FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Moving to a new place can be nerve-wracking and getting to know people there can be even more difficult.
Greater Fort Wayne Inc., an economic development organization, has a program called Onboard, where people who are new to Fort Wayne can learn more about what the city has to offer and meet others who live in the community.
This includes tours of different places across like restaurants, wineries, parks and entertainment venues. They also help people with what resources are available like babysitting, doctors, etc.
Meghan Short, who runs the Onboard program for Greater Fort Wayne, said the idea for this began between 2014-2015 as the city was experiencing significant growth.
“We wanted to help new residents get a better feel for the area and show them what there is to do outside of work,” Short said.
Many employers across Fort Wayne were involved in creating the program to help not only attract new workers, but to be able to retain them. Human resources people helped design the Onboard program to help their employees get comfortable in the community and keep them there long term.
Onboard officially launched in 2020 and had 40 newcomers join their program. For employers who are members of Greater Fort Wayne, their employees are free to participate. For those who aren’t members, tickets cost between $20-30 for the program, which helps cover food, drinks and tours.
She said this year they have seen increases in the number of people doing the program, seeing up to 60 participate.
The program has three pillars participants go through when they join. The first one is the in-person events which are set up as social opportunities to get to know people and to learn about what Fort Wayne has to offer.
“They also cover certain topics like economic development and the importance of progress in the city,” she said. Sponsors of the program also speak to the participants.
The social events then include tours of iconic places in the city. This includes Electric Works, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, Parkview Field and Country Heritage Winery.
They will also bring participants to places based on what they’re interested in like music or the arts.
The second the pillar is participants meet with city ambassadors which the program calls navigators.
Navigators are people who have typically gone through the program themselves and meet one-on-one with participants at a coffee shop to get to know them. The program currently has 18 navigators. Participants have the option to choose who they want to pair up with.
“Navigators can help them with whatever they are looking for whether it’s looking for a house, they can set you up with a realtor or it can be someone who works in your industry that you are looking to network with,” she said.
The final pillar is participants join an online portal, where they have access to what Fort Wayne has to offer, including multicultural services, education, housing and healthcare. People can log onto onboardfw.com to access resources.
Fort Wayne isn’t the only city to have a program like Onboard. Indianapolis and Iowa City, Iowa have their own versions of this program too.
She believes Onboard is important to have because it helps people foster a sense of belonging and gives them structure in life.
“This can help people get out of the house and not have to worry about being lonely,” she said. “It’s a good way to meet new friends and see what our city has to offer.”