A local effort to give southeast Fort Wayne businesses a helping hand will receive some help of its own, officials announced Friday.
The Family and Friends Fund for Southeast Fort Wayne is one of 10 early-stage social ventures selected by Uncharted, a social impact accelerator. The local fund will participate in Uncharted's Economic Inequality Initiative, a six-month accelerator supporting programs addressing economic inequality in the United States.
Each participating organization will receive $25,000 in unrestricted funding, access to a peer support community and introductions to subject-matter experts, according to a news release.
“We are over the moon. We're so encouraged by it,” said Kristin Giant, a co-founder of the Family and Friends Fund.
The fund, which has already raised more than $500,000 in cash and in-kind contributions, will use the money to hire a young person living on the southeast side to be an administrator, she said.
Giant and Ty Simmons created the fund in June 2020 “in response to the stark and growing economic inequality in Fort Wayne – with most of the lack of resources focused in the southeast quadrant of our city,” according to a news release.
The fund, which is hosted at the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne, invests in aspiring entrepreneurs and struggling artists. It accepts even small donations from the public.
Black, Indigenous and people of color living in southeast Fort Wayne decide who receives financial help from the fund, Giant said.
Members of the five-person board are: Simmons, executive director of Human Agricultural Cooperative; Diane Rogers, retired from the Fort Wayne Police Department; Condra Ridley, an African storyteller retired from the Allen County Public Library; Ephraim Smiley II, a hunger relief advocate who previously worked for Fort Wayne Community Schools, among others; and Bishop George McCowan, a pastor since 1979.
More than $87 billion in charitable assets are sitting in funds nationwide waiting for someone to decide who should receive the money, the news release said. The Family and Friends Fund's founders hope to scale up their program nationwide, to encourage more community foundations to involve minority activists in decisions about who receives grants meant to address income inequality, Giant said.
Uncharted received 344 applications from early-stage ventures across the U.S. and collaborated with a diverse selection committee to evaluate the entries. The 10 selected ventures are closing wealth gaps in the U.S. through education, housing, small business assistance, financial literacy and policy advocacy, the news release said.
The economic divide in the U.S. is sharp and rising. In the decades since the Great Recession, middle and lower classes saw their collective wealth shrink by more than 20%, disproportionately affecting women, people of color and young people, according to a news release.
Banks Benitez, Uncharted's CEO, described economic inequality as society's biggest problem.
“Generational problems require new and long-term ways of thinking, of building power and of creating change,” he said in a statement. “We're honored to work alongside the entrepreneurs and activists leading the way.”
The Family and Friends Fund's goal is to raise $1 million to help minority residents of southeast Fort Wayne build generational wealth and connectivity. So far, more than 2,000 donors have contributed to the fund, Giant said. Most of the gifts, she said, have been less than $100.
Supporters have created their own fundraisers, such as bake sales, car washes and handmade jewelry sales. The fund's board doesn't meddle by reviewing and sanctioning fundraising ideas, Giant said.
“It's horrifying and wonderful,” she said of the hodge-podge.
At a glance
The Family and Friends Fund for Southeast Fort Wayne will hold an online fundraiser from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sept. 25. To view the event, make a donation or learn more about the organization, go to www.familyandfriendsfund.org.