedly catching lots of attention. Not so noticeable but more important is development of the community's next generation. The latter effort takes a promising step forward with announcement of a $500,000 grant to help leaders serving youth and families develop cutting-edge policies and practices to support Allen County youth.
Cheryl Taylor, Foellinger Foundation executive director, said the grant will allow Great Kids Make Great Communities to create a Youth and Family Development Academy and a lecture series.
Allen Superior Court Judge Charles Pratt, founder of Great Kids, said the grant will allow the organization to expand its mission of training youth leaders in the social services, juvenile justice, education, law enforcement and more.
“These are initiatives I believe will have lasting impact on the health and well-being of our community for generations,” Pratt said at a news conference Tuesday. “Our vision with the academy is to help – in all sectors – the leaders in our community to better understand the science of youth development.”
The academy will use a curriculum of evidence-based practices developed in partnership with Shay Bilchik, director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy. His work is focused on crossover youth – young people involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
In Allen County, Bilchik will help those in youth development better understand the environments children inhabit – family, community at large, school, peer group – to help young people become “law-abiding, thriving members of the community.”
Bilchik, former president and CEO of the Child Welfare League of America, said Fort Wayne and Allen County are fortunate to have Foellinger, Great Kids and other organizations collaborating to support initiatives to improve outcomes.
“I can tell you something special – through this grant in particular, but more broadly through Great Kids – is happening here in Allen County. There's a coming-together that I don't see happening in other communities across the country.”
Bilchik also had praise for Pratt and the judge's work in juvenile justice and family court practices.
“Sometimes communities don't understand the local treasures you have,” he said. “Being from outside of Allen County, I can tell you that I heard of Judge Pratt long before I ended up at this podium today. He has a national reputation for being an innovator – for being someone who understands how to engage community from a meaningful, respective manner, and to build consensus around important issues.”
The latest grant brings to $2.2 million the total Foellinger Foundation has invested in Great Kids, probably best known for its annual Conference on Youth. That event brings national leaders here to speak to front-line youth workers who often don't have the time or resources to attend national conferences.
The Foellinger grant will help build on Great Kids and other partnerships under way to give young people a successful start in life. Investments that will make Fort Wayne and Allen County a better home for today's youth are important; investments in young people's own success are essential.