Going beyond data: How one nonprofit is changing lives of rural youth

Humans are social beings. For most children and adolescents, school is the most important social arena. Unfortunately, many students don’t feel accepted or comfortable in this setting. And only compounding the problem, many parents are working long hours and unable to give their children the emotional support they need.

Studies show that the prevalence of loneliness peaks in adolescents and young adults. This isolation can manifest itself in poor grades, abusive relationships, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, mental illness, and other challenges. 

Cornerstone Youth Center in Monroeville is tackling this reality head-on. The organization was founded in 2000 to serve the needs of the rural community, with an on-site program. It has grown significantly in its nearly 20-year history, with programs in multiple schools for grades 7-12 as well as activities at the center. Their programs address everything from recreation to academic support to life skills—and everything in between. 

Cornerstone Youth Center tutors help students gain confidence in test taking.

Executive Director Sarah Adams has witnessed this mission in action, on a transformative level. 

“They have found a place to come to,” she says. “It’s become a place of safety. They can be themselves and grow and experience all kinds of things (here).”

That growth looks different in every situation. And sometimes it happens where you least expect it. 

“You can change a life with a dodgeball game,” she says.

The nonprofit organization facilitates youth development by providing critical resources, like caring staff and transportation to and from the facility.

The logistics piece is often understated, but it has significant consequences if unaddressed.

While the rural countryside might make for peaceful, picturesque scenery, it can also contribute to isolation among youth who aren't old enough to drive. And when children feel removed from a social network they are more likely to abuse tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. The same can be said of higher occurrences of untreated mental illness and suicide. 

“(Monroeville) being a rural area is not as impoverished (as inner-city Fort Wayne), but it’s (geographically) isolated, which can lead to its own problems,” Adams says. “Just because there’s not a dense population (here) doesn’t mean there’s not a need.”

Adams says her organization is there to provide a safe space for students, and often, that means listening more than talking. 

“Success isn’t always reflected in data,” she says. “A lot of it comes down to (listening and) telling stories." 

Get Involved

Cornerstone Youth Center is looking for volunteers to serve in a variety of capacities. Adults provide homework help/tutoring, fix meals for programming or assist program coordinators in the delivery of programs and services. They are also in need of people to help with events, fundraising, and marketing. For more information, email  [email protected].

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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