Meet our team: Kimberly Schroeder

Kimberly Schroeder is the engagement director at the Dekko Foundation. She leads our proactive initiatives, including before5, which supports parents of young children, and bloom!, which works alongside educators to transform early learning classrooms based by focusing on the principles of child development. She also helps guide our support of youth philanthropy in the 13 counties we serve in Indiana, Iowa, Alabama, and Minnesota.

In March, Kimberly celebrated her 25th anniversary at the foundation. Below, she shares more about her role at the foundation as well as some of the many memories that stand out during her time here.

Kimberly Schroeder, engagement director

Question: You help lead and support the foundation’s proactive initiatives such as bloom! and before5. Why does the foundation proactively invest in building knowledge, skills, and character in children and young people? How is that different from its responsive grantmaking?

Answer: Both our responsive and proactive work stem from our mission statement of fostering economic freedom through education. Responsively, we invest in people, projects, and proposals that help us achieve our mission. If you imagine a dart board, our responsive investments can fall anywhere on the board for developing economic freedom.

In our proactive work, we look for barriers (things in the way) and gaps (things that are not yet available) that keep us from achieving economic freedom, particularly for things that we believe are a bullseye for growing skills, knowledge, and character that lead to economic freedom. Then we work to eliminate obstacles to economic freedom. Sometimes we connect people. Other times we collaborate with others to make things happen. And once in a while, we launch something new, like before5, which offers great child development information to parents, or bloom!, an experiential, emergent professional development opportunity based on the principles (natural laws, unchanging truths about how children grow and develop).

Q. You’ve been instrumental in supporting the growth of youth philanthropy in our grantmaking areas. Why is it so important for young people to have opportunities to practice philanthropy?

A. Philanthropy plays an important role in our country’s history and success along with capitalism and democracy. Philanthropy, or the sharing of time, talent, and treasure, seems natural to some. But at the Dekko Foundation we believe that philanthropy is a learned characteristic. Investing in teens as they assess their community’s needs and then make choices about where funding lands is a proactive way for the foundation to support adolescent development. Our Youth Pod initiative empowers teens to make real decisions with real money that really matter.

Q. You recently celebrated your 25th year of working at the foundation. How has the foundation changed over time? What things have stayed the same?

A. Wow, a lot has changed. Community foundations have grown in assets and ability to serve communities. Many nonprofit leaders have grown organizations, retired, and left those nonprofits in the hands of capable, confident staff members who grew up in the organizations. New nonprofit organizations have been created and too many childcare centers have closed. Do I even need to mention how technology has changed our work?

The things that have stayed the same are the mission statement Mr. Dekko left us, the geographic areas that we serve, and the hard-working, smart-thinking people that are committed to making positive community change. We call them grantseekers and grantees. They are special people we get to work with every day.

Q. What are some moments or memories that stand out?

A. For me, the first thing that comes to mind is Youth Pod retreats. From the locations (Syracuse, Kendallville, Angola, Des Moines, Shipshewana, Athens and Huntsville, North Webster, Mount Ayr, Warsaw then Kendallville again), to Phil Philanthropy’s costumes, to the speakers, the hard work, the fun, the sleep deprivation, phish members (our leadership team) and most importantly the Youth Pod members who told us, “It wasn’t until now that I understood what this thing called philanthropy is. I get it now!”

My teammates would answer this question with the number of times that I’ve gone the wrong way down one-way streets.

Q. What are the exciting things in store for your 26th year?

A. An adult-only Youth Pod retreat this November, planning for the next Youth Pod retreat in 2024, getting to work with grantseekers to learn about their ideas, and watching as our grantees build skills, knowledge, and character in young people so that they are prepared to live economically free.

If you’d like to learn more about our mission of fostering economic freedom through education, contact a program officer at 260-347-1278 or email

Grantees’ projects support youth development

The Dekko Foundation, a private family foundation located in Kendallville, IN, with a mission of fostering economic freedom through education, awarded more than $339,000 in grants and pledges to seven youth-serving organizations during its most recent round of grantmaking.

