Working together to promote youth philanthropy

By Barry Rochford, strategic communication officer

The National Center for Family Philanthropy ( published a great article about our partnerships with community foundations in our grantmaking areas to encourage young people to get involved in philanthropy.

Our Kimberly Schroeder was among those interviewed for the article, which also featured the Community Foundation of Noble County’s Jenna Ott and the Community Foundation of Whitley County’s September McConnell. In the article, Kimberly explained the importance of getting young people engaged with philanthropy.

“The grantmaking is some of the most important work they do,” she said. “We give them the power to affect their community and they take that responsibility seriously.”

You can read the full story here.

How do we look?

By Barry Rochford, strategic communication officer

Since you’re here, you may have had this thought: The website looks different.

Well, you’re right. We’ve updated to a responsive site so it performs better on computers, tablets and phones, and we’ve made some small tweaks that hopefully make the site more visually appealing and easier to navigate.

The former site wasn’t old, per se, but it was created at a time when more people were using desktops and laptops to hop around the Internet. These days, most people are apt to look us up on their phone’s browser instead of sitting down at their desk.

You’ll see that our homepage has changed to emphasize our mission of economic freedom. Since 1981, that has been the reason behind everything we do for young people from birth to age 18. But what is economic freedom? What does that mean to us? The new homepage betters tells that story.

Yet for all the changes, the website has stayed largely the same — and that’s important, because for our grantseekers and grant recipients, our website is where they go to complete their applications and reporting requirements. That’s why the “Apply Now!” and “My Account” buttons continue to be featured prominently at the top of the homepage.

In addition, information about our beliefs, our grantmaking and our proactive initiatives remains unchanged. Those pages are an important resource for visitors to the site who want to learn more about us and our mission, our grantmaking criteria and process, our proactive work, our board and staff, and our founder, Mr. Chester E. Dekko.

I hope you like the updated look. Please feel free to look around, kick the tires (so to speak), and let me know your thoughts and suggestions for making our website even better. You can email me at or call me at 260-347-1278, ext. 115.

One ambitious mission; two unique ways to get there


Most people in this area know the name Dekko Foundation.

A few understand economic freedom as the mission that Chester E. Dekko left us.

We’ve worked with, and supported, many organizations in the communities we serve.  They know us, but we recognize the general public may not. We want you to know more of our story.

You might be familiar with our more well-publicized work, where we invest in grant proposals from leaders of schools, nonprofits and communities.  We call this strategy responsive grantmaking.  Responding to proposals from the communities we serve helps us build strong relationships and gather ideas on ways to achieve our mission.

What fewer people are familiar with, though, is another strategy we use to achieve our mission.  We call this approach proactive grantmaking.  Through proactive grantmaking, we don’t wait for someone to send us a grant proposal.  Instead, we seek out ideas and opportunities to invest in projects we believe will bring us closer to our mission.

Our investment in Oak Farm Montessori School is an example of our proactive approach to grantmaking.  We’re often asked about our investment in Oak Farm, so we want to take this opportunity to tell you more about the school, how we believe it enriches northeast Indiana and why we support its work.

Montessori education takes Dekko Foundation closer to founder’s mission

Visitors to Oak Farm Montessori School might be surprised to see toddlers single-handedly prepare and serve a snack for their classmates.  Are these little ones superhuman?  No.  Their teacher simply prepared the classroom environment and then stepped back so the students could learn on their own.

Three-year-olds at Oak Farm spend much of their day engaged in work, or lessons, of their own choice.  They also care for their classroom’s pets and houseplants, and make sure that the area is clean for the next day.

Older students care for farm animals and grow their own food along with their academic studies.  Oak Farm high schoolers plan, market and operate a bike shop.

“It’s a beautifully dynamic way to teach,” commented Megan O’Sullivan, Oak Farm’s Head of School.  “We are nurturing each child’s dignity and growth by preparing stimulating learning environments.  Through it all, children emerge confident, competent and hopeful.”

Students at work

Work is central, not just at Oak Farm but also to the Montessori Method overall.  This method of teaching emphasizes:

  • Independence
  • Freedom of movement
  • Cooperation
  • Education at each child’s unique pace
  • Learning in harmony with others.

Maria Montessori was an Italian teacher and physician who lived from 1870-1952.  She developed the Montessori Method based on her scientific observations of children from birth through adulthood.

Dr. Montessori’s approach has been used across the world for more than 100 years.  Montessori education is based on a view of each child as naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating their own learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared environment.

Relevance of Montessori education today

Montessori education, with its hands-on educational experiences, has a fundamental and timeless appeal even (and perhaps especially) in today’s age of technology.  According to O’Sullivan, “We hear from parents that our school is a safe place—like home—where children gain responsibility, learn from their mistakes and understand that there are consequences to their choices.”

“Montessori students are known for being open-minded and open-hearted individuals,” O’Sullivan continued.  “They’re used to working with other people to solve problems.”

“In the past, farm work was the way many children built a work ethic and gained important employment skills,” said Tom Leedy, Dekko Foundation president.  “Rural young people learned responsibility by caring for animals.  They soaked up economics by buying supplies at the lowest price and helping market crops at the highest price.  For the most part, young people are not exposed to farm work anymore.  Montessori education is one way that young people can practice and develop those important skills.”

Founding Oak Farm

Oak Farm was founded in the year 2000 by the late Lorene Dekko Salsbery.  Phil Salsbery was married to Lorene until her death.  He commented, “Lorene saw the tremendous difference that a Montessori education made with our own kids as they attended Three Rivers Montessori (near Fort Wayne).  She developed a passion for offering that same type of education for the children of rural families and families of less financial means.  She wanted the school to benefit all kids.”

