Neighboring Podcast
Episode 29: Bernadette Baker - New NeighborLink AmeriCorp VISTA

Episode 29: Bernadette Baker - New NeighborLink AmeriCorp VISTA

July 25, 2019

What a joy it has been to have Bernadette Becker on our team for the past month and a half. I first met Bernadette last summer during her summer internship at Ambassador Enterprises when they invited me to speak to their team of interns as well as when some of them took on volunteer projects. Bernadette was captivated by the nature of our work, has a deep desire to learn more about socio-economic factors facing our community and what we can do about them, and has a energetic spirit that is perfect for connecting with people.

At the end of last year, we began looking into what it would take to bring on AmeriCorp VISTA members at NL. AmeriCorp is the domestic PeaceCorp where individuals sign up to for a year of volunteer service with organizations working on poverty related issues in an effort to provide capacity building energy to help our organization grow, learn, and solve the problems we’re working on. In exchange for the year of service, the VISTA member receives a living stipend which is adjusted to local poverty wages, a financial credit to be used for educational loans upon successful completion, a number of smaller benefits, and then a whole lot of intangible perks due to the highly respected nature of the program among graduate schools, big organizations, etc. It’s a huge stretch and a commendable effort for anyone that chooses to essentially choose poverty for a year and have to figure out how to survive on little to no resources. This was part of the appeal for Bernadette and something she wanted to experience as a way to learn more about future professional and educational pursuits.

Bernadette and I talk about VISTA, her journey to NLFW, and some of the research we’ve been working on together so far. She’s extremely bright, very motivated to learn, and a delightful person that is making a relational impact already as she builds relationships with our partner neighborhoods and the neighbors she meets. I think you’ll enjoy our conversation.

I’m really excited to have Bernadette come alongside NL and myself as we dive deeper into our Healthy Neighborhoods research. I’m going off 12+ years of practical lessons learned from neighbor interactions and from our time in neighborhoods with little to no formal education. Bernadette is bringing the academic side to this project and rounding out the practical with concrete, researched evidence that aligns with our current findings. You can hear that in our conversation near the end as I share about the lessons we’re learning and Bernadette giving definition to what it is we’re feeling and seeing. Expect to see some really great reports that combine the quantitative with the qualitative data and lessons.

Bernadette isn’t afraid of the camera or sharing her personal story as it happens, so tune into our blog to see her “Bernie on a Journey” series, which is a weekly reflection journal.

Neighboring Check-In With Andrew

Neighboring Check-In With Andrew

July 25, 2019

Neighboring launched it’s 27th episode last week, which is 14 more than we thought we’d ever do when we started this last summer. Whether or not we’re generating an audience, it’s been an incredible exercise in listening to our neighbors and friends who are living life intentionally in their neighborhoods, at home, or at their workplace. I’m thrilled with our progress and the conversations we’re having. I think they’re extremely important for anyone trying to learn how to be a better “neighbor” in the places where they want to have, or need to have, influence.

Building community is hard work and as leaders, we’re usually trying to get people to follow us to the places where we’re going to need help. In environments where there is no acting accountability or requirements to participate, you have an uphill battle. Unless you spend time with others in your community to build trust, you’ll walk a lonely road. In many cases, you have to work hard to get the community to show up around you before you can even get to know them, which is even harder at times. What I think these Neighboring podcasts are doing are giving us insights on how to be the type of people that gather an audience and build trust with our neighbors.

We all see the brokenness and the things not getting done that no one is responsible for around us, and we’re waiting on someone else to do something about it even though we know that we could be that person. The best neighbors are the ones stepping into the brokenness to try to sort it out or their taking responsibility for the things no one wants to. What happens when neighbors step in, it breaks the ice for all those that know what the right thing to do is, but have been waiting on the fence to do it.

Neighboring is all about sharing stories of those that hopped off the fence first and are working out the way forward. I hope you’ve found a few episodes that have resonated with you. I know I’m continuing to learn each episode and those lessons are impacting our work at NeighborLink. If nothing less, NeighborLink is going to be a stronger organization because of this podcast series.