The foundation, started in 1981 by the late businessman and philanthropist Chester E. Dekko, invests in projects and programs that help build knowledge, skills, and character in children and young people from birth through age 18 so they can be self-sufficient and grow up to be economically free.

Its grantmaking is concentrated within 13 counties in four states — Indiana, Iowa, Alabama, and Minnesota — where Mr. Dekko had business or personal interests.

Organizations receiving grants and pledges were:

  • Children First Center (Auburn, IN): $40,000 to support the organization’s growing capacity to serve families in northeast Indiana and promote the healthy development of children and young people.
  • LaGrange First Church of God (LaGrange, IN): $42,000 to support operations at the Lighthouse Montessori Education Center in Ashley, IN, so that young people can learn in an intentionally prepared environment in which they build knowledge, skills, and character.
  • Wawasee Community Schools (Syracuse, IN): $35,000 to support the Lead Learners coalition so that educators are empowered to spark transformational change in schools and provide individualized learning opportunities for students.
  • DeKalb County Central United School District (Waterloo, IN): $50,000 to support the purchase of new playground equipment so that students and community members have more recreational options and opportunities to socialize with one another.
  • McMillen Center for Health Education (Fort Wayne, IN): $20,000 to support campus upgrades so that northeast Indiana students have a positive and safe experience as they participate in the center’s health education programs.
  • Lucas County Health Center (Chariton, IA): $2,831 to support the center’s purchase of CPR manikins so that high school students in the community can learn and practice life-saving skills.
  • Town of North Webster (North Webster, IN): $150,000 to support the construction of a 4.5-mile connector trail to the town’s middle school so that students and community members can walk and bicycle safely and have increased recreational opportunities.

If you’d like to learn more about how investments such as these support children and young people so they can achieve economic freedom later in life, contact a Dekko Foundation program officer at 260-347-1278. Or visit to explore the foundation’s mission and funding priorities, review its grantmaking process, or send a grant proposal.

Practicing philanthropy in their communities

(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.

Our latest conversation starter: Golden

By Barry Rochford, strategic communication officer

It’s here!

Golden, our conversation starter that celebrates young people ages 13 and beyond, is here. This book encapsulates seven time-tested youth development principles that inform our grantmaking and apply to our mission of promoting economic freedom through education.

Golden has been a long time in coming. It’s based on our research and understanding of youth development — in this case the teen years, which is a period of remarkable transformation in a young person’s life. We titled it “Golden” because we believe the teen years are exactly that. Too often, teens are viewed negatively, but we don’t think that should be the case at all. We think teens are promising, brilliant, and VALUABLE. Teens have so much to give to the world.

The principles found in Golden aren’t necessarily new. They’re not groundbreaking or even all that unique. But they are paradigm-shifting in the sense that adults can’t direct a teen’s transformation. They can, however, help prepare caring, supportive environments for teens as they make the journey to adulthood.

The seven principles in Golden are:

  • Mutual respect underlies EVERYTHING.
  • Real really matters.
  • A little sweat builds a lot of equity.
  • Attention and commitment come from within.
  • Patience is faith in action.
  • You need to see it to be it.
  • There is more in us than we know.

For the past several days, we’ve been sharing these principles on our Facebook page. And, of course, there’s much more information in Golden about them. We encourage you to read it yourself and see if it meshes with your own thinking. If you’d like a copy, please email me at, or you can message us on our Facebook page. You can also read an online version of Golden on our website here.

Golden is the fourth of our child development conversation starters that we’ve produced over the years, the others being our Owner’s Manual for newborns through age 5; Sturdy Stems for young people ages 6-12; and 7 Simple Ideas to Make Your Classroom Bloom! for educators and parents.

We call them “conversation starters” because they’re intended to do just that: begin a dialogue about the great things that happen when adults step back and consider what young people need to grow and develop. But they’re not written in stone. We believe the principles described in them are timeless, but our understanding of them is updated and changed as we learn more — especially as we work with grantseekers who are trying to do what’s best for young people each day.

I stated earlier that the teen years are a period of remarkable transformation. In fact, they’re a lot like a chrysalis — the last stage before a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Interestingly enough, the Greek origin of “chrysalis” means “gold.”

