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If you go
Who: Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana
What: My City Summit: Connect & Thrive
When: 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Walb Student Union ballroom, IPFW
Tickets: $45 for YLNI members, $55 for nonmembers; no ticket sales at the door; for more information, go to

City summit will inspire big ideas, challenge leaders

– It’s relatively easy to get a bunch of people to sit around and talk about what’s wrong with Fort Wayne. It’s something else to get a bunch of people to talk about why people should love it.

But Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana did just that in November – drawing 200 people to a day of talking about their city and how to better connect to it.

Even that sounds easier than what comes next: How to get others to love Fort Wayne, too.

“The fall session was really about taking a look at the Knight Foundation study (on community connections) and identifying how to improve attachment to the community,” said Beth Bobay, who’s leading Thursday’s My City Summit event.

“It was pretty obvious some people are already very enthusiastic about what’s happening in Fort Wayne. This time, it’s about taking that next step,” she said.

That next step is finding ways for the people in Fort Wayne – not just YLNI members – to connect with, identify with and be part of their city. The three-year Knight study, released in 2011 by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, examined what makes people embrace a community and, in turn, want to work there and help it prosper.

The signature event for Thursday’s summit will feature Ellen Cutter and Zach Benedict presenting “The Power of Place: How Engagement, Happiness, and Attachment could shape the Midwestern City.”

That connection matters, Bobay said, because the future of the city depends on more than just finding profitable businesses or entertainment venues.

“Having a community you love sounds great and fun, but it’s also important and has an economic impact,” she said. “It’s not just about fun things to do downtown.”

After each portion of the program, there will be discussions – Bobay said the idea is to get as many people talking as possible.

“You can make better connections getting to know different types of people, so we selected a diverse group of leaders to come,” she said. “We want different opinions at the table, different examples of leadership, so we can learn from them.”

Lest you think these young leaders are rejecting the past, the program also features one of the city’s finest examples of leadership from its past: Ian Rolland.

The retired Lincoln National chairman spearheaded the lawsuit that desegregated Fort Wayne Community Schools.

“Not everybody’s going to be an Ian Rolland, but we can talk about what he was able to accomplish as a businessman that affected other areas of Fort Wayne economically and socially,” Bobay said.

“He’s a courageous example of leadership. He put his business and reputation on the line for something he thought was important. Now we need to ask what things are happening in Fort Wayne that could take that kind of creative leadership to solve,” she said.

Bobay points out that children today will grow up unable to imagine a downtown without a ballpark, but getting Harrison Square built was not easy or popular.

“The people who started that put their butts on the line,” she said.

Unlike the previous summit, this one will be an evening affair over dinner, which means tickets will not be sold at the door.