The United Way of Porter County and The Times Media Co. are honoring eight winners of the second annual Spirit Awards. These individuals exemplify the spirit of of volunteerism.
Spirit Awards winner: Lorrie Woycik
Lorrie Woycik, Valparaiso
Occupation: Retired educator, working with special-needs students
Where/how this person volunteers: The first special education teacher in Valparaiso, Lorrie’s service dates back to 1957, as she taught at the former Vale Day School. The school eventually became part of the local school corporation. She also helped start the Porter County Association for Retarded Children. In the late 1960s, she began coaching Special Olympics and continues doing so, even in her 80s. She also supports Special Olympics by taking the local Polar Plunge at Valparaiso University.
Why she volunteers there: “It makes me feel good,” Lorrie said. “I still feel a need.” One of Lorrie’s Special Olympics parents gave her a sweatshirt with this message: “Kids are my business.” As Lorrie noted, “That’s a fact.” People tend to put steps, as on a ladder, on people. For Lorrie, “Kids are up there; the rest are below.” Her Special Olympians have no prejudices, but “take you at who you are.” She added, “I’ve learned a lot more from them than they’ve learned from me. My goal is to make sure people know that someone with special needs is a blessing.”
Lorrie added, “For me, this is a calling from God. I always felt, if I would have said no, what an awful life I would have had. My heart fell right into it and never left."
Particular skills used/gained: “I’ve definitely learned patience, and I’m willing to listen,” Lorrie said. “I’m also willing to walk parallel with them — not in front or in back of, but with them.” Also, Lorrie does not like negatives, nor does she want her coaches to be negative. For her, it’s all about “I can do it.” She believes “if we were more positive, we would be a happier country.”
How long has she volunteered there: Lorrie has been coaching Special Olympics since 1969. She started coaching seven children, and now her athletes fill two buses. She has also coached 3-on-3 basketball.
Any other volunteering, past or present: Lorrie is involved with a special-needs ministry at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Valparaiso. The church puts on a service twice a month for special-needs children and also sponsors social activities, including parties and Christmas caroling. A former Valparaiso School Board member, she is a member of the Valparaiso Kiwanis.
Insights gained from volunteering: “Intelligence does not equate with caring,” Lorrie said. “When you bend the rules, you are a more loving, kinder person. Money does not equal success. What equals success is when one of my Special Olympians says, 'Miss Lorrie, look what I did.'”
Advice to others who might volunteer: “They need to have a real passion to want to do that, whether it’s working in a hospital or working with little children,” Lorrie said. “If you don’t have that passion, you need to find something else.”
Spirit Awards winner: Nicky Ali Jackson
Editor's note: The United Way of Porter County and The Times Media Co. are honoring eight winners of the second annual Spirit Awards. These individuals exemplify the spirit of volunteerism.
Nicky Ali Jackson, Chesterton
Occupation: Coordinator and associate professor of criminal justice, Purdue University Northwest, based at Hammond campus
Where/how she volunteers: Nicky has volunteered or served on the boards of Housing Opportunities, The Caring Place, United Way of Porter County, Duneland Chamber of Commerce and Duneland YMCA. For Housing Opportunities, a facility for the homeless, Nicky has sponsored Mardi Bra, a “party with a purpose” through which women donate new bras, tampons and sanitary napkins for women in need. This year’s program on March 9 drew 300 women. “All women deserve dignity,” Nicky said. “As women, we must continue to 'uplift' each other.”
For United Way, she started a bunco fundraiser in 2017 and has developed a focus group for women. With the Duneland chamber, she created Hatta Girl, a program featuring a panel of women to discuss the many hats they wear in society.
Nicky is most proud of her work, started two years ago, in addressing people wrongly convicted of crimes in Indiana. As she explained, those serving time in Indiana prisons and then exonerated are not provided any services by the state, while those released after having committed crimes are offered services. Often, Nicky said, those exonerated turn to groups such as United Way, The Caring Place and Housing Opportunities for help. For the past two years, Jackson has been working with other centers around the country on service packages offered to those wrongly incarcerated.
Why she volunteers there: “I try to help every nonprofit with everything they need help in and create events to help them gain recognition. I try to help as many as I can,” Nicky said. “I feel I have been very blessed with tools. My kids have been privileged. It’s important to give back to my community. My children see me doing things, and that’s very important. My daughter (Bryn) is very engaged at school. For her, service is second nature.”