Like the caterpillar, teens experience a time of intense, inward-focused development that prepares them to one day step forward in the world with all of their beautiful colors on display.

We hope you enjoy reading Golden and find it valuable in your own work.

Challenges kids face are great, but so too is commitment to overcome them

By Barry Rochford, strategic communication officer

So many children face so many obstacles to growing up into confident, independent adults — maturing into women and men who demonstrate compassion to their neighbors, are capable of contributing to their communities, and find themselves engaged in a fulfilling vocation.

Indiana Youth Institute’s recent Kids Count Conference in Indianapolis, which brought together more than 1,000 professionals from across the state involved in various aspects of youth development, underscored the perils young people face every day.

It also was a welcome reminder there are many, many Hoosiers striving to make children’s lives brighter. Every day.

Make no mistake, the task is daunting. Problems such as drugs, poverty, and unhealthy behaviors remain perniciously embedded in our culture, but they bear newer, greater dangers for young people. Drugs, for example, are refined and made more addictive. Advances in imaging techniques allow us to take a picture of a young person’s brain and see how living in a high-stress, unstable environment inhibits its growth. Even as fewer Hoosier students are smoking cigarettes now, many more of them have turned to vaping.

This generation of young people is growing up in a world unknown to their parents and grandparents. Technology — notably in the form of phones and tablets — is being used as a pacifier. You’ve no doubt seen it: A parent hands a “screen” to a fussy toddler to quiet him. There’s no ill intent behind the decision, just a desire to comfort the child. But when that screen flicks on, part of the child’s brain flicks off. The device encourages the child to become disengaged and disassociated from the human interactions occurring around him, and it’s happening during the period of his life that’s most critical to his brain’s development.

Social media, which has brought people together across cultures and continents, can cause young people to feel alienated and isolated when it’s bent into a tool for bullying. Teachers and school counselors now find themselves helping students navigate the choppy waters of friendships made more fraught by Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, and the like because the students lack relationship skills forged by face-to-face interactions with others.

The Kids Count Conference provides a forum for Indiana Youth Institute to preview its upcoming Kids Count Data Book that tracks the well-being of Hoosier youths in four areas: family and community, health, economic, and education. The upcoming 2019 Data Book contains a mixed bag of results, just as it has in previous years. Across all four areas, Indiana ranks 28th among states. Most concerning, the state ranks 48th for child maltreatment; 43rd in the number of youths in juvenile detention, and 43rd in infant mortality. Indiana, however, fares well in other benchmark categories, including fourth-grade reading proficiency (seventh among states), high housing burdens (10th), and high school graduation (13th).

Dr. Christopher Emdin, professor, author, and creator of the #HipHopEd social media movement, speaks at Indiana Youth Institute’s 2018 Kids Count Conference.

With all the challenges facing young people, it would be easy to throw our collective hands in the air because the work to overcome them is just too hard. And yet, as much as the Kids Count Conference is an acknowledgement of the issues that affect the healthy development of children, it is a celebration and affirmation of the many, many schools and organizations that engage, educate, and prepare our young people for the future.

It is that hoped-for future that drives those in youth development and compels them to do more. Chester E. Dekko, who created the Dekko Foundation in 1981, believed when young people have access to an education that helps them grow in skills, knowledge, and character, it prepares them to lead a life of independence and self-sufficiency. That’s why he gave the foundation its mission of fostering economic freedom through education. The principles underlying his mission have stood the test of time and are as applicable in 2018 as they were when he was growing up in Minnesota during the Great Depression.

The foundation, however, cannot do it alone. It is only through the work of partners that the mission of economic freedom through education can be realized. They are the ones working with young people. Every day. They are the ones doing the difficult and often unheralded job of building skills, knowledge, and character. Every day.

Yes, our young people will continue to face significant obstacles as they make the long journey to adulthood. But we should be encouraged there are so many caring adults and organizations throughout Indiana who understand those challenges, are passionate and committed, and stand ready to serve them.

Every day.

(Note: If you would like to read the 2019 Indiana Kids Count Data Book Snapshot, you can download it here.)