As a little girl, Anjelica "Angie" Soto of Fort Wayne looked up to Tyrone Cato, a former librarian at the Allen County Public Library's Pontiac branch near her home.
"Tyrone and Ms. Condra Ridley at the library really worked with us kids to expand our horizons and teach us about the importance of reading, education, and creativity," Soto says.
As she grew up, she stayed in touch with Cato through various community projects and watched how he lived his life—highly connected to and invested in other people. Thanks to the influence of Cato, as well as her own family, Soto became an engaged citizen in Fort Wayne herself.
Now that she’s an empty nester, her Facebook page is abuzz weekly with events she's either hosting, promoting, or supporting during COVID-19—sometimes, all three. And in November, a big fundraiser she’s working on is one created for her old friend.
Soto, second from right, and other volunteers serve Fort Wayne's community.
After leaving the library in 1994 and running his own business Tygeron Graphics Screening Printing Co. on Oxford Street for 26 years, Cato developed Type 2 diabetes, which was diagnosed in early-2020—just before the pandemic began.
As a result, Cato had to close his business and start receiving daily dialysis treatments for kidney failure. While Soto was heartbroken by the news, she didn't waste time on finding a way to help. She immediately went into event-planning mode, calling everyone she knew to host a fundraiser for Cato’s family on Nov. 14, so he could modify his house and receive dialysis treatments from home—particularly during the pandemic. A fundraiser for Tyrone Cato on Nov. 14 was canceled due to COVID-19, but those interested are asked to donate to Cato's GoFundMe page.
Working with other volunteers like, Kellie Hill-Hicks from Urban Update and DJ Polaris of Music Lovers Lounge, Soto pulled together an entire day of fundraising activities called “Culture for a Cause” set to take place at Wunderkammer Co. in Cato’s honor.
"The minute I say, 'Hey, I'm doing something for Tyrone Cato, everybody jumps on board, no questions asked," Soto says.
With COVID-19 numbers on the rise this month, Cato’s fundraiser has been tabled for the time being. Even so, Soto and others plan to use social media to promote a GoFundMe campaign another friend, Ketu Oladuwa, created for Cato and his wife Melonie.
On top of Cato’s condition, the couple had the roof cave-in on part of their house on the Southeast side of town, Melonie says. While it has been mostly repaired, thanks to donations and volunteers, they’re still in the process of updating the home for dialysis treatments.
And while the stress of a chronic health condition on top of housing issues and a global pandemic may seem insurmountable, the Catos have managed to stay in good spirits throughout it all. Melonie and Tyrone Cato
Rather than dwelling on their challenges, they’ve been surprised and deeply moved by the actions of friends and strangers who have risen up and offered them help in their time of need.
“I think we tend to underestimate the power of the individual to bring about change,” Cato says. “You might think, ‘I’m one person; I can’t make a mark, but all of those marks grow together and are really impactful.”
Here are ways that two individuals—Soto and Cato—are making marks in Fort Wayne and transforming trials in their own lives to bring hope to others.
After going through bariatric surgery about four years ago to lose weight and undergoing additional plastic surgeries, Angie Soto found herself bedridden for a period of more than seven months due to ongoing complications and life threating infections.
"I prayed to God that if everything went well, the minute I could get out of that bed, I was not going to stop moving and use my time to give back," Soto says.
Angie Soto and other volunteers keep serving the community during COVID-19.
When her prayers were answered in June 2020, she made good on that promise—COVID-19 pandemic or not. From the moment her feet hit the ground, she's been busy hosting multiple large, grassroots fundraisers and volunteering with nonprofit organizations, like Sistarz & Sistarz, doing monthly projects, ranging from food to backpack giveaways.
As Director of Operations for Office One Cleaning, Soto sees her volunteer work as her life's calling—a mission that gives her energy and the distinct feeling that "God is at work in Fort Wayne," she says.
Earlier this fall, she was volunteering with the Great American Cleanup on Oxford Street when an acquaintance mentioned that they were looking to hire someone with a Ph.D. in psychology. A few hours later, at another cleanup site at St. Henry’s Thrift Shop, Soto met a woman who had a friend with a Ph.D. in psychology and was looking for work during the pandemic. As a result, she was able to make the connection.
"That's what I've been doing," Soto says. "I have made it a point to be involved in my community and informed about what's happening, and I'm working to connect people and make them aware of what opportunities and services are actually available here."
Soto has hosted two large fundraisers during COVID-19, raising more than $5,000 at each one.
Along with her surgery and Cato’s influence, Soto’s family has inspired her live this engaged, community-oriented lifestyle. Her brother, Sal Soto, started DeSoto Translations & Marketing in 2000, where she worked for five years on a team offering translation services in more than 40 languages, 24 hours a day, primarily to regional hospitals and court systems. Sal also started Fort Wayne's Avant Garde Art Gallery on Lafayette Street and Fiesta Fort Wayne Festival, the largest regional Hispanic Heritage celebration in Northeast Indiana.
Her sister, Maria Heredia, started a nonprofit gang prevention program in the 90s, known as M.A.Y.A. (Multicultural Advisory on Youth Alternatives) Unity Center. Soto herself also ran the local Spanish radio station, 102.3 FM, for five years, strengthening her connections around town.