Thank you for listening and please offer some feedback, questions, or suggestions on topics or people we should talk to, even if that’s you. We want to talk to the people that are quietly and often behind the scenes being radical neighbors in your circle of influences. Email me at andrew@nlfw.org if you have some folks.

Please share the podcast with your friends, give us some stars, write a review, and whatever else you think you can do to help us raise the awareness of this show.

In addition to all of that, I highly recommend you consider joining us for Be A Good Neighbor Week at NeighborLink between July 8 - 14th. Our staff will be organizing projects and making volunteering with us as easy as we can. There will be big projects, small projects, day time and evening time projects. It’s simple, your family is invited, and we’d love to spend time with you. Details here.

Episode 27: The Sweetwater Neighborhood

Episode 27: The Sweetwater Neighborhood

June 6, 2019

You can’t go a week without hearing about Sweetwater in our community. Chuck Surack started a music recording business in his VW van and poured his life into building what is now the largest online retailer of music instruments and pro audio gear in the US. They experienced another record-setting year in terms of sales growth and job creation, adding over 400 new employees in 2018. Forty percent of those coming from outside of Fort Wayne, IN. There is a great press release outlining all the details of that growth here: Sweetwater Announces Another Record Year

Sweetwater isn’t just getting attention because of their economic impact in our region. Chuck is one of the most generous businessmen in our area who invests millions of dollars into other community projects, a number of local businesses, and in hundreds of philanthropic efforts. He and his wife are extremely generous and care deeply about people, which was a motivator for this podcast .

Working with over 150 different groups of volunteers, many coming from the corporate world, NeighborLink gets a look into a lot of different organizational cultures over the course of the year. The reality is, all entities take on the life of the leader and reflect their values, good or bad. You would tend to believe that it would be hard to stay connect to the org culture when you have 1,500+ employees and more things trying to get your attention than you can keep up with. Somehow, Chuck is able to keep up with those right alongside his very competent leadership team. There is an ethos that runs deep in the culture that shows outsiders like me that this is an important place to work, and you want to take responsibility for its success as an employee. Many see it as an opportunity to be employed at Sweetwater, not just a job.

I first met Nate Edwards through a local church in a neighborhood where we did a lot of projects. His congregation was trying to figure out how to be more intentional neighbors and be a resource for their community. Nate is a dynamic and energetic guy who brings all that energy to all the things he’s involved in, not just work. He also happened to have relocated to Fort Wayne to take a position at Sweetwater in the early 2000s when there was almost 200. He’s now a manager in the sales department and we’ve developed a relationship over the years. He’s been thinking critically about ways they do their work at Sweetwater and how it could impact NeighborLink. As we have these discussions, I learn a little more each time about how unique their culture really is.

One of the things I learned is that Sweetwater uses a “neighborhood” model for diversifying and building their teams of sales engineers and support staff. They’ve had this model for over 15 years and I was instantly intrigued because I’ve never heard of another business using a neighborhood model of connecting teams internally. Essentially, they break down all their employees into smaller groups of 10-12 employees with two neighborhood leaders in each group. These groups are made up of diverse backgrounds and employment duration in an effort to make what is huge, small. They’ve learned that relationships and creating small communities of people that have a shared vision will care for each other much better than keeping large numbers of people together. In addition to connecting their sales engineers and support teams together, they connect each neighborhood with a different division of the company, like distribution. Another way to encourage organization cohesion when division is natural.

Nate Burkhardt was recruited from a competitor and moved his family across the country from California to work at Sweetwater. That’s a significant move and has more than just an economic impact on a family. Life is disrupted and starting new in a big company can be overwhelming, even if you’re competent in the job. These neighborhoods allowed him to get connected inside and outside of work quickly. These neighborhoods support each other at work and create opportunity to be connected socially, including opportunities to be generous together. As you listen to the podcast, you’ll hear Nate talk about how vital these neighborhoods are to the success of the company, but to each other.

