One woman wants to open a new hair salon in Gary.
A group of business people want to bring a joint GED and heavy machine-operating class to the job-poor city.
And a pastor of a church that's just found a new home wants to help out any way she can.
They all came to pitch their ideas to the mayor of Gary.
Since she was elected earlier this year, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson has taken a few hours every Thursday to meet with residents, each getting 15 minutes of the mayor's time to talk about anything they want.
Some, like an “unofficial electrician” who said his employer violated a handshake agreement, wanted advice and -- if possible -- help from Freeman-Wilson, a Harvard-educated attorney.
Others wanted to share their ideas and business proposals to get Gary out of the economic decay that has plagued it for decades.
“There were a lot of great ideas,” Freeman-Wilson said. “There was an exchange of information and of value,” she said of a recent afternoon's sessions.
Pastor Ida Boyd-King, who met with the mayor to ask where her downtown congregation could best volunteer, said the meetings help people like her try to improve the once-thriving city.
“There is a lot of negative talk about the city of Gary, but I want to show the people that there are some positive things that go on here in the city,” Boyd-King said.
Raschelle Daniels is polished and poised with perfectly coiffed hair. A stylist for 30 years, she wants to open a hair salon, not only as a business, but also to be an uplifting part of the community.
“I want to educate the young girls on how -- women of all ages and all colors -- on how to love themselves. First and foremost to love God, then to love themselves,” Daniels said. “I want to bring something different to the community.”
Funding, however, wasn't coming.
“It's just hard with no opportunities and doors being closed in my face,” Daniels said.
Daniels met with the mayor to discuss any potential funding, opportunities or other breaks the city might offer a fledgling, locally owned business.
The cash-strapped city doesn't have as many resources as officials would like to help new businesses -- Freeman-Wilson never misled Daniels on that. But she did introduce the stylist to Eric Reaves of the city's Economic Development Department to discuss the opportunities there are, including an Indiana University group that could help polish Daniels' business plan to make it more attractive to investors.
“It doesn't matter how large the business, how small the business, Mr. Reaves has a great handle on the resources that are available,” Freeman-Wilson said.
Daniels first heard about the chance to meet with the mayor through her church.
“When I heard about it, this was an opportunity I had to be in on,” she said.
The wrecking crew
Another entrepreneur pitching an idea was Willie Riley of Bullmatic Recovery LLC and Spirit Wrecking and Excavation. He and his partners wanted to bring a joint GED and heavy equipment-operating program to Gary -- four weeks of GED, four weeks of heavy-equipment training. Merrillville-based Bullmatic Recovery has no connection to Griffith-based Bulkmatic Transport Co.
Riley said they had contacts with an Illinois-based Teamsters union that could potentially hire out of the program.
“There is a possibility that we could give jobs to our community's youth,” Riley said.
The city couldn't donate the space, but Freeman-Wilson listed several vacant spaces in town she knew of, including the former Beckman Middle School, and gave the names of the owners to contact.
“She's given us great insight,” Riley said after the meeting.
Much of this meeting was about connecting the businesspeople with the proper folks, getting them the names of the site owners and of the city officials to talk to about demolition contracts for run-down buildings.
The city would like to tear down more of the estimated 3,000 abandoned buildings. Someday, it hopes to have the money to do so.
“We are certainly doing some demolition, certainly not as much as we want or as the city needs,” Freeman-Wilson said.
Pastor Ida Boyd-King of the new Grace Center Outreach Ministries for Christ in downtown Gary didn't meet with the mayor to ask for help, but to offer it.
“What is it that we can do more to help the city?” Boyd-King asked the mayor at the start of their 15-minute session.
The city of Gary is in an economic crisis and can't support many services. One benefit of the 15-minute meetings is the ability to connect people who want to help with places they can help, the mayor said.
Grace Center, which just found a permanent home at 852 Adams St. after five years of being run from Boyd-King's home, is now in a position to help.
Boyd-King wanted to talk about her church's new community choir and hopes for a Bible school and tutoring sessions.
Freeman-Wilson had ideas for the fledgling church, from the flock adopting a park to the choir working with the parks department on programs to having Boyd-King reach out to a nearby apartment complex to see what their needs are.
“We're ready to work,” Boyd-King told the mayor once her 15 minutes were up.