Tales from the Raccoon Road


It seems like every week someone on the Dekko Foundation staff is on the road!

We work in places where Mr. Chet Dekko, our founder, had an interest.  So, even though we all live in Indiana, we often find ourselves in Alabama, Iowa, Minnesota and, in the luckiest and rarest winter instances, Florida.

Since Mr. Dekko’s business model called for him to seek out small towns and rural areas, we work in some very remote places.  So, in honor of summer road trips, we thought we’d share some tales of travel across our grantmaking areas:

  • Once, back in the days before every phone had GPS, we found ourselves reading a map (not well apparently) and ending up on Raccoon Road…an unpaved, uninhabited, and unplanned visit.  Thank goodness for a full gas tank!
  • We love to hear the southern drawls of grantseekers from our Limestone County Alabama area.  We’ve eaten fried green tomatoes, to-die-for BBQ (the vinegar kind) and peach cobbler–mmm.
  • When a bridge was out, and we had a grantseeker to see, we once took a road with a sign that said, “Minimum Access Road….do not travel between October and March.”  Don’t worry, we’re not THAT dumb.  It had grass down the middle…and that was the last sign in sight.
  • Sometimes when we get home from Alabama, we find ourselves saying things like:  all’yall and jeatyet?
  • One of the young people we know well from our Minnesota grantmaking area told us this cute story:  “We don’t worry here if our dog runs away.  It’s so flat here we’ll be able to see him for three days.”  He’s not exaggerating.  It’s big sky country there and they grow sugar beets…which are used to make sugar.  We know because we were naive enough to ask.

We could go on and on, but for your sake we won’t…only to say that the travel is all worthwhile because it takes us to some of the most wonderful and caring people imaginable.  People who want to make sure that children and young people in their communities have everything that they need to grow and thrive.

Dekko Foundation grantseekers, you’re so wonderful you’re worth a 10-hour O’Hare flight delay…well almost!


Time management…simplified!

keys to success

Board. Budgets. Email. Fund development. Staff. Program problems. Program evaluation. Social media. Millions of things distract a nonprofit leader’s attention. Only one thing draws it back in: intentional focus.

Mr. Chet Dekko, our founder, carried with him a set of handwritten note cards held together with a rubber band. One of them stated: “Concentration of effort is the key to human accomplishment.”

Building on Mr. Dekko’s belief, we’ve observed this profound point from some of the most effective leaders across our grantmaking areas: The things their organizations CHOOSE NOT TO do have as much to do with their success as the things they choose TO DO!


May we suggest? Kid Power!


Today, more and more people like to gain information, and be inspired, by watching videos. Telling a nonprofit’s stories via video seems like a no-brainer. But professionally-prepared videos can be uber pricey.

We’ll share our secret…we’re harnessing kid power!

Many teens have built great video skills, and they need the chance to put their talents to work in a real-world situation. With just a bit of adult message planning and support teens can tell a great story.

We used a teen intern (Ms. Lauren Butler) and an elementary-aged narrator (Miss Emma Shuman) to send this important message about the kind of grants we want to make. Our cost? A teen intern salary and a teeny weeny paycheck for our narrator.

What do you think?

The joy of socks!

Parenting. Is there a harder job anywhere on the planet?

No pay. The hours stink. And those instructions? They work with every kid but yours!

Often the parenting years are also the “getting started out in life years” when money and time are especially tight. That’s why, eight years ago, we started something called, ‘before5.”

before5 is really just two incredible women (Diane Shoppell and Jonell Malcolm) with a passion for helping other parents. These two meet parents wherever they are, and help them to understand how to nurture their children simply by going about their daily lives. The before5 team explains the complicated subject of child development using simple props like a laundry basket full of socks!

Did you know that the core of a child’s personality (especially social and spiritual aspects) are formed by the time a child is five years old? The name before5 refers to the importance of these years when so much growth and development takes place.

This link fast-forwards from early childhood to adolescence and makes the point that nurturing a child in the early years is critical to a well-adjusted and happy teen (and adult).
You might also want to visit our before5 website. If your own children are beyond that age, why not refer a younger parent?



Get outdoors with your child–please!

I was once asked why it is important to encourage children to experience the joys of Nature. That is a loaded question to me! I serve as the Natural History Section Manager for the Indiana State Museum as well as serving as the Site Manager for the State Historic Site dedicated to Gene Stratton-Porter, one of Indiana’s first environmentalists.


Gene would be an ideal example of how important it is to expose children to nature and how it had a life-long impact, not only for her, but for the lives of those she touched through her books and movies.


Gene was the 12th child born to Mark and Mary Stratton in a rural area in Wabash County, Indiana. Since her father was a minister as well as a farmer, she spent a great deal of time outdoors with him. A number of stories arose from her youth stemming from her father’s desire to kill “pest” animals such as red-tailed hawks, great horned owls and woodpeckers. Many people of her time (late 1800s) incorrectly believed that these animals killed their livestock and ate their crops. Gene saw the real benefit of these animals and after numerous protests, her father gave her “ownership” of all the natural things on their 80 acre farm. Gene even went so far as to give up her cherry pie so that her father would stop killing the woodpeckers!


As Gene’s love and knowledge of nature grew, she secretly started submitting works of fiction to magazines where nature was deeply woven into the storyline. The works, complimented with her nature photography, were so well received she decided to write a book. Her first was published in 1903 and was entitled “A Song of the Cardinal.” The success of that book as well as many others in the coming years eclipsed her husband’s very successful ventures in banking, pharmacy, farming and oil and gas interests.


Gene’s success, driven by her early experiences in nature, also afforded her the ability to buy the 120 acre property in Rome City, which she called “Wildflower Woods,” start one of America’s first female-owned movie production companies, and take care of her extended family and friends – many times by building houses for them as gifts.


In addition to her financial independence, she was able to share the gift of nature through her novels, nature studies and movies. As you might imagine, people of that time were moving away from farms and rural lifestyles into towns and metropolitan areas. Her works enabled them to travel into nature from the comfort of their living rooms into the wilds of swamps, forests and lakes.


We face a similar dilemma today with technology. Children have lost their connection to nature, and the volunteers and staff at the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site, in partnership with the Dekko Foundation, hope to do much as Gene did – reconnect children of all ages with nature and all it has to offer. Hopefully, it will inspire those who visit to incorporate nature into their lives through creative works of fiction, photography, and painting or through scientific endeavors such as ornithology, botany, biology or any of a number of other natural sciences.


There is also a movement in the Natural World called, “No Child Left Inside.” It outlines the importance of outdoor experiences to our children and what we can do to encourage them to explore the great outdoors. If you would like to read more about this movement, visit: childrenandnature.org – there are many wonderful articles about how you can share the outdoors with the youth of today.


What would Gene have become if she had never known the joys of nature and who might you encourage to become the next Gene Stratton-Porter?