Fundraising campaign keeps programming afloat

Participating artists use standard canoe paddles as their canvas. BRIDGETT HERNANDEZ

FORT WAYNE — A new fundraising campaign will help support programming for schoolchildren while promoting Fort Wayne’s rivers.

Friends of the River announced the initiative April 8 at the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne. The nonprofit’s mission is to raise river awareness, engage the community and promote river recreation.

Friends of the River launched the canal boat Sweet Breeze in 2017. Last year, more than 800 third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students enjoyed educational programming during field trips aboard the canal boat. Students learn about Fort Wayne and Indiana history, subjects that meets the state’s academic standards.

The goal of the new fundraising effort is to propel educational programming forward and expand it to offer science lessons for students in fifth grade through high school.

Irene Walters, Friends of the Rivers project chair for “Paddles Aweigh,” talks about the fundraising initiative at the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne April 8. BRIDGETT HERNANDEZ

“Paddles Aweigh” is a community-wide art initiative that encourages creative collaboration between local artists and businesses.

With standard canoe paddles as their canvas, artists are asked to submit designs that reflect Fort Wayne’s traditions, culture and passions.

“Friends of the Rivers is propelling Fort Wayne forward by inviting artists, artisans and creatives of all ages to design unique, one-of-a-kind pieces of art,” project chair Irene Walters said.

Any person or business can sponsor one paddle for $1,000 or three paddles – one for each of Fort Wayne’s rivers – for $2,500. Sponsors may choose from a selection of artists or work with their own.

Walters said Friends of the Rivers hopes to feature more than 100 paddles in the project. So far, “Paddles Aweigh” is halfway to its goal, she said.

Proceeds will fund tours and educational curriculum aboard Sweet Breeze.

“Friends of the Rivers believes that we need to help our young students develop an appreciation for the historical significance and environmental potential of our rivers. We expect that by offering this interactive learning experience, it will provide lifelong memories that will evoke lifelong appreciation and pride in our community. By doing this, we hope that our young people will also grow to become stewards and protectors of our natural and community resources,” Walters said.

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry said that after decades of trying to keep the rivers at bay, initiatives like Sweet Breeze have made the rivers a point of destination.

“With the work of Friends of the Rivers and others, not only are we embracing the fact that they are a natural part of our community, but we can enjoy them as well,” he said.

The paddles will be revealed at an event at Promenade Park to celebrate World Rivers Day, Sept. 29.

After the event, the paddles will be displayed in public spaces such as the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Artlink, Allen County Public Library and the Grand Wayne Center through the end of 2019.

Applications for participation are due no later than July 1. For more information, visit