Neighboring Podcast
Episode 40: Healthy Neighborhood Research Review with Rachel Blakeman

Episode 40: Healthy Neighborhood Research Review with Rachel Blakeman

November 7, 2019

For the past 15 years, NeighborLink has met the needs of vulnerable homeowners with volunteer service. Just since November 2010, NeighborLink has completed over 7,554 projects in Fort Wayne. That means we’ve heard over 7,554 stories and accomplished over 7,554 acts of kindness. This also means NeighborLink has had an intimate glimpse into the inner-workings of neighborhoods through being a neighbor and connecting its neighbors. 

This glimpse has exposed some fundamental questions:

  • Why do neighborhoods differ so drastically from block to block?

  • Why does the media seem to report negatively on some neighborhoods more often than others?

  • Why does economic and community development seem to forget certain parts of the city?

  • Why do the desires of the neighborhood residents often differ from the prescription of outside experts?

All of these questions have distilled down to one main question at NeighborLink:

What makes a healthy neighborhood, healthy? 

Perceived ‘healthy' neighborhoods are ones with positive attention, ones where economic development and community development is occurring, but how different are these neighborhoods really from other neighborhoods? We wanted to find out whether the neighborhoods many consider ‘unhealthy’ have the same characteristics that the ‘healthy’ neighborhoods have, and if not, why not. To accomplish this we have undertaken a two year study of five different neighborhoods in Fort Wayne. 

We, at NeighborLink, are committed to increase our capacity to foster long-term change by equipping and empowering neighbors to know and help each other. The only way to accomplish this is to get to know these neighbors ourselves. We need to know more about their neighborhoods, what motivates them, what they think their assets are, and what they believe they really need from outside help. 

In an effort to answer this question, we contracted Purdue Fort Wayne's Community Research Institute to partner with us on a comprehensive research project that gathered relevant quantitative data about each neighborhood and combined it with the qualitative data collected through various neighborhood meetings and interviews we held. This podcast is an interview with CRI Director, Rachel Blakeman. We give an overview of each neighborhood, key facts and insights from each, some thoughts on where this research fits in with other projects locally, and the lessons we are learning as a result of the research. If you find neighborhood development interesting or want to a deeper look into a few Fort Wayne neighborhoods, I think you’ll enjoy this conversation.

Neighborhoods Researched: 

  • Hoagland Masterson

  • North Highlands

  • Pettit-Rudisill

  • West Central

  • Williams Woodland Park



This project was made possible by a capacity building, Inspire Grant from the Foellinger Foundation. This report outlines our learnings from phase one of a two part research project and will informal the direction of phase two to be announced in early 2020. 

To learn more about Phase 1 findings, you can download the reports below. 

Download the NL Summary Report Here: 

For The Full Report - Please Contact Andrew Hoffman at 

Episode 39: Mr. Adrian Curry

Episode 39: Mr. Adrian Curry

October 31, 2019

I met Mr. Curry in person for the first time back in August of this year on the Inner City Visit to Louisville, KY were both invited to join by Greater Fort Wayne. We introduced ourselves in the parking lot of a Flying J rest stop half way to Louisville. From that brief interaction, I knew I needed to spend some additional time getting to know Mr. Curry as we talked briefly about relational engagement, listening to neighbors, and the high level neuroscience of social connectivity. I’m a thinker, observer, and learner by nature and when I meet people like Mr. Curry, I feel like I find a new friend.

We spent some additional time together on that trip, including catching dinner together where we discussed heavy justice related topics, the feelings of not being understood, the often mis-aligned relief and aid efforts of well intentioned development, and visions of how to approach community building differently. The only thing we solved that night was that we appreciated each others pursuit of knowledge and commitment to their work, a recognition that the work we do is hard but necessary, and that we should connect more.

This podcast is a continued pursuit of getting to know Mr. Curry, what motivates his work, and how his approach to youth development feels like a breathe of fresh air. Mr. Curry’s innate curiosity and commitment to find answers to the massive questions he asks continues to awake himself to the greater story that he is finding himself in. Mr. Curry spends quite a bit of time talking about the significant moments throughout his childhood that broadened his worldview and set him on a pursuit of deep scholarly knowledge, cross cultural and artistic experiences, and global pursuits to learn from others.