Nate Edwards talks about having 25 new sales engineers start in his area each month, which is the kind of growth that feels like you’re chasing after to keep up with. The neighborhood model allows new employees to be dispersed with other employees at various states of their journey, whether that’s just a few months or a few years. From listening to these guys, it sounds like you’re never alone and have all the resources you need to succeed if you want to on day one. There is nothing like starting a high intensity job and feeling like you’ve been thrown into it without help.

The operational impact of this effort is that Sweetwater has roughly 10% turnover rate in their sales team each year, which is unheard of in the sales profession, let alone in their industry. Investing in creating community, focusing on relationships, and supporting your people is worth every penny and moment of energy if I hear these guys right. There is a communal love for music, musical gear, and all the structure needed to keep you motivated and supported. It always comes down to people and Sweetwater is investing in their people.

Episode 26: Jason Eicholtz - Adventure Widely

Episode 26: Jason Eicholtz - Adventure Widely

May 30, 2019

YOUR KIDS ARE READY FOR MORE THAN YOU THINK. QUESTION IS, ARE YOU READY?

As a father of three young kids that wants to do all that I can to develop them into well rounded, loving, generous, brave and a million other adjectives, this is one of the most relevant conversations I can have. Parenting is hard, developing your children is harder, and trying to live a balanced life that includes the things that bring you joy without abandoning your family is the hardest. This podcast with Jason is a great illustration of a parent doing his best to be able to do all of these in unison.

Jason started getting involved with NeighborLink through our Team NeighborLink efforts by riding bikes with us and eventually picking up a cycling kit. We usually don’t get to know many of our TNL athletes kids unless the kid is a bit older and also active in the sport, or if they family travels to races with us. So, it’s rare to meet the younger kids for a lot of logistical and kid watching reasons. When someone does incorporate their kids regularly, it’s noticeable and that was the case with Jason and his daughter. Get to know Jason and you realize that doing these kinds of things together has been woven into their lives since the beginning and it’s normal. And, it’s great to see them share these experiences and have a mutual level of desire to participate. This is a practice that I experienced as a kid with my dad and one that my wife and I embrace with our kids. I’ve got so much to learn from Jason and his daughter as well.

Jason has his own website and YouTube channel, Adventure Widely. Check it out if you’re interested in learning from them as they explore.

This is an important conversation as part of Neighboring because it relates to all aspects of parent/kid/activity. It brings light to the barriers in our lives that keep us from pursuing the adventures or the experiences that we know will shape our kids into the people we hope they become. Developing our kids starts early and has to be modeled by us as parents.

We get asked all the time at NeighborLink whether we allow children to volunteer with us. The answer is always as big of YES as I can express. NL will never ask you to take on a project that you aren’t confident that you can accomplish on your own, and if you’re choosing the project you do and want to incorporate your kids, then you’ll choose a project right for them as well. Even if you go out as a family with toddlers knowing full well that all the work responsibilities may fall on dad, being present together in a service context is the right thing. Play with your kids in the front yard, talk to the person you’re helping, walk the neighborhood you’re in, and know that presence is as powerful as the activity.

By the time my kids get to teenage years or older, I hope they have a broader worldview than I had at that age. I hope they are more compassionate, courageous, and gracious towards the diversities they’ll experience. I realize that it will only happen if my wife and I embrace that for ourselves right now and take them along for the journey as we work that out. If we wait until they’re older, easier, or have better attitudes towards the discomfort that is part of the journey, then we’ll have an even harder time getting started than we do now.

Jason’s stories inspire me to keep taking my kids with me. Jason's daughter is pushing past her fears, growing as a person, and gaining confidence along the way. And, it sounds like they are having a blast along the way. What’s better than that?

While I know that embracing this may compromise achieving my own personal pursuits or cut into some much needed personal time, I think it’s worth it. I would rather ride bikes with my kids or take on smaller volunteer projects than not be able to do it with them. I see this playing out with parents that are have kids getting older and I know if I’m patient, soon enough my kids will be on a similar level and ready to blast past me. I think it gets really fun then.