Particular skills used/gained: “My goal has been to build strong teams and to get the members of these teams working efficiently to accomplish a successful event,” said Nicky, who engages her Purdue students in all her events. As faculty adviser for PNW’s Criminal Justice Club, she has seen these young people get involved and remain active after their college years.
Insights gained from volunteering: As a professor for 27 years, Nicky has seen “nonprofits all working together. They help each other out. They’re not competitive. They really are sister agencies, which I think is pretty cool.”
Advice to others who might volunteer: “Think about something they’re interested in,” Nicky said. “Reach out to the agency and see how you can be of help. Some agencies need money; others need your time. Some need both.”
Spirit Awards winner: Joanna Smith
Editor's note: The United Way of Porter County and The Times Media Co. are honoring eight winners of the second annual Spirit Awards. These individuals exemplify the spirit of of volunteerism.
Joanna Smith, Hammond
Occupation: Retired after 10 years as stadium control operations for the Milwaukee Brewers professional baseball team at Milwaukee’s County Stadium and Miller Park
Where/how she volunteers: Smith volunteers at Secrets Loving Care Adult Day Service in Munster. Her official title is transporter for clients, but she also serves as security, companion, personal hygiene caregiver and comedian, bringing joy to others. She has also been a volunteer through Retired Seniors Volunteer Program.
Why she volunteers there: For Smith, volunteering is a family legacy. She traces this tradition back several generations, citing in particular the influence of her late mother, Ollie V. Lyons. When Smith was young, her brother was blinded unexpectedly. Working 13 jobs to support her 16 children, Lyons taught Smith and her siblings to care for their brother. Instead of splintering the family, the incident became the family’s strength.
“My mother loved her children and she helped build our house. I remember how I saw my mother care for people through the heart,” Smith said. “She did it with love. There were no color lines. This is what I love to do every day — I do it with love.”
Volunteering at Secrets with her sister Cora, a facility owned by their niece, Ollie Sherrod, Smith said the “legacy of loving care continues.” Going back to her great-great-grandmother, Smith said, “Loving, sharing, and caring — that’s what they did.”
Particular skills used/gained: “I love to laugh,” Smith said. “I love being able to physically share with others things I can do. Someday I’m going to need help, and I hope someone will be around to help me.” She serves others using this approach: “Stay calm, strong and confident.”
How long has she volunteered there: Smith has volunteered at Secrets for eight years, but, as she noted, “I always had time to volunteer.”
Any other volunteering, past or present: In addition to volunteering for RSVP for five years, Smith is a volunteer advocate for senior and incapacitated adults. She was also recently awarded a certificate from the Indiana Department of Health for completing 105 hours for the nurse aide training program.
Insights gained from volunteering: As a sign on the wall at Secrets states, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” Working with people at various stages in their lives, Smith realizes the need for flexibility. “When behaviors and personalities change, you have to improvise,” Smith said. “You have to be on the ball, hands-on, and I am.”
Advice to others who might volunteer: “Do you genuinely love yourself and love people?” Smith asked. “If you don’t have the confidence to help others, you can’t volunteer. You have to be sharp, clear and know that in this life I want to be around and I’m going to love life.” Also, Smith counsels, if you truly want to volunteer, don’t mention money.
Spirit Awards winner: Ginger Brockwehl
Ginger Brockwehl, Valparaiso
Occupation: Retired from customer financial services
Where/how she volunteers: For seven years, Brockwehl has volunteered with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program through United Way of Porter County, now serving as an assistance site supervisor for the past four years. As a supervisor, she is responsible for coordinating efforts of volunteer tax preparers, including research questions and contact with the Internal Revenue Service and the Indiana Department of Revenue to clarify specific tax issues and to resolve conflicts. Having completed yearly certifications, she continues to assist with tax preparations, especially during peak times when needed. She ensures that tax returns prepared by volunteers are finished accurately and completely. She is also a State Health Insurance Assistance Program volunteer supervisor with Porter County Aging & Community Services. She answers questions about Medicare, including coverage, enrollment, eligibility and claims. She also provides information about Medicare health plans and which plans are available where individuals live.
Why she volunteers there: Brockwehl had been doing taxes for her family for years. Also, the retiree noted, “I want to keep my brain moving.” She is inspired by “wanting to stay busy and still contribute in a number of ways. I enjoy the camaraderie with the volunteers.”
