At the Dekko Foundation, we believe being self-sufficient and achieving economic freedom is a lot like learning how to ride a bicycle. It takes a lot of learning, practice, and perseverance to become a good bike rider, just as it takes knowledge, skills, and character to be self-sufficient and economically free.
That’s why we invest in opportunities and experiences that support children and young people from birth through age 18 in becoming the best bike riders they can be, so that no matter what life throws at them, they can navigate around the obstacles and successfully reach their destination.
You can learn more about our investments that support the growth and development of children and young people in 2020 annual report, “Pedal to the Mettle.” And you can watch the video below to see how knowledge, skills, and character help children and young people to keep pedaling and moving forward.
By Barry Rochford, strategic communication officer
“Thank you for calling the Dekko Foundation. How can I help you?”
For any potential grantseeker desiring more information about our mission, for any grantee wanting to touch base and share their progress, for anyone reaching out to be connected with our proactive initiatives, that’s the greeting they hear on the phone.
Wanting to help — to support the great things that adults and youth-serving organizations are doing so that children are taking steps forward to their eventual economic freedom — has been at the heart of what we do since Mr. Chester E. Dekko started the Dekko Foundation nearly 40 years ago in 1981.
Since that time, our founder’s home on Baby Mountain in Kendallville, Indiana, was where our work was centered. But with our eye toward the next 40 years and beyond, we’ve relocated our office few miles to the south in the Community Learning Center because we think doing so will make us even more effective at fostering economic freedom through education.
Where we work has changed. The work itself has not.
Likewise, supporting our grantmaking priority areas — those places where Mr. Dekko had business or personal interests — continues to direct our work. Northeast Indiana, in particular DeKalb, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, and Whitley counties, will always be a priority for us because it’s where Mr. Dekko launched and grew what would become Group Dekko International. So, too, are Limestone County in Alabama and Clarke, Decatur, Lucas, Ringgold, and Union counties in Iowa because Mr. Dekko located several of his manufacturing operations there. And the same goes for Norman County, Minnesota, because it was home to Mr. Dekko’s family, he grew up there, and he supported the community long before he created his namesake foundation.
So if our mission and work remain unchanged, you may be wondering, “Why move at all?” It’s a great question, and there are a few important reasons why we decided to relocate to the Community Learning Center.
First and foremost, Kendallville is our home. When a more than century-old, nearly 150,000-square-foot former school was vacated a few years ago, we joined with other community members and organizations to identify a new use for it. Those efforts, along with the invaluable support of local elected and education leaders, resulted in the Community Learning Center, which opened in 2019.
Being in the Community Learning Center provides the unique opportunity to work alongside organizations that serve children and young people and are striving to remove barriers to economic freedom. We believe the spirit of collaboration that guides the center and its programming will make us a better funder, as well as have a positive impact on Kendallville, Noble County, and Northeast Indiana.
Mr. Dekko was a strong advocate for communities seizing the initiative to solve their own problems and achieve their own successes. We think the Community Learning Center exemplifies that ideal. What’s more, with its mission of advancing the self-sufficiency of residents of all ages, the Community Learning Center and the organizations offering programs within it will support children and young people as they build knowledge, skills, and character that can set them on the path to economic freedom.
That’s our story. What’s yours? Does your organization have a project that contributes to children and young people growing up to be economically free? We’d love to hear about it.
“Thank you for calling the Dekko Foundation. How can I help you?”
(Note to reader: It’s been an eventful couple of weeks for the Career Development Program at Garrett High School in Garrett, Indiana. First, it’s director, Chad Sutton, was honored by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools as an outstanding public high school skilled trades teacher. Then the program was recognized by the Office of Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship for receiving its State Earn and Learn (SEAL) horizontal construction certification.
The Career Development Program is featured in our 2019 annual report. We’ve republished that story below. To view the entire annual report, click here.)
Students in Garrett-Keyser-Butler Community School District’s Career Development Program are building skills that can help make them self-sufficient and economically free as adults.
But even more impressively, they are actually building and soon will be at work on their biggest project of all: constructing a nine-lot housing addition next to Garrett High School in Garrett, Indiana.
Chad Sutton, the program’s director, believes such an audacious endeavor isn’t possible without partners stepping up to support the students’ learning and skill development.
“It’s just mind-boggling to think about how many different people are involved in this program,” Sutton said. “This program would not be where it is without collaboration.”
The strength of that collaboration, Sutton believes, has helped the Career Development Program garner state and national attention in the few short years since its creation. And like the program’s six-acre housing addition, called Brennan Estates, he thinks even bigger things are just around the corner.
“All across the state of Indiana, because of these relationships, things are going to change for high school students,” he said.
