Since 1858, the YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne has been committed to helping kids and families in our region. As the largest provider of childcare in our community, the Y nurtures more than 1,600 kids each day in after school programs, plus nearly 2,400 kids in summer day camps and overnight camp. Education and character development have always been at the core of Y youth programs, but the Y constantly seeks ways to help young people gain a foothold on a successful future.
“In the last seven or eight years, we’ve really expanded our work with teens, focusing on teen leadership programs and civic engagement,” says President and CEO Chris Angellatta. “By growing our offerings for middle and high school age groups, we’ve increased the number of youth we attract and serve.”
One initiative provides a free membership to every 7th grader in Allen, Adams, Wells and Whitley Counties. Another, called Students of Success, focuses on college and career readiness. Now, in an effort to reach even more students, the YMCA is building an Enterprise Zone.
The YMCA Enterprise Zone is designed as a 20,000-square-foot facility located just north of the Renaissance Pointe Y. The layout includes a skilled trades workshop, flexible classroom spaces, teaching kitchen and a new home for the YMCA Youth Service Bureau, which serves vulnerable area youth.
“The land was generously donated to the Y from the McMillen Foundation. The building will serve as a local center for teens and young adults to explore occupations and training that will propel them toward a meaningful, sustainable future. We’ll introduce teens and young adults to career fields that require technical expertise and hands-on work. We’ll offer career exploration, career coaching and some training programs,” explains Angellatta.
Initially, there will be three areas of focus: the skilled trades, computer science and the culinary arts. Angellatta emphasizes that it is not a vocational school. It’s designed to be a place for kids to explore potential careers.
“The idea is that we let them explore and discover what their interests are, what their skills are and what their passions are, and then connect them to a training program,” he says. “Whether it’s an 8th grader that we’re connecting to Fort Wayne Community Schools’ Career Academy or a 16-year-old that we’re connecting to Ivy Tech for dual credit programs, or a recent high school senior that we’re connecting to an apprenticeship program — we help develop a career pathway for youth.”
Students will be supported by career coaches and introduced to YMCA community partners and local businesses that will allow them to get hands-on training and real-life experiences.
The location of the Enterprise Zone is no accident. “By locating in the community of youth who will benefit most from our programs, we are eliminating barriers and providing access to employment and education. Our mission is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all. Surrounding vulnerable young people with positive role models will help narrow the opportunity gap and prepare them to become productive, successful adults,” Angellatta adds.
The $7 million capital campaign kicks off this fall, with plans to break ground on the first phase of the project by the end of next year. The long-term goal is to transform the entire block around the Renaissance Pointe Y, by turning the parking lot across the street into athletic fields and creating a small park that will serve as event space.
”Our intention is to build a facility that will not only serve YMCA kids but serve all kids in the community,” he concludes. “We already have community partners that see the value in what we’re doing and have joined us as we take this first step to building the YMCA Enterprise Zone.”