The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 23, 2019 1:00 am

Groups unite like-minded people

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Thousands gather each year for local festivals and annual events.

However, it's not necessary to wait for once-a-year festivals to share ideas and experiences.

Look close, and you'll find that there are organizations in Fort Wayne dedicated to bringing smaller portions of the community together.

On Monday evenings, Eden Lamb can be found in a kayak on the St. Marys River.

The outdoor recreation supervisor for the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department, Lamb leads “Margarita Mondays” – a gathering of kayakers and canoers.

However, there's no alcohol actually allowed on the boats. It got the name because participants on the “paddle social” sponsored by Riverfront Fort Wayne often go out for drinks after boating.

Lamb, who started kayaking about a decade ago and began leading the social five or six years ago, said the outings definitely bring people closer. Boaters are often standoffish and don't talk at first, she said.

Once they shove off, it's a different story.

“We get everyone out on the water and, probably, within 20 minutes ... they're talking, they're a little more calm,” Lamb said. “They're all talking at the end. It's just a fun program.”

That's also the goal of some other groups: To have fun, to meet new people and to learn something new.

1 Million Cups debuted in Fort Wayne in 2015 and has hosted dozens of entrepreneurs eager to share their stories of success – and provide a road map to avoiding speed bumps on the way to that success.

Rich Hoppe organizes the hourlong weekly meetings that include presentations from new business owners.

“Our focus is on the newbies,” he said.

Hoppe owns Fort Wayne Indoor Skatepark, and knows the challenges that come with planning the opening of a business: Some might want help figuring out finances, while others need reassurance from others who have taken the plunge into business ownership.

He's been involved with 1 Million Cups nearly two years, and Hoppe sees the organizer role as facilitator, friend – and sometimes, therapist.

“It's (Alcoholics Anonymous) for entrepreneurs,” he said, referring to the program designed for those battling alcohol addiction. “A lot of people are scared to try new things. When I sit down with these people, I try to break down those barriers. We try to give them the confidence to break out of the box they've been in.”

Olivia Lehman can relate to that.

She founded Creative Mornings Fort Wayne, an arm of a national group that bills itself as “a breakfast lecture series for the creative community.” Lehman used to live in Indianapolis and took part in the organization there.

She moved to Fort Wayne and saw the city needed an outlet for “creatives” to share their stories with like-minded people. Since the local group got up-and-running last year, weekly talks have drawn audiences from 70 to more than 100 people, she said.

Educators have spoken to the group, as well as a musician, a graphic designer – anyone is welcome. Just fill out a request on its website and outline what you'd like to discuss.

“We believe that everyone is creative,” Lehman said. “We try to let the speaker tell their story the way they want to.”

As for bringing people together?

“That's really the point,” she said.

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