For 29 years old, Mr. Curry has experienced more than many of us will experience in a lifetime and he’s just getting started. I imagine that Mr. Curry is often misunderstood, but I think many of us just haven’t gone on as deep of a dive into our curiosity, our history, and are willing to dive into the complexity of brokenness that exists in our community and in our own lives to be able to hang onto Mr. Curry’s perspectives. I’m taking away from my conversations with Mr. Curry a deeper desire to dive in deeper rather than to pull away as I know I have a lot to learn by being present in complex conversations rather than allowing what I don’t know to scare me away from them. Lean into it.

What Mr. Curry is doing with the Art Leadership Center, his relatively new company that takes a fresh approach to youth development is really inspiring. Adrian’s approach to youth development is “designed for the systematic development of leaders of character with a global conscience that serve underdeveloped and underrepresented communities Nationally and Internationally.” Mr. Curry is taking all that he’s learned from the youth centers that impacted his life, his perseverance through his own personal struggles, his global travel, his neuroscience and psychology education, and his extensive step dancing background to teach kids about holistic health that comes through learning, application, and discipline.

I first saw Art Leadership Center in action at a Black History Month Celebration earlier in 2019 and you can tell the approach is having an impact. If you’ve not seen the students and Mr. Curry in action, I would recommend you check out their schedule and prioritize it.

Mr. Curry, thank you for being you and spending time with me. I look forward to our friendship growing. I’m wishing you all the success and collaborating in some way to bring life, joy, and celebration to neighborhoods in Fort Wayne.

Episode 38: Janell & Aaron Lane

Episode 38: Janell & Aaron Lane

October 24, 2019

I could spend all day with Janell and Aaron Lane on a weekly basis because of their passion for the place they call home, the people they work with, and their commitment to addressing what I think are justice related issues. We’ve met a number of times briefly to get to know each other, but this podcast gave us a great way to get to know each other in a deeper way. We talked about growing up in southeast Fort Wayne, their educational and professional journeys, and why they’re so committed to working there.


When we think of community development, we often think about the built environment and the big issues programs aim to address. People are always a part of that, but they’re usually represented in data or the input meetings. Rarely is community development in traditional terms about the developing of the people first, which is why I find the work of Janell and Aaron so impactful and why I’m intrigued by their employer’s commitment to empowering them to do it.


They work for Parkview Hospital and hospitals obviously care for the wellbeing and health of a community’s residents, but not many are being as proactive in going to residents with community health related solutions. Parkview is certainly not the only hospital that does this, but in our area, they’re leading the way with initiatives like the Community Partner Development Center (CPDC).


Four years into their work now, Janell and Aaron are finding their stride and making an immediate impact in the lives of those they’re working on. Simply showing up, asking how they can help, asking what’s missing, and then following up in an one-on-one or small group format makes a huge difference and has been missing in many ways in the southeast. Aaron is helping with personal, professional, and sometimes spiritual development of indigenous leaders among a dozen other initiatives. Janell is leveraging her mental health professional background to bring attention, create safe spaces, and make progress in addressing mental health issues prevalent in African American communities among a dozen other things she’s leading.


If you get anything out of the conversation, I hope you’ll pick up their calling and sense of responsibility as two individuals to serve in an area they grew up in. The trend in socio-economically challenged areas is to get educated, find a way out, and never return other than to visit family that may still live there. Rarely do people come back to an area to live, work, and invest. For some it’s because they want to leave behind the challenges they faced and still present in the area, and for some like the Lanes, it’s because the area isn’t capable of meeting their family’s needs. However, they are committed to making sure the opportunities grow for those they know that live there and for future generations to have a better place to come home when considering where they’ll land to raise their families.


I really look forward to continuing to build a relationship with the Lanes. I’ve got a lot to learn from them and really enjoy just being in their presence. We all need more people like Aaron and Janell Lane in our lives if we care about improving the holistic health of our neighborhoods.

Episode 37: Réna Bradley

Episode 37: Réna Bradley

October 10, 2019

I appreciate Réna Bradley greatly. This podcast solidified that reality as I learned more about her background, the intentionality of her past work experience, and her boldness in how she goes about her work. Most of all, I’m so encouraged by how she integrates her faith throughout all she does at Bridge of Grace. 