Neighboring - Ep 25 - Volunteer Insights on Challenging Projects

Neighboring - Ep 25 - Volunteer Insights on Challenging Projects

May 24, 2019

I have the greatest co-workers and couldn’t imaging not having these two guys working with all our volunteers and overseeing the projects at NeighborLink. Jeff and I have been doing NL projects and leading volunteers together for 13+ years as we both got started doing NL work as volunteers at our church. I became the director in 2008 and as soon as I could hire someone to join me, I hired Jeff. Jeff is the definition of a servant leader and has lead his way through some really difficult projects at NL. From countless hoarding projects, urgent moving projects due to evictions, ice waterfalls inside homes due to burst pipes, bugs, and so many more.

Derrick joined the NL staff a little over two years ago after over a year of volunteering weekly with us. He volunteered his way into a part-time job and then into a just short of full-time job leading aspects of our operations. Derrick is the guy you want to be on your projects due to his charisma, wealth of experiences, and his positive attitude that no issue can’t be overcome. Extremely important characteristics required to stay committed to loving your neighbors through challenging circumstances.

In what I hope becomes a regular series about what you can expect to experience as a volunteer (or, intentional neighbor as I prefer) at NeighborLink, or as a committed volunteer wherever you spend your time, we’re starting to share our experiences as volunteers and staff members in an effort to help you either know what you may experience or to stand in solidarity with those that have had tough experiences.

Two things are true: One, you’re going to have a difficult projects with in the first 3-5 NL projects. Two, there is no way you can do it alone and expect to stay committed once you hit a few tough projects. They’re overwhelming and without preparation and community to process with, the burden proves to be too much. We have too many volunteers that have gone solo, stayed solo, and then burned out due to their experiences.

If this resonates at all with you, then I think you’ll really enjoy this podcast as Jeff and I recount one of the very first challenging projects we worked on together, and several that have impacted Derrick along the way. We’re much more seasoned now and have plenty of experiences where we didn’t feel that it went all that well to inform how we do things now that prompt our suggestions on how to address them if you find yourself there.

Final thought: WE DON’T HAVE THIS ALL FIGURED OUT! And, we don’t imagine that we ever will because transformation is constant and you “never arrive.” What we have done is develop boldness and courage to engage relationally with our neighbors that have invited us to be a solution to their problems. We’ve learned that the right solution isn’t always what they’ve asked for, which we know instinctually when we meet them, but it takes time to work together to find that solution. So, be bold, ask questions, and feel empowered to get to know neighbors in order to make sure what you have to offer is the right thing and will be appreciated for the long haul.

Episode 24: Pettit Rudisill Neighborhood

Episode 24: Pettit Rudisill Neighborhood

May 2, 2019

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Part 5 of a 5-part series where we interview the five neighborhoods that NeighborLink has invited to part of a 2019 comprehensive research project. Our desire is to learn what makes a healthy neighborhood healthy. These five Fort Wayne neighborhoods have been chosen for their unique socio-economics, demographics, geographic influences and levels of neighbor engagement at the association level.

Mark, Laurie, and Randy joined NeighborLink for an insightful conversation about the Pettit Rudisill Neighborhood. Laurie was born and raised in the same home that her and her husband, Randy, have been living in since 1986, which gives tremendous insight into how the neighborhood has changed and stayed the same over the past handful of decades. Mark and his wife migrated to Fort Wayne over 20 years ago and as they got involved in a southside church. Over a couple of years, they continued to move south to their current home that they purchased 17 years ago.

Pettit Rudisill is the neighborhood I know the least about and the one I’m most excited to learn about because I think it’s a perfect example of a neighborhood that has definitely been impacted by socio-economic factors beginning in the last 60s, but maintains it’s strong neighbor-to-neighbor connectivity and health. I drive through it almost every day as I either drop off or pick up my kids from school and travel down it’s main corridor. We do a lot of NeighborLink projects in that neighborhood each year and meet some incredible, long-term neighbors there. Rudisill is one of the main east west corridors on the south side, and it is quite the boulevard with bigger homes, wide streets and mature trees covering the landscape.

