My New Hometown
Brenda Kolbe works for Elkhart Community Schools as the communications specialist, updating the website, social media and doing some public relations. “My goal is to really let families know that their kids are getting the best education as well as being loved and nurtured,” she says.
In the year that she’s been with ECS, the feedback has been very positive. “We had something like 200 followers on Facebook and we’re around 3,000 now. So in a year it’s grown so much,” she says. “I’m out every day in the schools, taking pictures of neat things our kids are doing that people in the community may not be aware of.”
In late October, fivethirtyeight.com, a national news publication affiliated with ABC and ESPN, did a story on Latino graduation rates in the US and how they are improving nationwide – a story that featured Elkhart schools and was also picked up by Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. “They looked at our graduation rate from 2008 to 2014 and our overall graduation rate went from 64% to 84% - a 20% jump in just six years. That’s phenomenal,” says Kolbe.
She clearly loves her job and her community. But she’s not new to Elkhart. Kolbe was marketing manager at a local manufacturing company for 11 years. So, what makes Brenda a 500 For The Future candidate?
“I’m from Michigan. Walkerville, population 247,” she says of where she grew up - near Ludington in the Manistee National Forest. She went to Grand Valley State and followed her college sweetheart, an engineer in the RV industry, to Elkhart. But the romance ended in divorce. However, she didn’t go back home to her family. She decided to stay where she felt at home.
“I choose to stay here. I love this place,” she says. “This is my new hometown, my community.”
“I live about a mile from downtown, so my friends tease me about my two-mile bubble. How I never have to leave that two-mile bubble,” says Kolbe. “Work is within two miles. I love downtown Elkhart: Iechyd Da, New Paradigm, the Lerner. There are so many things I love in Elkhart – you can travel less than an hour and be at Lake Michigan, in Kalamazoo, South Bend… if you want more, you’re not too far away.”
Kolbe has two girls, Paige and Molley, ages 5 and 3, respectively. “We love the parks. Our Saturday morning tradition is to go to Walker Park, play on the playground and pet dogs,” she says.
“Having a degree in this town creates such an opportunity for people,” says Kolbe. “There are those who think of manufacturing when they think of Elkhart. But there are lots of professional opportunities here that many may not know about. A Bachelor’s Degree in this town has some force behind it.”
She’s confident, positive, and staying in her new hometown.
The Chamber’s 500 Families Initiative and “500 For The Future” highlight our community, aiming to attract and retain professionals to live and work in the Elkhart area, strengthening the strong base of community-minded leaders here - for the next generation.