You may be familiar with Bridge of Grace, but you may not be as familiar with Réna unless you work directly with her on a project or two. Loved by two incredible parents, training as a architect, and driven by her desire to transform neighborhoods through relationship, the transforming of the built environment, and the integration of faith, Réna is an asset to the Fort Wayne Community.

Réna moved to Fort Wayne in 2015 after responding to a job opportunity posted by Bridge of Grace via the Christian Community Development Organization (CCDA) who at that time was looking for a program manager for a specific program. Réna got to know the organization and during the interview process communicated that maybe what BOG needed was someone that focused on the transformation of the neighborhood, and that someone ended up being her. 

Réna currently serves as the Community Development Director and oversees many of the projects that engage neighbors and neighborhood youth in transforming vacant lots into mini-parks through an intentional program that teaches kids the entire process of building something in a community. They identify the opportunity/need, come up with the vision, define the solutions, get approval for those ideas, gather the resources, and then participate in turning a vacant lot into something beautiful and useful.

Réna and I talk a lot about her journey to Fort Wayne, what it’s like being an intentional neighbor, how to share out of our abundance, and when you go from work life balance to work life integration. She’s a beacon of light to her neighbors and has created a safe place to be known, cared for, and believed in. That spirit is transforming the social connectivity in her neighborhood and is beginning to see significant fruit in other more complex issues, like crime reduction, housing development, and youth development.

I encourage you to listen to get to know Réna better, visit her at Bridge of Grace in the SE side of Fort Wayne, and get involved however you can.

Episode 35: Matt Kelley

Episode 35: Matt Kelley

September 19, 2019

Ask anyone that knows Matt Kelley at all and they’ll likely tell you that they want to hang out with him more often. I’ve thought about trying to learn guitar just to be able to do that. Matt is personably, confident, intelligent, and has the experience and work ethic that backs up what he talks about. Matt and his team at One Lucky Guitar, a boutique creative agency in Fort Wayne, are some of the most on-point creators in our region, which is why they’ve been hired by many of the regional and local community and economic development organizations over the years. They simply know Fort Wayne and NE Indiana better than everyone because they’re invested and live it every day deep in their souls.

Matt and I are personal friends and sit down regularly to talk about the role of taking initiative and making sure everything we do is as meaningful and intentional as possible. We just don’t like to waste time doing things that don’t matter nor do we like sitting on ideas that we feel deep in our guts that we should be doing something about rather than talking about. We feel our work deeply and this is a conversation about work-life integration, doing meaningful work, and creating things no matter how big or small they may be.

We both believe some of the most meaningful experiences we’ve had are the small shows, athletic events, or the things that happen in the margins of our community. I’m constantly inspired by Matt’s tenacity, his vision, and his ability to get so many people to go on the journey with him towards places they would have never imagined going. Matt’s always going some place and if you have the opportunity to go on that journey with him, hang on no matter what it is because you’re going to learn something or you’re going to have an incredible experience, even if it’s not as successful as you thought it would or should be.

Matt encourages us to take the ideas off the shelf, put some energy behind it, and see what happens. I think there are so many of us that have incredible ideas for events, initiatives, or products that we’re scared to do anything with because we don’t quite have the full picture of success. The success is often in just getting from idea to action, and we need your ideas way more than you think. Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Episode 34: Addison Agen

Episode 34: Addison Agen

September 5, 2019

I remember standing inside Neat Neat Neat Records just south of downtown Fort Wayne three years ago talking to store owner, Morrison Agen, about a benefit event that the store was collaborating on with another partner to support our work at NeighborLink when Morrison said, “hey, you’ve got to listen to this.” I’m sure that is a pretty routine statement that Morrison and every other record store owner says to customers and neighbors of their shop, but what Morrison put on blew me away. Morrison played a demo track of his 16 year old daughter at the time, Addison, which was incredible and sounded like she had been performing and recording for years. One of those moments when you hear the immediate talent within thirty seconds of listening. Addison went on to record and release that album called, New Places, and end up as runner up of NBC’s The Voice in 2017.


