Surack Family Foundation donates $100,000 to Ten Point Coalition
Little Oxford is no stranger to the lasting pain that homicides and the loss of community members can cause.
In 2021, the neighborhood mourned four of its own – 26-year-old Sarah Zent, and her children, Carter Mathew Zent, 5; Ashton Duwayne Zent, 3; and Aubree Christine Zent, 2 – who were murdered in June.
Through that tragedy, the Ten Point Coalition created a program to ensure any future murder victims in their neighborhood do not go without a proper burial. United Response is just one Fort Wayne United initiative that has helped the community.
Little Oxford, a neighborhood bordered by East Pontiac, Hanna and Oxford streets and South Anthony Boulevard, became the Ten Point Coalition’s first area of interest after a look into police data. By examining areas such as education, health and housing and improving conditions and quality of life, the team hopes to address some of the root causes of violence to curb it.
In the nearly five years that Ten Point has operated, engaging with Little Oxford residents, it has seen a 73% decrease in violent crimes. The number of homicides, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, vehicle thefts and shootings dropped from 174 total reported cases in 2018 to 30 in 2022.
While community leaders and neighbors are proud to see that decrease, it is the direct engagement with members who walk the neighborhood every night that makes the biggest impact, said Lewis King, coordinator of Fort Wayne United’s Ten Point Coalition.
“It is the power of presence that Ten Point Coalition makes in our community that makes the difference,” King told coalition supporters Thursday as the volunteers celebrated the drop in crime. “It is when they walk the community that you can see that there is a reduction in crime because we get to the root cause of the violence in our area.”
The idea for the coalition came from Indianapolis, where a community organization with the same name and goal has existed for several years. The Rev. Charles Harrison, founder and director of the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition, talked to former Fort Wayne United Executive Director Iric Headley about the idea and how it might work in Fort Wayne.
Harrison said any city could see a positive outcome from something like the Ten Point Coalition.
“There is no neighborhood, in any city – regardless of the level of violence that they’re seeing – that it cannot be reduced,” Harrison said Thursday in Fort Wayne, “but it takes the effort of the community and working together.”
Over the last 23 years, Harrison said he’s been at hundreds of homicide scenes, grieved with numerous families and seen the pain, misery and hopelessness that people face due to urban violence – especially in communities of color.
“Most people don’t feel like there’s nothing that can be done, but things can be done,” Harrison said.
The coalition often meets at the Weisser Park Youth Center, giving them the opportunity to connect with young people in their neighborhood. Zynette Paige, a longtime supervisor of the facility, said those connections can go a long way.
“It gives the young people a chance to meet some of the elders within the community,” Paige said. “That can have a positive impact on them and guide them in the appropriate way.”
Landis Kelsaw, a team lead for the coalition, said people do not always notice the way the group helps young people.
“We wanted them (kids in the neighborhood) to feel safe coming out to the park,” Kelsaw said. “(We wanted them to) play without worrying about being shot at, worried about getting abducted, worried about being raped, or just bullied by gang members or something like that, and we cleaned all that up.”
King, who grew up in Little Oxford, said he could remember standing in Weisser Park and looking at the house he grew up in, with his mom sitting on the porch. That is the kind of memory he wants for the young people living in the area now.
“This park is our park, so as long as we continue to work together with our youth, we know we can make a difference,” King said.
Tyrone Cato, who was born and raised in the neighborhood, remembered meeting King “as a young brother in my nephew’s basement cutting hair” many years ago. Now, Cato said he was proud to see what he has done in Little Oxford.
Cato said he felt a sense of calm come over him the first time he saw the coalition’s members walking around the neighborhood.
“Just to see them together, as a collective, walking through the neighborhood was very, very cathartic,” Cato said. “It was like a breath of fresh air. It was like a release of any anxiety. It was almost like, ‘I know everything’s gonna be OK because they’re handling business.’ ”
He said the strong foundation they have built will last for years.
“Whatever you build on, it is going to expand and be supported,” Cato said. “Moving and shaking and making changes, man – that’s what it’s all about.”
Cato has received other much needed assistance from the coalition, such as help around his house. That goes a long way, he said, toward building lasting relationships. The creation of relationships was what made Mayor Tom Henry approve the Ten Point plan in 2018.
Henry told members of the coalition and its supporters Thursday about a life lesson he learned from his father as a child when they were discussing his grades in school. Henry said his father said the grades were important, but what was equally important was how he was at building relationships with those around him.
When Headley approached him about the idea, Henry said he was unsure about the plan until he was told about the emphasis it would have on creating working relationships between coalition members and neighborhood residents.
“That’s what sold me on this initiative,” Henry said, “because at the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about – relationships.”
Henry said he thinks the coalition’s work in Little Oxford has had a positive effect on nearby areas.
City Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, D-6th, said the relationships can go a long way, and what they do with those relationships goes even farther, making Fort Wayne more well-rounded as a whole.
“Whether it is helping pay tuition for individuals to be able to go get their GED, whether they are cleaning leaves out or repairing a roof or when we’ve had individuals within the community that had financial barriers, but needed to have their houses updated, Ten Point Coalition has been there,” Tucker said.
A sponsor of the program, Chuck Surack, president and CEO of Surack Enterprises, said he was excited to help the coalition after growing up in the neighborhood. Surack believes exciting change is occurring on Fort Wayne’s southeast side, more than any other area of the city.
“I think in a few years, we’re going to be really, really be proud of what we’ve done out here,” Surack said.
He gave the coalition a $100,000 check Thursday, which he said was the start of a three-year commitment from the Surack Foundation.
Surack said he cannot wait to see how the initiative continues to grow, whether that’s in Little Oxford or out to another neighborhood.
About Surack Family FoundationChuck and his wife Lisa have a passion for partnering with organizations to help develop confident and resilient young people, advocating for those with mental illness, investing in the community they call home, and supporting local music and arts programs. It was this passion that led them to start the Surack Family Foundation so they could make a greater impact in Northeast Indiana.