My first Renaissance post foreshadowed a number of posts to come, about different groups of people doing remarkable things in Fort Wayne. Here goes.
The common thread among all of these people who are moving our city forward is that they all care deeply about our city, its people, and making Fort Wayne a better place. What better place to start writing this series than with a group that purely embodies caring. At the risk of embarrassing them (and no doubt alienating many others who are doing great things) I have selected a short list of people. They are all role models who are out there helping our city just for the sake of helping our city. They act selflessly.
- Andrea and Micah Rapp
- Craig Crook
- Andrew Hoffman
- Downtown Larry
- Christy Landrigan
Andrea and Micah Rapp
What did you do with your summer? This year, Andrea and Micah Rapp rode bicycles across the country in support of affordable housing.
On June 3 they left Charlottesville, VA for Portland, OR where they arrived August 6 (see the top photo). They rode as part of a program called Bike and Build. With the help of riders like Andrea and Micah, Bike and Build has raised over $3 million to help housing programs throughout the country.
As part of their personal commitment, Andrea and Micah each raised $4,500 (and a bit more) for the charitable cause that contributes funds to housing projects in communities that need help, and during their local fundraiser benefit concert and auction, they raised money earmarked for the Fort Wayne Habitat for Humanity. While they were riding cross country, they stopped and “rested” by helping build houses in communities.
What a great way to invest a summer!
As Craig says, “Fort Wayne chose me.” After growing up in Ann Arbor, MI and Upland, IN, Craig migrated to Fort Wayne to raise a family. Somewhere along the way, he grew to love Fort Wayne, the “best combination of small town and big town”.
Craig is the founder and curator of TEDxFortWayne, our own local version of the TED conference with the tagline, “ideas worth spreading”. He has produced two TEDxFortWayne conferences so far.
How that got started tells you a lot about Craig. I was part of a group he convened to discuss ideas from Seth Godin’s Lynchpin book. At one of those meetings, after the group had been searching without success over a couple of months for a project to do, Craig brought up the idea of possibly doing a TEDx in Fort Wayne. I remember how the vibe in the room immediately changed – that was instantly seen as the answer. Craig secured the rights and then started convening volunteers to help. Over 30 volunteers came to the early meetings, and from that start TEDx came to Fort Wayne! The talks were amazing, and a lot of great new ideas were introduced to the community.
The second year, more TEDxFortWayne volunteers joined in with the experienced group from year one, and the production quality was plussed up. The speakers were great again, as to be expected. Today the TEDxFortWayne conversation continues in meetings that are not about planning the next event, but about just exchanging ideas.
If you read between the lines, you’ll find two themes to what Craig does – spreading ideas and convening groups of people. Craig thrives on bringing people together to push themselves and our city forward with innovation. He came to NIIC’s BizWiz student entrepreneur meeting and spread that spirit among our young entrepreneurs. He operates the TQM Network to spread innovation and ideas through the business community.
When I asked him to think about the impact TEDxFortWayne has had, he mentioned that it has brought together people “who would not otherwise have met”, to “form new relationships and spawn new endeavors”.
Very cool, Craig, very cool!
One of the speakers at the 2011 TEDxFortWayne was Andrew Hoffman. Andrew talked about positively changing neighborhoods, something that he is devoted to as an individual and as the Executive Director of non-profit NeighborLink.
Andrew describes him self as being “wired for service” and compassionate toward those who are suffering. His involvement with NeighborLink grew from his grass roots volunteer work with a NeighborLink group at Fellowship Missionary Church. It is refreshing to hear his viewpoint of NeighborLink. “People sometimes perceive NeighborLink’s constituents as a bunch of poor people who just don’t care. But that’s just because they don’t know them. Once you know them, you see a bunch of really cool individuals suffering some life circumstance – who have been marginalized by their neighborhood.”
He talks about Jean, a 70 year old lady who was spending all of her money on her son with a liver transplant – and couldn’t afford to stave off a number of code enforcement issues at her home. Over a course of a Fall, NeighborLink volunteers got the home back to code, and even after her son passed away her neighbors took notice of the activity at her home and started to engage with her. That, Andrew says, is a classic example of how NeighborLink can “create and spark change in the neighborhood.”