Laurie shares with us that the neighborhood started to change demographically and racially in the late 60’s as more African Americans began to buy homes and realtors began to scare many white homeowners out of the neighborhood with fear that their property values would suffer. Laurie’s family stayed put, raised their families, and proved that the neighborhood was just fine with an increase in diversity. Pettit Rudisill may have always been the side of Rudisill Boulevard that was represented by the blue-collar working class that made up so much of International Harvester and GE’s workforce, but it was and still is a great neighborhood for families looking for affordable, solid housing.

Mark, Laurie, and Randy all share that yes, there are some challenges in the neighborhood, the media often portrays the SE side of town as a collective problem and that not all neighborhoods have problems. Mark shares about how vibrant and full of young life the neighborhood is and how his family has grown up benefiting from the neighborhood. “People are people,” Mark shares, which is so true. Everyone is trying to do their best with what they have and search for a quality of life that meets their desires. We all want to be known, loved, cared for, and part of something.

Pettit Rudisill is a solid neighborhood with great neighbors. I hope this project helps share the bright sides of PR and the SE side of Fort Wayne to begin changing the narrative that our community believes about the southside. PR talks about the increased investment of outside groups, new neighbors, and a major infrastructure project that the City of Fort Wayne is going to start this summer. With a huge increase in housing activity just to bit further to the west on the same street, I can imagine PR is going to be on the come up really soon.

We’re looking forward to our next phase of the 2019 research project, which includes a two-hour workshop with neighbors from each of the five neighborhoods: North Highlands, Williams Woodland, West Central, Hoagland Masterson and Petite Rudisill.

Mark Schmidt - Intentional Retirement

Mark Schmidt - Intentional Retirement

April 25, 2019

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I’ve been pitched retirement since I was in college. It usually starts with me being asked to think about what I want to be able to do with my free time when I get there, how much money would I like to have in the bank, and and the type of lifestyle I want to have. The sales pitch usually includes being able to play golf, travel the world, and be able to afford the house that I always wanted. Not all financial planners are pitching that story, but we can agree that sort of narrative dominates. While I do believe being prepared for that phase of life is responsible, the way it has always been pitched just never settled with me. It simply seems to lack any sort of purpose other than leisure and I find leisure pretty boring. But, I’m only in my late 30s and a lot can change and I certainly have a lot to learn before I ever get to that point.

What’s is encouraging me regarding that discussion is how NeighborLink has benefited greatly from men and women who enter retirement with intention and purpose with a desire to use their time, abilities, and resources to help other neighbors through their life’s circumstances in tangible ways. For nearly 10 years, NeighborLink has had small communities of retirees, folks between jobs, or those under-employed with free time who intentionally organize by getting together weekly to take on projects that find our website. Each year, 300+ tangible home repair projects get completed because of a collective group of around 40-50 people throughout the year through three different groups currently. What they’re able to do, and what they choose to do, is absolutely incredible. So, I ask a lot of questions about their lives, their careers, how they get connected to NL, and what their motivations are when they could be doing anything other than helping.

I sat down with Mark Schmidt on this episode of Neighboring to discuss his personal journey. We take time to talk about how he navigated his 30 year career at one company, how he did or didn’t manage work/life balance, his family, the role faith plays in his life, and how he’s chosen to retire early from a professional career after his company moved away from Fort Wayne to take up a career as a volunteer. Mark is an extremely humble guy and doesn’t love answering these personal kind of questions because he wants to make sure that credit is given to God and those he serves with. I think anyone that has spent time with Mark knows that he’s as genuine of a guy that there is. He has always cared deeply about people and lived a live of service whether it was serving his co-workers during his career, his fellow volunteers with Carpenter’s Sons, or now neighbors with tangible needs. We hope to tell some stories of our other retirees soon as well.

I was encouraged to hear that things haven’t always come easy with Mark when it comes to trying to manage work/life balance or the fact that he’d say that volunteerism wasn’t as core of a priority during most of his working years outside of coaching his kids’ soccer teams. Proved to me that he’s just a normal guy trying to do the best he can with what he has and is in need of grace just like the rest of us. I’ve not met a person who has the work/life balance or integration thing figured out completely, and I’m not sure it’s even possible. I’m personally finding it hard to find time to volunteer at my phase of life, and I even run a volunteer organization. Things ebb and flow, and Mark’s story reminds me that there are all kinds of avenues to be a “good neighbor’ and serve others. That service to others is as much about how we perceive our responsibilities to others around us wherever we are as it is about “doing things.” Being a good neighbor is about being, not just doing.