Lorene was the daughter of Chester E. Dekko, who established the Dekko Foundation.  Salsbery recalled, “Lorene’s dad had a strong belief in an ancient saying by Epictetus, ‘Only the educated are free.’  She believed in her dad’s mission of fostering economic freedom through education, but she dove in at the opposite end.”

“Lorene wanted the best education.  One that would not only provide the three R’s but also help kids to be problem solvers and independent thinkers,” Salsbery continued.  “She wanted an education where teachers are there to facilitate and not to direct.  To her, Montessori was the answer.”

Using her own time, contacts and talent, Lorene began Oak Farm. She used her own money too.  Over time, she transformed a farmhouse, a few outbuildings and acres of bare ground along Lemper Road southeast of Avilla into a groundbreaking educational opportunity for the children of northeast Indiana.

“There is a lot of pride for me in what Lorene did in starting the school,” Salsbery stated.  “Lorene’s legacy was her passion for kids and what is best for them.”

Support from the Dekko Foundation

As Oak Farm grew over time (from seven students its first year to 276 today), more people began to take notice of the school and better understand the value this new educational choice offered to the community.  The Dekko Foundation board of directors also came to deeply understand the connection between Oak Farm and the mission that Chester E. Dekko set for his foundation.

In the year 2000, the presence of a new rural school that was neither public nor parochial was a significant change for northeast Indiana.  And change brings about questions.   “This has never been about competition or about public schools vs. private,” Leedy commented.  “The Dekko Foundation’s support of Oak Farm is about demonstrating another way to educate children.  It is about helping to meet as many of children’s educational needs as possible.”

“Oak Farm teaches young people to think critically and solve problems from a very young age,” Leedy continued.  “When you have an individual who can think and solve problems, you have a great basis for our foundation’s mission—economic freedom.”

Salsbery, who also serves as a Dekko Foundation board member, agreed.  “Schools like Oak Farm teach in ways that are more holistic,” he said. “By helping children build independence, solve problems and practice critical thinking, you offer such a good foundation for life and work.  You can’t teach attitude and character, but you can teach skills.  Arming kids with soft skills gives them a leg up in the world of work.”

“The Dekko Foundation’s support helps Oak Farm stay true to the Montessori philosophy,” commented Lauren Moyer, the school’s CFO.  “Their support means we don’t have to rely on outside sources or conform to outside expectations.  We can stick to the pure Montessori philosophy and offer our students all of its benefits.”

“It’s so interesting to hear what our former students have to say about their time at Oak Farm,” Moyer concluded. “It’s always something like, ‘I miss Oak Farm.  But I was SO prepared for what came next.’ ”

Dekko Foundation’s other proactive investments

Through our proactive grantmaking, we don’t wait for someone to send us a grant proposal.  Instead, we offer to support work we believe will help us achieve our mission.  Oak Farm Montessori School is just one of our foundation’s many proactive investments.  Learn more about these investments through the links below:

If you would like to learn more about our founder, Chester E. Dekko, we encourage you to visit our website and watch a video of his life and his motivation for starting the Dekko Foundation.

To learn more about the foundation, please don’t hesitate to contact us at 347-1278.

You give us hope!

By Sharon Smith, Program Director

One of my most memorable days at the Dekko Foundation—and I’ve had lots of memorable days—happened one summer about ten years ago.  One of our grantees from Lamoni, Iowa named Benita Booth, was driving through Indiana on her way to the east coast. She wanted to stop in to see our office, say hello and meet our president.

Since we go out to visit our grantseekers, we don’t have that many office visitors—especially not people from out of state. We welcomed Mrs. Booth and sat in our president’s office for some polite small talk.  That’s when she dropped a thought so profound that I think about it to this day.

“You know,” she said, “the money you give us is really important.  But what you really do is give us hope.”

What an amazing way to synthesize the impact of grantmaking.  Giving hope to schools and nonprofits that want offer their young people the very best learning experiences.  Giving hope to communities that their young people will be ready for rewarding careers and independent lives.

When Mr. Dekko started our foundation in 1981, he left us with this mission:  To foster economic freedom through education. He believed that education offered all people hope that they might lead lives of economic freedom.

Thanks, Mrs. Booth, for giving us a new and memorable way of looking at things.

To learn more about grants from our foundation:

Feel free to call and discuss an idea for a grant proposal:


Just do it!

If you’re putting off calling our foundation to ask a question, then we have a question for you.


Organizationally, we’re 36 years old, and it’s hard to imagine there’s a question we haven’t heard.  Plus, our board of directors has sized our staff so that, during business hours, there’s always someone around to help you in person.

Think your question might be dumb?

It’s probably not dumb.  We go to work at a foundation every day.  Most people don’t.  You guys need a little help understanding how to work with us.  We get that.

Still don’t want to make that call?  Maybe we can help.  Here are some of our most frequently-asked questions:

·         How much money can I propose?  (We get right to the point, don’t we?)  Our foundation doesn’t have set grant amounts.  When we make grants, we factor a lot of things into the equation.  We consider how many children you serve, the amount of change you’re proposing to make in their lives and even the community where you live.

·         If I ask for too much money, is that the kiss of death for my grant proposal?  NO!  See our answer above, as in: We go to work at a foundation every day.  Most people don’t.  You guys need a little help understanding how to work with us.  We get that.

·         When is your next deadline for grant proposals?  We don’t have a proposal deadline.  Instead, we ask you to consider your project and when you want to start it.  Then we ask you to send us your proposal at least 90 days before you need to know whether we’ll make an investment.  When you consider all of this, it may seem like we want to work with people who are planners. That’s true.  Good planning makes for great projects.

STILL have that case of phone call avoidance?  We give up!  You can always email us.