Exploring their interests
Founded in 2018, the Career Development Program helps students in grades 5-12 explore the construction and manufacturing fields by integrating academics with vocational skill building. Students take part in hands-on learning and receive career guidance in areas including construction, welding, architecture, engineering, and design.
Enrollment in the program has grown quickly to more than 150 students, with about a third of Garrett High School students opting to pursue vocational skill building through the program. Sutton said the program offers choices to students to pursue their interests, and it creates educational and career options for them after graduating from high school.
“The goal is to provide an atmosphere where students can learn in a way that brings out the passion that everybody has,” Sutton said.
Connecting with employers
Employers, too, were quick to embrace the program because of its ability to connect them with young people who have in-demand skills. Employers have worked with students on projects, given presentations about their companies and industries, and taken part in a “signing day” in which students announce the businesses they have chosen to work at following high school.
“It’s about keeping things as relevant as possible for students, from learning, to speakers, to academics, to skill development,” Sutton said.
Companies also are partnering with the school district on pre-apprenticeship experiences where students in the Career Development Program can spend a summer working for a local employer.
Because of the depth of learning and skill building that students gain through the program it has been certified by the state of Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development. And the program has become a model for other schools wanting to expand their vocational offerings for students.
“This is a real option for all students,” Sutton said.
(Note to reader: Our 2019 annual report features examples of collaborations in our grantmaking priority areas that support the development of children and young people. Among the most significant and longest-running collaborations are the community foundations and school districts that work together to provide young people with opportunities to learn about and practice philanthropy. To view the 2019 annual report, click here.)
In 1994, the Dekko Foundation launched an initiative aimed at helping young people deepen their understanding of philanthropy and forge stronger bonds to their communities through service. Over the past 25 years, more than 1,000 young people in Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, and Alabama have seen the impact they can make by giving their time, talent, and treasure. And it wouldn’t have been possible without collaboration.
These young people have been supported in their philanthropic journeys by their respective community foundations and schools through mentorship and being empowered to make a difference.
Through this collaboration, youth philanthropy groups have been formed and have flourished in each of the 13 counties in the Dekko Foundation’s grantmaking priority areas. Among the many ways community foundations and schools support these groups is by identifying adults to serve as “navigators” for young people and act as a resource and guide as they learn about — and, more importantly, practice — philanthropy.
Shannon Erb, navigator of the ROCCS (Restoring Our County, Community, and Schools) youth philanthropy group in Decatur County, Iowa, said the middle and high school students in the group develop decision-making, leadership, and communication skills as they learn about nonprofits, grantmaking, and fiscal responsibility.
Likewise, communities benefit from the youth philanthropy groups’ efforts. For example, ROCCS members, who hail from three different school districts in Decatur County, have stepped forward to help residents from across the county make healthy choices for themselves and their families through community meals, cooking demonstrations, and health fairs.
“Bringing in youth and actually listening to what they have to say is so important,” Erb said. “Kids have a lot of creative ideas.”
Empowering young people
Coming up with those creative ideas requires collaboration among the youth philanthropy group members themselves, said Elizabeth Simpson, navigator of CCOPS (Clarke County Organization of Philanthropic Services) in Clarke County, Iowa. Students in the group are charged with choosing what they want to accomplish during the school year and handed the reins to make it happen.
For CCOPS members, that includes creating a food pantry at Murray High School, organizing a financial literacy fair, collecting Christmas toys for families, hosting the annual Hound Hussle run/walk for participants and their pups at the Clarke County Fairgrounds, and partnering with youth agricultural programs to establish community gardens. Members work together and hold themselves accountable for ensuring the success of their efforts.
“We’re giving them the skills so they can become the leaders of tomorrow,” Simpson said.
Creating youth philanthropy “champions”
As they explore and practice philanthropy, HANDS (Helping Achieve New Directions through Students) members in Whitley County, Indiana, lead a yearly program for local eighth-grade students in which the students learn about philanthropy and how it connects to nonprofit organizations and the broader community.
Through the program, called Charitable Champions, the eighth-graders research local nonprofits, learn more about the organizations’ missions at a nonprofit fair held at the middle school, and write grant proposals for the organizations they want to support. Teachers select eight to ten proposals to be presented to the entire eighth-grade class and HANDS members. The HANDS members then ask the eighth-grade presenters questions, evaluate the proposals, and select which ones will receive funding.
September McConnell, chief executive of the Community Foundation of Whitley County, said the youth-led collaboration with local nonprofits and the school is just one example of how HANDS members are building skills that will help them be successful now and throughout their lives.
“They’re seeing the efforts of their work paying off to help so many in this community,” McConnell said.