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Family is Everything at FYI

There’s a reason the word “family” is the first word in our nonprofit’s name and that’s because family has always come first for Family & Youth Initiatives.

Operating on the principle of “what you value, you teach,” Executive Director Nikki Stefanow credits the power of FYI’s family atmosphere for keeping the organization not only moving forward, but thriving, during the very challenging days of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“The biggest thing is how much of a family we have become,” she said. “We have been very innovative, and the programs have worked together in bringing that innovation to life. We are completely focused on the good of our mission. Every program said, ‘We can’t just leave them there. We’ve got to keep helping them.’ There is just this passion on our team that has no end.”

The passion for family was never more present than at Monday’s annual staff retreat at Debreceni’s in New Carlisle. This presented an opportunity for FYI’s board of directors and staff to get to know each other better in fun ways. Activities included a Jenga-based game where each person in attendance identified and elaborated on their two most cherished core values from a list of 117 choices (“family” and “faith” were very popular). There was also a drawing activity, plenty of gifts and food, and hours of relaxation time in the beautiful farm setting at Debreceni’s.

“I didn’t expect the passion each person showed in talking about their core values; it was so inspirational to see that,” Stefanow said. “They had to narrow the list down to two, then see how every one of theirs tied into our mission of empowering families and providing hope - that let’s me know that we have the right people here.

“I was overwhelmed with so much gratitude to be part of this amazing team of people who are just pouring out their hearts here,” she continued. “I wanted the day to make them feel special and appreciated for what they have done for the mission. I didn’t want anything out of it for me, but, oh, I got so much. I love each and every one of them. I want to be the best leader for them. They are all just awesome and God-sent people.”

The teamwork aspect on display at the retreat demonstrated FYI’s flexibility and revealed the reason it has remained relevant and impactful during the pandemic.

“What’s been amazing to me is watching all of the program teams jump in and seeing what they can do,” Nikki said. “Not one of them thought, ‘Let’s just close. What else can we do?’ That ‘can-do attitude’ has really impressed me. Not one of them was willing to give up, and that’s important as two of four programs are in the schools. And the Parenting Network is normally personal, face-to-face … then all of a sudden we couldn’t have them physically come in.”

Education over the phone was practiced for the first two months at the Parenting Network, then socially safe lessons and interaction. Real Life … Teen Choices has championed instructional and motivational videos and a strong social media presence this spring and summer. The Mentoring Program has been retooling and planning to expand, thanks to recent grants received. All of this bodes well for FYI’s future.

“As I think about what this looks like going forward, I think we are just going to continue to grow in those areas,” said Nikki. “When we get back to the ‘new normal,’ I think we are just going to explode. That’s because our team is ready, and willing, and more than capable.”

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