Celebrating 50 Years with Big Brothers Big Sisters Northeast Indiana

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana has provided 50 years of uninterrupted service and programming to the children and families of Fort Wayne, Indiana and of communities throughout Northeast Indiana. We have provided life-changing volunteer mentorship to literally tens of thousands of children in Northeast Indiana, at no cost to the children and families served over the past 50 years.

As we enter the next 50 years with strong leadership, support and an unwavering belief in the transformative power of professionally supervised, volunteer mentor relationships, we want to expanded services for the children and young adults of Northeast Indiana.

Events to Celebrate our 50th Anniversary

February 8th Celebrations

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana was founded on February 8, 1972. On February 8th, 2022 there will be several different ways we will celebrate 50 years.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge lit Big Brothers Big Sisters Green

Look for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge to be lit Big Brothers Big Sisters Green in Downtown Fort Wayne on morning February 8th

Big Brothers Big Sisters Bus Debut

Be on the lookout for our City Bus with our Big Brothers Big Sisters “Ignite Potential” tagline.

50th Anniversary Party

50 years is a remarkable accomplishment, we feel it deserves to be celebrated at a time when we can have the most attendance possible. For the safety of the public, volunteers, families, and supporters, we’ve decided to postpone the event until a later date.

Our Agency’s Timeline

1972    Don A. Wolf, president of HWI, mobilized support and created Big Brothers of Greater Fort Wayne.  The Agency provided mentoring relationships for 27 young boys in its first year.  Frank Zirille served as the first Executive Director; Don A. Wolf was elected as the inaugural President of the Board of Directors. 

Founder Don Wolfe

1973    The first caseworker was hired.  The first special event fundraiser, an IU Intrasquad Game, was held.

1974    Demand for Big Brother programs grew, and an outreach office was established to serve DeKalb, Noble, and Steuben counties.  The first Gourmet Dinner fundraiser was held.

1975    A grant to expand office space was received from the Fort Wayne Foundation.  Big Sisters is founded with the help of the United Way, and the agency adopted the name of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Fort Wayne.

1977    Wolf, as the national president of Big Brothers of America, merges Big Brothers of America with Big Sisters International to from Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America.

1978   Two new offices are established to serve Adams & Wells counties as well as Huntington & Whitley counties with assistance from the Lily Endowment.  Dan Coats is elected as the fourth President of the Board of Directors.  Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Fort Wayne is admitted as full member of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America.

1979      Arby’s sponsors the first Park Run fundraiser.

1980      Casa D’Angelo sponsors the first Spaghetti Dinner fundraiser.

1981      Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Fort Wayne is accepted as a member agency of the United Way of Allen County.  The first Bowl For Kids’ Sake fundraiser is conducted.

1983      A-TV begins airing the Wednesday’s Child series highlighting unmatched Little Brothers and Sisters.

1985      An office is opened in Kosciusko county.

1986      A peak year for matches, 638 matches are created.  The Cruisin’ Hoosiers of Warsaw conducted its first annual Cruise In to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters.  The current BBBS home at 2439 Fairfield Avenue in Fort Wayne is purchased.

1987      After renovation, BBBS moves from its old location at 919 Fairfield to its new building.

1988      The First Friends program is established to provide interim mentoring services for youth waiting for a Big Brother or Big Sister.  BBBS makes its 2000th match in history.

1994      Frank Zirille leaves after 22 years as Executive Director to accept the position of Executive Director of BBBS of Metropolitan Chicago. 

1995      Jan Wilhelm, former vice president of Fort Wayne National Bank and board member of BBBS, is selected as the new Executive Director.

1996      The agency changes its name to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana to better reflect its geographic area of service.  The decision to close county offices (except in Kosciusko) is made in efforts to face a challenging financial situation.

1997      Jan Wilhelm resigns as Executive Director, and Gregory G. Falk becomes the third Executive Director.  1997 ended in the first budget surplus in five years.

1998      The Sports Buddy program is launched with the help of the Fort Wayne Wizards and the Fort Wayne Fury.  The Lunch Buddy program begins with an initial commitment between Do It Best Corp. and New Haven Elementary.  Twelve Lunch Buddy volunteers are recruited for the first year.

1999      Essex sponsors the creation of the Arts Buddies program.  Bank One, Do it Best Corp., and National City Bank become corporate sponsors of BBBS of NEI.

2000     Josette Rider is named Interim Executive Director after Greg Falk announces his resignation.

2001     After serving as Interim Executive Director since October 2000, Josette Rider is named as the fourth Executive Director in February.

2002     The Agency takes in over $1 million in revenue for the first time in its history and implements the Service Delivery Model.  This same year, Big Brothers Big Sisters kicks off the from Success to Significance Growth Initiative Campaign, raising over $830,000 to be collected over six years.  Also, the building on Fairfield Avenue floods, driving all staff and records out of the building for several months.  Bank One (now Chase Bank) housed Big Brothers Big Sisters in their downtown Fort Wayne offices while clean-up and repairs were completed.