I hope people find this podcast encouraging because there are a lot of people in our community that are nearing retirement age without a plan in place of how they’re going to spend their time who also lack the community to navigate a radical change in “time” well. There is no right way to spend retirement, but there are ways to spend it if caring for others, using your hands to help, or if you want to keep working but in a different context. NeighborLink is benefiting from Mark and dozens of other men and women’s lifelong investment into honing their profession as they bring it to work with them on projects. They’re organizers, leaders, builders, creators, communicators, teachers, and compassionate people that want to love others with their gifting. 

I’d love to connect you to Mark or other leaders at Nl who would welcome you to join them. Simply send me a message at Admin@Nlfw.org.

Hoagland Masterson Neighborhood - Part 4 of Healthy Neighborhoods Series

Hoagland Masterson Neighborhood - Part 4 of Healthy Neighborhoods Series

April 17, 2019

Part 4 of a 5-part series where we interview the five neighborhoods that NeighborLink has invited to part of a 2019 comprehensive research project. Our desire is to learn what makes a healthy neighborhood healthy. These five Fort Wayne neighborhoods have been chosen for their unique socio-economics, demographics, geographic influences and levels of neighbor engagement at the association level.

Arline and Jim join NeighborLink for an insightful conversation about the Hoagland Masterson Neighborhood. We started by asking them how they ended up in Hoagland Masterson (HM) and into leadership roles. Then they describe the neighborhood dynamics, the burdens and battles they’ve been facing for years, and what they think makes HM healthy at this moment. Hoagland Masterson has always been a working class neighborhood with higher levels of poverty, but has a long history of committed homeowners that go several generations deep. Arline describes her neighbors as “resilient,” because of the challenges they face and seem to weather. (Link to Neighborhood Map)

I’m pulled to Hoagland Masterson like no other neighborhood other than the one I live in, which is just a block away to the south of HM’s border. I believe that HM is the next up and coming neighborhood in Fort Wayne that no one can quite remember where it’s located, except people like Arline, Jim, and the dozens of long-time residents waiting for the attention they deserve from the City of Fort Wayne, developers, and potential neighbors. It is uniquely positioned between an established, stable, and growing neighborhood, the most ethnically diverse commercial corridor, the potential of Electric Works, and downtown’s current crown jewel, Parkview Field, home of the Tincaps. I’ve been trying to buy a building for NeighborLink here for four years and I tell everyone that will listen that HM is where to invest because it’s the neighborhood that is full of long-time residents that deserve to see things progress.

There is a community of committed neighbors like Jim and Arline that work tirelessly, know more about their neighborhood than any other neighborhood leaders I’ve met, and are the resilient fighters that Arline talks about in the podcast. These are neighbors I want to live by, resource, connect others to, and see what happens for the entire south central Fort Wayne region. The struggle is real for them though as they are marginalized, struggle to get the attention they need to get projects done, and there just isn’t quite enough people energy that other neighborhoods have. This neighborhood is part of why I felt compelled we do this study. They have so much of the same assets that we do in Williams Woodland, just not the same amount of them, and I think that matters. It’s not knowledge, vision, intent that’s holding them back, because they are doing great work. It’s mostly capacity. If they had more capacity, what could happen?

I appreciate Arline and Jim’s candor about what’s been a struggle and seems to fight against justice seeking neighbors. I also appreciate how they acknowledge some recent wins in getting the attention of the City for some infrastructure projects as well as putting pressure on the local electric utility that just built a major substation in their neighborhood without much consideration for the neighborhood. Arline and Jim see promise, see speculation happening as home values increase in their own area, and continue to invest their own resources into stabilizing the neighborhood one house at a time with their own resources.