NeighborLink has grown in the last few years from 262 projects in 2009, 494 in 2010, 724 in 2011 – to 500 already on 2012. The original group of 250 or so volunteers has grown to 1,400!
NeighborLink’s latest innovation is combined with their recent move to a new shared office space inside the new Blue Jacket offices on South Calhoun. The office, by the way, is only 3 blocks from Andrew’s home – yes, he believes in living in the neighborhood he serves and moved there with that purpose in mind.
Although this post doesn’t feature Blue Jacket Executive Director
Tony Hudson (pictured above in green – and who was sorta embarrassed to be photographed in his sweaty lawn mowing clothes that I think just demonstrate that he is a regular stand-up guy), we should all take a moment to appreciate what he and Blue Jacket do to help ex-offenders in our community!
NeighborLink and Blue Jacket are using some of their space as a collaborative coworking space (yep, like Founders where I work). The photos below show a countertop (being built) where people will sit and work and their first business, Justin Sheehan, a young entrepreneur friend of mine who operates Crown Jewel Productions and is starting Business Connect and Connect Fort Wayne. Congrats on the new office, Justin!
A lot of what I personally focus on in the community is economic development. Andrew pursues what he calls a holistic view of community development, where economic development only can thrive when the grass roots needs in the community are being done.
Not too long ago someone mentioned something about a Larry Thomas from the Downtown Improvement District. I couldn’t place who that might be. Then it dawned on me – oh yeah, Downtown Larry! Well before I heard the name Larry Thomas I knew him as Downtown Larry. First by reputation – and then once I moved downtown to work I got to know him personally.
When the big storm passed through, Larry was out picking up branches and debris even before it cleared the downtown. Only two weeks after we moved into Founders he stopped in and proposed a project to clean up the decay in front of the parking lot next to us (pictured below). Once the years’ worth of debris is cleaned up, he knows from experience, people will take care of it, passersby will be less likely to throw junk there, and it will return to being an asset for downtown. I know from others I talk to that these two actions of his are just the tip of the iceberg.
He didn’t have to do either of those two things. I repeat, he didn’t have to be proactive and do either of those two things. But he did – because he cares about downtown and wants to make it (keep it) a great place.
As Larry says, the 91 blocks of downtown are where he lives, where he works, and where he plays. He grew up downtown, and he views it and treats it like “my own backyard”. Being able to help somebody – usually by doing a personal project – is Larry’s way of giving back.
As simple as jumpstarting a car with a dead battery, or as complex as organizing a group of “green and clean” volunteers to revitalize a debris-filled greenspace, Larry is always there. You’ll see him in that green shirt riding around town in that green Gator. If you wave, he’ll probably stop and say, “Hi”.
Bill Brown, you may be the [interim] President of DID, but Downtown Larry is unquestionably DID’s heart and soul!
Who showed up at Founders shortly after we got the keys and brought champagne? Who goes by the name Startup Groupie? Who organized a cash mob for the Downtown Deli? Who is the most enthusiastic supporter for every young entrepreneur in the city?
Yep, it’s Christy Landrigan.
Christy doesn’t grab the limelight. She doesn’t seek headlines. She just celebrates and encourages young entrepreneurs. She just supports and encourages downtown Fort Wayne businesses. Always, without fail.
I first met Christy at IPFW where she was engaged in the business school’s student group. Later I found her working for the Downtown Improvement District, and learned that she really, really loves downtown Fort Wayne and its businesses. Regardless of where she works or studies, she always tends to show up where there are groups of entrepreneurs, especially young entrepreneurs, to encourage – like at last Spring’s Demo Day at NIIC (she’s got her back to us in the photo below).
Most recently, Christy studied and became certified as a facilitator for the Kauffman Foundation’s Ice House program. The program uses an ice house as the backdrop for teaching real world entrepreneurial lessons useful to grass roots entrepreneurs. Christy didn’t do this to make piles of money doing training – she did it to bring inspiration and skills to Fort Wayne entrepreneurs and help them bootstrap and grow their business.
Keep it up, Startup Groupie!
Now For Your Challenge
So, that’s my short list of people I admire for their caring efforts on behalf of a better Fort Wayne. I know there are lots more people who do great, caring, selfless things in town – I plan to write about some in other categories during this series of posts. I invite you to keep me honest by citing your own short list in the comments. Let’s hear it.
In the meantime, how about some applause for these folks?