Offering a broad variety of ways to serve, the U.S. Military consists of five active-duty Services and their respective Guard and Reserve units.
Along with those currently serving, Lake County is home to approximately 37,000 veterans of the U.S. Military, according to the Northwest Indiana Veterans Action Council, which just announced a new partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Indiana.
With the sun shining and temperatures soaring above freezing, a crowd of nearly 100 veterans and Habitat supporters gathered outside the Habitat for Humanity model home and administrative offices – just behind the ReStore on Ridge Road next to the Griffith Menards - to learn how the new partners will be “bringing homeownership within reach for America’s veterans.”
Following the posting of colors by West Side High School ROTC members, which was accompanied by Jim Moorstadt of the NWI Veterans Action Council playing the Star Spangled Banner on his saxophone, Habitat for Humanity of NWI’s Executive Director Dan Klein welcomed everyone – especially all the veterans who came out in support of the effort – and Mary Moorstadt also of the NWI Veterans Action Council provided a prayer for veterans.
After explaining how the two nonprofits will partner and share their talents to build Lake County’s first home for a veteran family, Klein introduced Michael Sparaber, Chair of the NWI Veterans Action Council.
“One of our missions is to advocate for housing initiatives in Northwest Indiana,” he said. “We need your help in identifying a partner family to build this house for. Individuals who can apply for this partnership need to be either in active service, be a veteran or a surviving spouse of someone who has fallen.”
Selection criteria include a need for adequate housing, the ability to pay and a willingness to partner. Along with applicable down payment and closing costs, Habitat homes are sold to owners with a zero percent interest rate. Mortgage payments are estimated to be approximately $500.
“The partner family once qualified will attend financial workshops and perform sweat equity hours on their home or another Habitat project. The house is built with volunteer labor so we will be asking many of you to share the talents you have by serving those who have served,” Sparaber added. “Our target is to have this house built by the end of the year.”
He then pointed out how a $1 contribution from every person in Lake County through the new “Build for a Buck” campaign would allow the partners to build 6 homes for veterans in Northwest Indiana.
Next, guest speaker David Gilkeson, who became Habitat for Humanity International’s Director of Veterans Build after retiring from the US Army with 28 years of service in September of 2013, introduced the Northwest Indiana Veterans Build fundraising kickoff event – a breakfast at St. Elijah Serbian Hall in Merrillville on April 11 from 8-9:30 a.m. – with individual tickets available for $20 each and a selection of sponsorship opportunities ranging from preferred seating for a table of eight at $250 up to $5,000.
Gilkeson introduced another veteran, Victor Baker, one of the VFW Commanders for District 1 and the Veterans Affairs Officer for Purdue University Calumet.
“When we came back from Vietnam, this is not the type of reception we received,” he said. “Twenty years later, we feel welcome now… the United States is a unique country, and this effort is unique.”
Klein returned to summarize the partnership’s two fundraising efforts – Build for a Buck and the Kickoff Breakfast and offer another way to contribute.
“I have parts of the house that you an purchase for a veteran,” he said. “For instance you can pay for the foundation, kitchen cabinets or a window. You might know an individual or business that could donate the HVAC system or the plumbing. We know that you or someone you know might have the wherewithal to do something more. So we are asking you to help us get this information out to everyone. We already secured a commitment from two sponsors for the breakfast – thank you to NIPSCO and Standard Bank for their support.”
Kristin Marlow-Kelleman, a core Habitat volunteer who is in charge of the ramp building program, wrapped up the afternoon event by introducing the Wall of Wishes – a movable structure with 4x8 sheets of plywood that people can sign for a donation. Once full, the sheets will be saved and installed on a veteran’s home.
“This is like a card but it never gets thrown away. This is a way of sending wishes that will last a lifetime,” she explained. “This wall (will travel) so that you could host it at your workplace or in your community.”
To learn how you can get involved, contact Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Indiana at (219) 923-7265 or nwihbitat.org.