I’ve never been a huge fan of traditional gala events when it comes to raising funds or awareness for our work at NeighborLink for many reasons, but it ultimately just don’t fit our culture at this point. However, we’ve needed to come up with something unique and bigger than what we have been doing as a way to raise some needed money and ultimately start reaching a broader audience. Our staff came up with the idea of producing an all out concert and focus on being intentional and creative throughout to tell our story. When thinking about who we’d invite, our staff immediately thought of Addison. We knew that she has a benevolent and generous spirit that is backed up by an intentionality of using her time to help others. She’s spent time working with the homeless, singing with her mother in the church and music therapy situations, and has a kindness that radiates through her music.


Addison will be headlining a show on Thursday, September 26th, at the historic and beautiful USF Performing Arts Center. Our dear friends The Legendary Trainhoppers will be joining her as well. We’re working on some creative storytelling projects as well to seamlessly integrate our mission throughout the event and make this an experience more than a fundraising event. Get your tickets online here.


Addison and her friend, Grace, joined myself on a NeighborLink project recently in a neighborhood not far from where she lives. I wanted to invite her out to see what NL was all about, have her meet some neighbors of hers, and get to know her a bit more. Addison and Grace jumped right in to plant some rose bushes and mow the grass. We had a great time getting to learn more about the neighbors we helped, had fun playing with power tools, and felt good about offering an hour to do a small task that is hard for the homeowners. Addison and Grace seemed right at home, which speaks for her character and care for others.

This podcast was a lot of fun and helped me better understand the challenges that musicians face on a day to day basic and what it looks like to be a good neighbor on the road, with often changing bandmates, and as an immediate celebrity who has fans that have instant access to you via social media. It’s a lot of responsibility and pressure for anyone to have to embrace and I think Addison is handling it with grace.


Please give it a listen and support Addison as well as join us for our concert at the end of September. It would mean the world to me to see 1700 seats full and singing along with Addison Agen and the Trainhoppers.

Episode 33: Louisville Part 2

Episode 33: Louisville Part 2

September 3, 2019

Part 2 of this podcast talks to all the members from part 1 about their post-event experiences. A couple of interviews were done right away on the way home, some within the next couple of days, and another at least a week after we returned. Needless to say, we were all taking in a lot of information and finding the aspects that really spoke to us along the way.

Like any trip where you spend a limited time learning a lot about what is happening, you don’t get all the nuances that were part of the multi-year or multi-decade process to get where they are. However, I think that’s ok. We need inspiration and those little nuggets of information that have been missing from our knowledge bank that we pick up throughout the conversations. I think you hear that throughout this recap podcast.

Here are a few themes that stand out:

  • Innovative financing - We heard about a number of different ways developers are funding their projects as well as a few financial institutions that are creating equitable funding projects to help.

  • Demand for Collaboration - We always need more collaboration and these trips emphasize that. Any time you put 50 people together for 36 hours, you’ll see the energy that has been missing that can only be found by being with one another. Collaboration only can be done by being in relationship and proximity with one another.

  • Unified, Known Story - Everyone we met seemed to tell the exact same story about Louisville’s history, both good and bad. Racial disparity has happened in every city in the nation and red lining was something that happened. Louisville owns that history and mo many other aspects of their unique experiences, which has helped them find a common ground to move forward on.

  • Data Helps, A Lot - Researched data is vital to justify any socially driven initiative. When the stories of marginalized neighbors and neighborhood injustices don’t move the needle, data that tells the economic impacts of doing or not doing projects, does. You have to develop the data to attract funders because you can’t expect them to do it for an area they’re not necessary looking at. Lead with emotion, follow up with logic.

  • More Listening - Goodness, we need to spend more time listening to the needs and desires of our neighbors in the neighborhoods we want to improve. We have grand visions, but do they match those they impact? If they don’t, what do we do then? If we think we’re listening, then double down and meet with twice as many people.

  • Mayoral & City Support - There was a lot of energy and reflection on how unified the City of Louisville was on focusing on neighborhood development or redevelopment from the top down.

  • Sit In The Tension - We have a lot to learn as we work on our listening skills to become comfortable with the uncomfortable and to sit in the tension that comes up. This is hard work with deep seated reasons why it’s hard. Sitting in the tension in order to learn is only going to help us become better leaders and developers.

Personally, there are a handful of things I reflect on in conversations with everyone, especially during Ellen Cutter’s segment. This is all hard work and work that despite our best efforts may only be marginally beneficial. However, I think it’s important that we all continue to figure out how to bridge the gap between the haves and have nots, and any time we can gain inspiration by others in the margins with us, then we should.

