I’ve typecast myself as a Disco Diva many times over the 15 years I’ve been writing this column, but in recent years I’ve come to like country music. There’s a song by the group Alabama that is one of my favorites. They sing about angels among us “who come in our darkest hours to show us how to live, teach us how to give and fill us with the light of love.” This is how I feel about the group of people who make up First Contact of Porter County.
Twenty-five years ago, several people got together to help people in need. They became First Contact, a not-for-profit, interdenominational, referral ministry developed to work directly with the township trustees to help keep a roof over heads and keep utilities on in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
First Contact has over 20 volunteer counselors who assess and verify needs and assist with utilities, housing, emergency medicine and food. Coupled with the desire to be good stewards of funds received is a desire to reach beyond the financial and become self-sufficient and hope for a better future. While they do not force God on anyone, they offer a listening ear, encouragement, emotional/spiritual guidance and prayer.
Joanne Maynard was the first executive director and one of the original founders of First Contact for 20 years and passed the reins to Barb Kemler who started as a volunteer in 2005. She then became co-director in 2011 and then on to the executive director spot in 2013. First Contact also employs a part-time case manager and has a volunteer board of directors.
During Barb’s tenure, she opened a new office in Chesterton that reduces travel for Westchester, Pine, Jackson and Liberty township residents who had to travel to the original Valparaiso office (There is also an office inside the Portage Township trustee’s office). Barb started the Warm a Home Project that collects additional donations from participating churches during the winter months. She has increased awareness about what First Contact does throughout Porter County, plus she has secured additional churches to First Contact’s donation base.
Barb is retiring with her husband in May, so she is training the new executive director, Dan Grass. Dan is a retired commercial lender who worked in the field for 40 years. He has three grown children, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. He was born and raised in Washington Township and still lives there. One of Dan’s greatest assets coming into this position is he has been a volunteer board member of First Contact for 23 years. He envisions his role as a strong leader that is the conduit for Christian counseling in the ministry. He will be the leader for this great resource when it turns 25 years old this year and celebrates with a new fundraiser. Check back for details later this year.
This ministry relies on the donations of over 55 partner churches, 14 organizations and foundations, grants and individuals. To assist in their endeavor,s call 219-462-8332 or check out www.firstcontactinc.org.