SCHERERVILLE | “What’s our goal?”
“Help our neighbors!”
Wearing a blue and white jersey from the U.S. Steel Gary Works Hockey Guys team, Al Spajer encouraged more than 100 volunteers from all over Northwest Indiana to shout out that slogan throughout Friday’s kickoff breakfast for the Lake Area United Way’s 2013-2014 campaign at Campagna Academy’s gymnasium.
Co-chairman of the LAUW community campaign with John Kennedy of Highland-based American Structurepoint, the Valparaiso resident and director of community affairs at USS Gary Works got the crowd’s attention by slamming a hockey stick on the Schererville gym floor to signal the beginning of the United Way’s Day of Caring.
The Day of Caring signals the beginning of the campaign with a celebration and demonstration of volunteerism throughout the communities the LAUW serves.
This year’s goal is to engage 1,000 new donors and volunteers to join the LAUW’s efforts.
“We are one big team and we’re counting on everyone to make a difference today,” said Spajer who also served as the cheerleader/keynote speaker for the event.
Some 440 volunteers from 39 companies mobilized across Lake and Porter counties on Friday to help nonprofit organizations with 32 projects. Each project represented $34,000 in “man and woman power,” he said.
Sponsors for the LAUW’s Day of Caring included Strack & Van Til, BP, The Times Media Co., NIPSCO, Strongbow Inn of Valparaiso, Radio Station Z-107 and Steiner Homes.
Jeremy Miller, regional vice president for Centier Bank and chairman of the LAUW board of directors, said the Day of Caring is an opportunity to give back to the community.
“Everybody gets a chance to help someone in need. It’s out of the norm of your job,” White said. “There are so many different companies represented here, so many different walks of life, but it’s about giving to others.”
Some volunteers and organizations were newcomers to the effort, while others have been part of the effort for a number of years.
This was the fifth year in a row that Campagna Academy hosted the kickoff breakfast and put together a team of volunteers, said CEO Elena Dwyre.
Elizabeth Wilkens, of Chicago, was one of nearly 20 employees of Hammond-based Cargill to volunteer.
“Our facility encourages us to get involved. United Way is the foundation we support,” said Wilkens, a first-time Day of Caring volunteer.
The Cargill crew headed to The Arc of Northwest Indiana Highland facility to rebuild and paint a shed after the breakfast.
Kim Hunt of East Chicago’s We Care From the Heart organization led a group of volunteers to clean and paint the Pennsylvania Recreational Center in East Chicago.
“We have an office there and we want to beautify the center,” Hunt said.
Other projects throughout the day also included the Habitat for Humanity building in Valparaiso where more than 75 NIPSCO employees volunteered; planting gardens at the Center for Possibilities in Hobart that works with autistic clients and at St. Anthony Hospice in Crown Point and the anchor project Pack-a-Palooza at the Radisson that drew more than 180 volunteers to pack 50,000 meals in three hours to give to the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana.