The flowing yellow dress of the Sudanese woman is the first clue: This is not your typical business incubator.
Second? The free-hand paintings of dinosaurs roaming across the walls of what looks like a pediatric examination room. Until recently, that's exactly what it was.
Since closing its doors overnight in December 2008, the ASK Ministries medical clinic, 2513 S. Calhoun St., has been recreating its mission.
Formerly a clinic serving the medical needs of the underprivileged, now it is a resource for nonprofit organizations that would be unable to afford office space if it weren't for the Calhoun Center: A Cooperative for Nonprofits.
Officials at the center are still working out details and have only a partial new mission statement: “...fostering mission-driven service with integrity, diversity and focus.”
“We talked with a number of community leaders, folks in the medical service community, Matthew 25 and other providers, Dr. (Deb) McMahan and folks in the social service community,” said Leslie Raymer, board secretary.
She said the organization was encouraged to shore up already available medical services so they might remain available to those displaced by the ASK Clinic's closure.
“It was Jerry Petersen, director of United Way, who suggested utilizing the facility in this way, as a nonprofit incubator,” Raymer said. She said Peterson suggested covering costs by providing inexpensive rent for nonprofits so the groups could concentrate on developing their organizations and services.
The renters share the space, fax and copier. A work-study student is available to help with clerical needs. The board is hoping to develop internships for students who want to learn about social and human services, office management and grant writing.
“We really want to be a tenant co-op with the original board members, but with the tenants on the board as well,” said Raymer. “The board will do the budgeting, but tenants will help shape things with their ideas.”
So far, Calhoun Center has four tenants:
• American Association of University Women
• Darfur Women Network Development Organization
• Hispanic Leadership Coalition of Northeast Indiana
• The Hedge School, a feminist organization
The building has space for 12 tenants, and negations are under way for several more of the spaces. The rent is hard to beat at $100 a month. Raymer said building maintenance should cost about $1,200 a month.
Mastora Bakhiet, of Darfur Women Network, said, “This is a dream that came true.”
The network has been around since 2007, but had no permanent location. With no experience managing an office or building, it is an ideal solution for her.
“We don't have the budget to have an executive director, so this fits our needs right now,” said Jesse Rios, president of the Hispanic Leadership Coalition of Northeast Indiana.
Rios and his organization had been looking for a place for more than a year, but rental costs were too high.
Rios said while the incubator concept is new to Fort Wayne, other cities have similar, successful programs. The location is ideal, he added, because it's near the Hispanic population they serve.