I met some incredible Fort Wayne folks on this trip that I look forward to continuing building relationships with and engaging some of the lessons above myself.

Huge Thank You to These Participants: 

Denita Washington - Adams Township Trustee

Alison Gerardot - Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne

Savannah Robinson - YLNI 

Ellen Cutter - Greater Fort Wayne

Michelle Chambers - City Council Hopeful 

Links to the Organizations We Met With

Russell Promise -

Louisville Forward -

Access Ventures - Several Projects -

NULU Neighborhood Walking Tour -

SmokeTown Tour -

Butchertown Market Tour -

Portland Neighborhood Tour -

Rabbit Hole Distillery Tour & Reception -

Harvest Restaurant - Local Business -

Chef Space - Kitchen Incubator -

Park DuValle Revitalization -

Episode 32: Louisville Inner City Visit - Part 1

Episode 32: Louisville Inner City Visit - Part 1

August 22, 2019

Huge thanks to the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne who invited and sponsored me as the director of NeighborLink to go join Greater Fort Wayne’s inner city to Louisville, KY. Greater Fort Wayne has invited small groups of people to go all over the country to visit cities that have aspirational attributes related to what’s happening in Fort Wayne for the past few years. Iowa, Detroit, North Carolina, and a handful of other places to see specific projects or see entire neighborhoods, like we did on this trip. The goal was to see community development in action across three main Louisville neighborhoods that sparked as downtown Louisville saw significant investment.

Because these trips are usually full of great people and really insightful conversations, I thought it would be fun to take the Neighboring Podcast on the road to spend some time interviewing a handful of attendees on the way there and on the way home. The most meaningful conversations we have are usually among ourselves as we process what we’re learning and what we’re dreaming about and rather than loose them to the trip, I attempted to gather bits and pieces to share with others that couldn’t make the trip.

Part 1 of this podcast introduces you to these wonder people. They share about their current work, details about the trip, background on Louisville, and what they were eager to learn.

  • Ellen Cutter, VP of Economic Development at Greater Fort Wayne

  • Alison Gerardot, VP of Philanthropic Services

  • Savannah Robinson, YLNI President

  • Michelle Chambers, running for City Council at Large

  • Denita Washington, Adams Township Trustee

Part 2 next week will include debriefs from each person on what stood out to them after two days of meetings and conversations.

For me, I’ve been to Louisville a number of times the past few years as visitor but never on official business. I got a last minute invite to this trip and cleared my schedule to make it work because of the opportunity. I follow along with a few organizations in this city that I was eager to hear from and I’m always intrigued to learn how other cities are doing neighborhood development. I love to observe, learn, and process with people I know in an effort to be the best I can be at my job at NeighborLink.

As you listen, you’ll be able to hear some of my anticipated learnings mixed into the questions and conversations. I knew a handful of folks on the trip before the trip, knew of many others, and met some new people that I’ve never met before. Any time 50 eager to learn individuals get on a bus together and spend two full days together, great conversations are bound to happen and they certainly did.

Episode 30: Kristin Giant

Episode 30: Kristin Giant

August 8, 2019

Kristin came up and introduced herself to me at an event we were both attending a couple of years ago. Her husband, Joe, and her along with their son at the time at just moved back to Fort Wayne months before and as they were getting getting reconnected to the area, they were fitting right into the realms they were comfortable in, which are the community development, nonprofit, and social engagement spaces where they have spent the better parts of their professional and personal lives. Kristin in dynamic, has a peaceful and generous spirit, and is really great at giving complements. So, as she introduced herself, she mentioned having familiarity with our work at NeighborLink and shared that her and Joe have similar affinities.

Since that day, Kristin has been a go to person for me when it comes to her background in impact investing, her belief that grassroots community development is a viable path forward for Fort Wayne, and her desire to bring her intellect and professional background as an attorney to bear witness to injustices of our neighbors. If you’ve not met Kristin yet, I encourage you to do so!