2003      The first Amachi program volunteer is recruited.  Amachi, a West African word meaning  “who knows but what God has brought us through this child”, is a one-to-one community-based mentoring program which matches volunteer adult role models from faith communities with children whose parents are incarcerated.

2004      Former Little Brother and Sacramento Kings NBA Star, Brad Miller initiated the 1st Annual Brad Miller Golf Outing to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters in Noble County.  The final Spaghetti Dinner is held.  Casa D’Angelo Restaurants begin providing complementary food for the annual Volunteer Recognition Dinner.

2005      BBBS of NEI serves over 1,000 children in one year for the first time in its history.

2006     In April, LaGrange and Steuben counties in Indiana and Branch and St. Joseph counties in Michigan are added to the Agency’s service territory due to the dissolution of Michiana BBBS.  A satellite office is maintained in Coldwater, MI.  The Agency serves a total of 12 counties in two states covering 5,095 square miles.  In June, the BBBS of NEI is named AGENCY OF THE YEAR from among over 440 agencies world wide.  It is also named a finalist in the CEO of the Year and Board of the Year categories.

2007  The Agency turns 35 years old and plans to serve 1,575 mentoring relationships.  The service area continues to expand as Hillsdale County in Michigan is added.

2009   The Agency serves a record 1803 children in one on one mentoring matches. Big Sister, Debbie Groulik is named NATIONAL Big Sister of the Year for her service and dedication to Little Sister Jocelyn.

2011   Plans begin for the 40th Year Anniversary Celebration in 2012.

2012   The Agency serves 1,972 children in honor of our 40th Anniversary. A record breaking year, BBBSNEI is awarded Big Sister of the Year, Agency of the Year and Board of the Year by BBBS of America at the National Conference in Denver, CO. Big Sister, Alyssa Ivanson is named NATIONAL Big Sister of the Year for her service and dedication to Little Sister Jordain. 

The Board of Directors votes and decides that BBBSNEI will relocated into the newly renovated Summit Campus, formerly known as Taylor University. Partnering with Ambassador Enterprises, Design Collaborative and E & V Construction break ground and almost 1 million in renovations on two floors are made to accommodate the mission and vision of the Agency.

2013   The Agency relocates from 2439 Fairfield Avenue to the Summit Campus located at 1005 West Rudisill Boulevard.

BBBSNEI Founder, Don Wolf is presented with the 2013 Sachem Award. As Indiana’s highest honor, the Sachem Award is presented to only one resident of the State of Indiana each year. It recognizes its recipient for displaying an exemplary, sustained combination of virtue, moral example, business success and career achievement.

2014  The Agency receives an endowment gift in the amount One Million dollars from the Auer Foundation. This gift is named in the honor of its Executive Director, Josette M Rider for her vision and passion for the children in Northeast Indiana. As a result, the Give BIG. Save a Little Capital/Endowment Campaign launches with a vision of endowing matches and services for years to come.    

2015  The very first fundraiser held in BBBSNEI history, The Annual Gourmet Dinner grows from 250 to 1,000 guests, and moves to he hosted at the Grand Wayne Center. Indianapolis Colts Quarterback star, Andrew Luck headlines as the guest speaker.

2016   Another standout year, BBBSNEI is recognized at the BBBS of America National Conference held in Orlando, Florida with Big Sister of the Year, the Clifford P. Norman Service Award and the President’s Award.

Big Sister, Laura Frederick is named NATIONAL Big Sister of the Year for her service and dedication to Little Sister Emily. BBBSNEI Board Member, Tim Wagner receives the CLIFFORD P. NORMAN AWARD in honor of his leadership, commitment and generosity to BBBSNEI, and Do it Best Corp., founded by President Emeritus Don Wolf, receives the PRESIDENT’S AWARD for their outstanding commitment from a corporate level to both local and national offices.

2017   The Agency celebrates 45 Years

2020: When Covid 19 shut our schools down, many of our families and children didn’t have the resources or support at home to conduct ongoing virtual learning. As many schools remain closed, families and our youth needed alternatives to the virtual classroom. Big Brothers Big Sisters identified these needs, opened our doors and created Learning Pods. More than e-learning, we provide daily transportation, meals and tutors to help our children navigate a new way of learning, stay on track and achieve academic successes by gathering in a small groups to learn, explore, and socialize.

2021: Former Little Brother and Sacramento Kings NBA Star, Brad Miller initiated the 1st Annual Brad Miller Camp Out For Kids

If you’d like to find out more about being involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana as a potential Big, volunteer or donor, call 260-456-1600 or go to bbbsnei.org.

If you enjoyed this story, follow the link to read more: https://www.bbbsnei.org/category/all-stories/

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