I think you’ll really enjoy this podcast because it begins to shed some light on the other side of the “healthy” neighborhood reality. It at least for us helps us begin to see how much things are the same among neighborhoods at the core, yet different on the surface. If you’re looking to start investing in neighborhood development, come join NL on a project in HM this summer. 

We’re looking forward to our next phase of the 2019 research project, which includes a two-hour workshop with neighbors from each of the five neighborhoods.

West Central Neighborhood - Part 3 of Healthy Neighborhoods Series

West Central Neighborhood - Part 3 of Healthy Neighborhoods Series

April 11, 2019

Ben and Tyler join NeighborLink for an insightful conversation about the West Central Neighborhood. We started by asking them how they ended up in West Central and into leadership roles. Then they describe the neighborhood dynamics, the projects they’ve been able to successfully accomplish, and what they think adds to the health of West Central. West Central is celebrated for its diverse population, has benefited from its downtown collar neighborhood status where grand homes were built in one of the first Fort Wayne neighborhoods, and a significant boost in economic development that has been building past 5-10 years. (Link to Map)

 

West Central has been the place to be if you want to live downtown in a neighborhood setting since it was formed in the late 1800s. It’s the quintessential and grand downtown collar neighborhood that was built by industrial and professional icons of Fort Wayne, which have a history of weathering the seasons of economic swings better than other neighborhoods in a city. Like any neighborhood of that era, some streets and sections of the neighborhood were more grand than the others as the wealthy built their mansions near their empires while those that built the empire lived in close proximity to the places they dedicated their lives to build. West Central is full of grand homes, traditional sized homes of the early 1900s, worker’s cottages, and several historic apartment complexes. While many of the homes may have survived to some extent, many of them were divided into multi-plex homes that made rent cheap and accessible to a wide variety of individuals, particularly artists and young professionals.

 

West Central has long been touted for its many forms diversity from economics to professions to generational to many other areas. While this is still true to their story, things are starting to change in West Central as the national trend to return to the central core over the past decade is in full swing in West Central. It’s been happening for years in West Central as there have been many concerned residents who have been on personal conversation and development initiative to buy vacant or dilapidated properties with goals of preservation and economic development. Rather than allow a property to play roulette of staying the way it is with the next buyer, they’ll buy it, renovate it a higher standard and sell it in an effort to attract a more affluent or stable homeowner. Those efforts have been combined with some City of Fort Wayne initiatives to leverage federal dollars to renovate key properties on throughways to spur additional development. Ben shares about this development as well as some other situations where longtime owners of multiplex homes are converting them back to single family homes with the desire to sell them rather than continuing to be landlords because the time is now to do those kind of things.

 

Ben and Tyler talk about a major development in their area, Electric Works, which is a comprehensive redevelopment initiative of a former General Electric manufacturing facility that was responsible for the development of the area in the early 1900s. Ground hasn’t even been broken and just the potential is driving development in their area, which is great for their neighborhood but also brings issues to the surface as well as new issues as they think about the impact of such an effort. They’re huge supporters, but asking really great questions about the human and economic impact of the place they love.

 

We also talk about in the podcast the role geography plays in neighborhood development and perception. West Central has two many roads in and out of downtown that divides the neighborhood, it technically includes all of downtown, and has a major train track that acts like a wall dividing a section of the neighborhood. Each section has its own character, challenges, and opportunities along with feelings of included or excluded. I’ve been thinking a lot about how things “feel” in a neighborhood within just a block or two of each other and how that plays a part in neighborhood health and connectivity.

 

West Central is in a really exciting time with some extremely smart leaders at the helm. Their home and garden tour generates significant revenue and exposes them to a lot of potential neighbors. They have intelligent and experienced neighbors leveraging their skills to lead larger scale developments that benefit all neighbors, like preserving old brick alleys. And, they are aware that not all development may be good development. We’re excited to learn from them because we think they have a lot to teach other neighborhoods that are trying to grow and develop.

 

We’re looking forward to our next phase of the 2019 research project, which includes a two-hour workshop with neighbors from each of the five neighborhoods.