Kristin and her husband have added a second boy to their family in the past year and purchased an old home on one of the most desirable streets in the 46805 zip code from the original owners! It’s a beautiful street with many wonderful, historic homes, but what makes it such a desirable place is the community that the neighbors have created over the years. As soon as I arrived to her home for the podcast, a dozen elementary aged kids rode up on their bikes to the permanent spray painted bases in the middle of the 4-way stop intersection on their boulevard street for a game of kickball. We found ourselves right in the middle of the game as we dodged balls as we talked about the neighborhood. Kristin shares several stories in the podcast about how their early connections with neighbors, the potential challenges that come along with opening up vulnerably with strangers, and how everyone is watching out for you, whether it’s your finest moment or not. To be a neighbor is to be vulnerable yourself.

In additional to our conversation about her experience as a neighbor in her own physical neighborhood, we talk about a recent opportunity to be a “digital neighbor” with some family friends from her hometown in South Carolina that has a son needing a major organ transplant. The family is receiving help, but is facing significant costs and are in need financially to overcome those challenges. Kristin, being as great as she is, decided that donating and sharing it simply via social media wasn’t enough or simply wasn’t going to work practically or for her personally. So, she decided that she would face some of her own vulnerabilities and invite her social network to ask her to do things that would stretch her in exchange for donating to the campaign. For Kristin, she wanted to do things that made her feel uncomfortable in an effort to dive deeper into this campaign with her friends. She’s sung funny songs, ran a 7-minute mile (which she didn’t believe she could do under 10min), has done device free nights at home, and even been asked to reflect on various aspects of life and the initiative to fully embrace the challenge.

I was inspired by this effort. We see similar efforts at NL frequently by our community, but rarely are they in a way that requires us to get in touch with areas that we need to grow. It’s causing me to reflect and wonder what areas of vulnerability I need to invite others into in a public way in order to receive the help I desire for things important to me.

This word Vulnerability continues to be a theme and topic of our work and my life. I think we all need to spend more time getting acquainted with its meanings, its reality, and embrace it as a positive in our lives in order to benefit from its power. I’m grateful for friends like Kristin who push me to be better and for the opportunity to become family friends along the way. I look forward to learning more about what Kristin learns from her efforts to be a digital friend in this way. Think critically, make a commitment, and see what happens.

Episode 30: Denise Andorfer - Vincent Village

Episode 30: Denise Andorfer - Vincent Village

August 1, 2019

If I’ve learned anything at NeighborLink, it’s the reality that we’re all a few choices or life’s circumstances away from needing the care and support of others, and when “others” aren’t there or no longer able to support, we become extremely vulnerable very quickly. This is the essence of this conversation with Denise Andorfer, Executive Director of Vincent Village.

Vincent Village provides a unique array of services that meet the needs of families who are experiencing the crisis of homelessness and continues to meet their needs through providing both permanent housing and supportive services. I encourage you to click here to learn more about the specific programs that drive their mission and work.

Vincent Village is located in the Oxford Neighborhood, which is about 2 miles southeast of downtown Fort Wayne. Denise paints a picture of the Oxford Neighbor and shares that it has dedicated and caring homeowners that have been active for decades. Homeownership rates are right at 47%, which is a decent number for neighborhoods with their socio-economics. Denise mentioned that the Oxford Neighborhood is the only Fort Wayne neighborhood that has its own dedicated association property. It’s been in disrepair for a number of years, but is a treasured neighborhood asset that neighbors, VV, and NeighborLink have been advocating for its repair. It’s a struggle because it’s expensive and those that have been captive to the vision haven’t quite caught onto it yet. However, little by little, neighbors and volunteers are working to rebuild it to the treasure it once was.

The bulk of our conversation revolved around my desire to learn more about the long-term efforts Vincent Village has been making over the last 30 years. As much as we’d love to see things have radical changes and can dream how big of an impact $5-10 million dollars could have, it’s not that easy. Beyond the economics and the tangibles, Denise and I talk about some of the life situations and challenges that her staff face as they attempt to provide the safe and supportive structure required to move from homelessness and insecurity towards security and independence. For many, their programs work well and over a couple of years they’ll be able to thrive on their own. But, others aren’t so lucky and life’s circumstances and choices continue to drag them down and beyond the help of organizations like Vincent Village.

We have a lot to learn from organizations like Vincent Village and people like Denise and her staff when it comes to the deep and insurmountable challenges that make neighborhood development difficult. I hope you’ll listen and make an appointment to go tour the village and learn more. They’re doing great work and Denise is someone worth getting to know.