But for the past few years, she has been stepping out on her own, hosting events and fundraisers with friends around a different cause close to her heart: The low-rider automobile community, which is alive and well in Northeast Indiana, Soto says.
The Hop Spot Crew has grown into a nationally known group, hosting annual car shows and fundraisers.
Working with two friends, she helped launch Fort Wayne's first lowrider event three years ago at Swinney Park as a casual gathering for car lovers to share their vehicles tricked out with hydraulics. Over the years, the group has dubbed themselves the Hop Spot Crew, Inc., and their gatherings have grown to produce an annual Car Show & Festival fundraiser that draws thousands of attendees from across the Midwest to celebrate cars, bikes, and automobiles of all kinds.
The success of these events inspired Soto and her team to start fundraising for important causes.
"The lowrider community is a very giving community," she says.
This year, the Hop Spot Crew raised more than $7,000 at their Aug. 1 car show, donating the money to the DaMarcus Beasley Foundation’s “Kick for a Cause” to support youth scholarships and the creation of futsal courts in Fort Wayne parks. But they didn't stop there.
They went right back to work, collaborating with other organizations to host a second fundraiser in September called Cruisin' for Chase, honoring Fort Wayne resident Isabel Atencio, who sacrificed her life to save her 4-year-old great-grandson, Chase, during a storm on August 10th.
The Hop Spot Crew was one of many groups that helped raise $5,500 for Chase Montoya's family.
Together, the Hop Spot Crew, Goodfellaz Truck/Car Club, All in the Details, Group5 Graphics, and Jungle Georges raised more than $5,500 for Atencio's family.
While Cato’s fundraiser set for November has been shelved, Soto is hopeful that residents will still support his cause.
"There are so many great people here in Fort Wayne," she says. “My job is to take care of my neighbors.”
Soto and fellow members of Fort Wayne's Hop Spot Crew.
Tyrone Cato has always believed the central reason human beings are on this planet is to acknowledge the “Almighty Creator,” whoever they deem that Creator to be.
“You do that best by what you do for other people,” he says. “I’ve tried to live by that most of my life.”
Just the other day, while he was talking with a young man starting a business in Fort Wayne, Cato gave that young man his phone number and told him to put him on speed dial, so he could call if he had any questions or needed help.
Running a business, like living, requires community support, Cato says, reflecting on his own experience launching and growing Tygeron Graphics.
“People get into business to make money,” he says. “That’s the reality. Rent is always due, but business is about relationships, and I came to that conclusion years ago.” Tyrone and Melonie Cato are grateful to friends, family, and strangers who have helped them through this challenging time.
During his 26 years at Tygeron Graphics, Cato recalls many client relationships that transformed into beautiful friendships.
“We’d take care of business in five minutes and spend the next half hour chatting,” he says.
“I really enjoyed the relationship aspect of my work, and I’ve been supremely fortunate in the number of people I’ve met. Somebody always has something interesting going on in their lives.”
It’s these relationships, and the loving support of his wife, Melonie, that have kept Cato going despite his medical condition, too. Earlier this year, when he had to spend months in the hospital, groups of friends often came to visit him before COVID-19. He recalls a time when the nurses thought he was a “celebrity” for having so many visitors.
Then, there are the quieter moments of his illness when his wife Melonie is the only person in the room. He recalls one time, in particular, when he told Melonie he was sorry for the added stress his health issues were causing her.
“I told her, ‘I know you didn’t sign on for all of this,’” he says. “But she responded, ‘Yes, I did.’”
“I choke up every time I tell that story,” he says. “I think about it every day, and I feel so fortunate to have her here with me on this journey. I break down a little bit every time I think about all the people, like Angie, working on fundraisers for us, too.”
The Catos get shipments of dialysate delivered to their house so they can treat Tyrone at home.
Cato and Melonie say they’re not the type of couple that’s accustomed to accepting help from other people.
“If the car ever broke down, we got our bikes out, and we rode those instead,” Melonie says.
But during this season of extreme need, the goodwill of family, friends, and total strangers has been awe-inspiring.
“It has made what could have been a lonely and depressing time easier to deal with,” Melonie says. “I just want to thank people from the bottom of my heart for the support and the love that they’ve shown. It seemed like when we were falling, they were there to catch us. And they didn’t allow us to hit rock bottom.”
As Cato reflects on his life, he feels a new sense of respect for his health and a new sense of duty to all of the people who have helped his family. He acknowledges that he doesn’t have it “that bad” compared to other people who have suffered through dialysis without support. If there’s anything good that has come of his condition, perhaps it’s a newfound sense of gratitude in life and a realization of the power in his connections.
“I can say, ‘It’s so bad,’ but there is tremendous good that has come out of it,” Cato says. “That’s the true healing part: What we label as ‘bad’ can turn out to be good.”
At the end of the day, Cato feels like a lucky man.
“It’s really just amazing how things come full circle,” he says. “You never know how what you do might affect somebody else. In the course of everyday life, you affect change in people’s lives—whether you realize it or not.”
Support the Catos
To donate to a GoFundMe campaign created for the Catos, click here.