Williams Woodland Park Neighborhood - Part 2 of Healthy Neighborhoods Series

Williams Woodland Park Neighborhood - Part 2 of Healthy Neighborhoods Series

April 4, 2019

Part 2 of a 5 part series where we interview each of the 5 neighborhoods we’ve invited into a comprehensive research projects NeighborLink is facilitating in 2019. Our desire is to learn what makes a healthy neighborhood, healthy. Each of the 5 Fort Wayne neighborhoods have unique socio-economics, demographics, geographic influences, and levels of neighbor engagement at the association level.

Lyndsay and Charlie, two residents of the Williams Woodland Neighborhood, join us for a conversation about their neighborhood. They spend time describing their neighborhood, some of the projects they’ve been able to accomplish successfully, and a lot of reasons what they think adds to the health of WWPN. One thing is for sure, WWPN has strong social connection among neighbors, which impacts their ability to accomplish as much as they do. 

I’m particularly biased about WWPN because my family lives there and we love being in this neighborhood. We decided to move into WWPN about 11 years ago after determining that proximity matters, and if we’re going to be intentional with integrating our desires for being active in the community we serve in more fully, then we should really consider where we live. We didn’t do this alone or even necessarily choose WWPN on our own, we did this with another family. We knew that at least we’d have some friends in this new neighborhood. What we quickly found out as we were looking for the right house to buy in the first year, that there was a thriving neighborhood full of people that wanted to more people to join them. We met so many neighbors while we looked for a house and felt relationally connected without even living there. We HAD to buy a house there and we couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

As you’ll hear in the podcast, that’s true for Lyndsay and Raul as well as Charlie and Nancy. You can’t be out on the sidewalk during good weather days looking at homes to buy in the afternoon or evening without being approached by a number of neighbors eager to introduce themselves, tell you about the neighborhood, and encourage you to buy that place you’re looking at. That’s truly special and not all neighborhoods have that. As Charlie and Lyndsay discuss, this spirit in WWPN goes back 30-40 years as the generation before us made intentional decisions to live there and begin this culture of social connectivity, neighborhood pride, and creating strong initiatives to create the space they wanted to live in. Many of those neighbors that moved in a generation ago are still there and as active as ever right alongside all the young families that have moved in. For several family units, the kids of the generation before are now raising their own families in WWPN.

An additional thing that WWPN has that a lot of other neighborhoods don’t is an annual holiday home tour event that draws people from all over Fort Wayne to tour its historic homes. This event generates a sizable revenue in which the association uses to fund events, incentivize homeowners to make beautification improvements, and common area improvements such as historic street signs and the flower baskets that hang from them during spring and summer. A historic neighborhood generating revenue through an event is not a new concept and not exclusive to the neighborhoods that we research, but it very uncommon in general and does have an impact on various aspect of neighborhood health. Any time there are resources to be spend on behalf of the neighborhoods, neighbors are going to show up to share their opinions on what they should be spent on.

Williams Woodland is a small historically designated neighborhood located just about a mile south of downtown Fort Wayne. WWPN was an early suburb that developed in the late 1800s to the 1910s with some infill that happened over the decades following. The homes range from smaller bungalow style to traditional four square homes to grand victorian homes surpassing 5,000 sq ft. There were measures taken 20-30 years ago to change zoning to reduce the number of rental properties although many still exist. There is a wide range of ages of neighbors and is becoming a go-to neighborhood for younger families looking to raise their families in the central core. With the hotter real estate market in our area, move-in ready homes are usually sold before they even hit the market and the ones on the fringes are being picked up by neighbors with the income to invest in preserving the home to make sure its ready to last another 100 years.

My wife and I really love our neighborhood and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. It has been interesting to watch the neighborhood develop over the past decade and see our property values go up significantly in the past two years. We aren’t sure we could afford to buy here if we hadn’t moved in when we did, which creates a lot of conversations on the impact of generification and how we as neighbors are or aren’t contributing to that. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next 5-10 years and see if WWPN expands beyond its current smaller bounders in an effort to support neighborhood growth to the north or south of us as the demand for downtown housing continues to increase.