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

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.

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.

Walk that talk!!!

It’s easy to suggest that your spouse should exercise and cut out soda.  It’s another thing entirely when you have to lace up your sneakers and avoid the sweet brown fizzy stuff yourself.

It’s called walking the talk.  It’s hard!

At the Dekko Foundation we ask our grantseekers to take a step back from their work and deeply consider what children and young people need to grow and develop.  To be sure that we walk our talk, we’ve stepped back from our work to consider:  What do teens need from us as grantmaking professionals?

We researched teens and their needs, and here’s what we found:

  • After being in school for so many years, teens are a little bit tired of formal learning.  They want to do something hands on!
  • They’re searching for a sense of purpose in their lives.
  • They’re capable of advanced reasoning…think problem solving.
  • They may become philanthropic if led in that direction.

Knowing these things, it seemed natural for us to teach our field of philanthropy to teens.  Our latest video shows what we (and the kids) are learning!

If you know a group of young people who want to make their community a better place, make them aware of our grants for youth philanthropy.