Particular skills used/gained: “A lot of people skills, because you’re dealing with people,” Brockwehl said. “Also, problem-solving skills. People are people, and they have their personalities. Some people are scared of the Internal Revenue Service, and they’re very personal with their information.” Brockwehl and other volunteers will ask clients a few intake questions to begin the process, with the rest of the information coming from documentation clients provide. VITA volunteers work in cubicles and can hear what other clients and preparers are saying. If a preparer hears something to which he/she can respond, the preparer will offer advice to the other client. Also, VITA volunteers check each other’s work to ensure accuracy.
Any other volunteering, past or present: Assists with gardening and other duties at Gabis Arboretum at Purdue University Northwest in Valparaiso.
Insights gained from volunteering: “You often get more than you give,” Brockwehl said. Working with SHIP, she recalled an occasion in which a client had lost state assistance that she needed to afford Medicare. Brockwehl was able to help the woman resolve the issue and regain the needed income.
Advice to others who might volunteer: “Pick something you love to do or something you’d like to learn how to do,” Brockwehl said. “If you don’t feel good about it, don’t stick with it. It’s like a job. If you don’t like it, it’s probably good to go elsewhere.”
Spirit Awards winner: Brooke Scheurich
Brooke Scheurich, Valparaiso
Occupation: Full-time Valparaiso University law student; part-time law intern with the Marshall County Prosecutor’s Office
Where/how she volunteers: Scheurich is a court-appointed special advocate for Porter County. A CASA is trained to advocate for the best interests of children who come into the court system as a result of abuse or neglect. While attorneys are appointed to represent parents, the CASA is appointed to speak up solely on behalf of the child.
Why she volunteers there: Scheurich had wanted to be a CASA ever since college, but she had to wait until she reached the required minimum age of 21. During her undergraduate years, she was involved with Purdue University’s Treatment and Research Clinic, which works with children suffering from abuse or cognitive issues. As a psychology major, she said, “I really enjoyed it.” Scheurich feels “passionate” about youth work. “I really like working with children and children with conflicts in their life, and helping them:”
Particular skills used/gained: These include people skills, problem solving, patience and sometimes a really thick skin. “Kids are scared, and they don’t open up,” Scheurich said. “You need to get into a comfortable rapport with the child.”
How long has she volunteered there: Scheurich has been with CASA since February 2017.
Any other volunteering, past or present: Through Valparaiso University, Scheurich had been a judge for Teen Court in Portage. In high school, as part of psychology class, she worked with special-needs children.
Insights gained from volunteering: “I’ve learned a lot,” Scheurich said. “I always knew there were children who needed a voice. I did not know how crucial it is (to have someone as their voice).”
Scheurich has listened to children when no one else would, driving more than two hours to be with them. She stays in constant contact with foster parents, teachers and therapists involved in the case. She does this while balancing law school and work.
Scheurich once received a call that a child had been taken to an emergency room. She drove to the medical center and stayed with the youth for eight hours, comforting and advocating for the child. Finally home at 1:30 a.m., Scheurich said she was “extremely overwhelmed” by what had happened, adding, “I was very glad I was a CASA for him. It makes you think, he had someone to advocate for him.”
Advice to others who might volunteer: “Look at the whole picture,” Scheurich said. “Certain things, you have to search below the surface. Some things are really deep-rooted and you have to uncover them.”
Spirit Awards winner: John A. Beebe Sr.
John A. Beebe Sr., Highland
Occupation: Retired from Boilermakers Local 374, Hammond; also formerly employed at Raytheon Engineers and Construction
Where/how this person volunteers: Beebe serves on the allocations committee for Lake Area United Way. He has also been actively involved in disaster relief, starting with the Highland flooding in 1991. Later, when flooding hit Munster and other parts of the Ridge area, he used his construction background with home cleanups. Involved with Lakeshore Area Regional Recovery of Indiana, or LARRI, Beebe took charge of cleaning mud from homes, removing drywall, rugs and other items submerged in floodwaters. He eventually coordinated efforts by church volunteers, contractors and building trades, “working a heckuva lot more than 40 hours a week.” LARRI has since disbanded; a new group, Community Organization Active in Disasters, was formed. As vice chair and past chair of COAD, Beebe was asked to join the state COAD and later the national COAD.
Why this person volunteers there: About 20 years ago, Beebe received an award from the AFL-CIO and was asked to serve on Lake Area United Way’s allocations committee. Beebe began visiting LAUW agencies, he recalled, and “just kept on.” He noted, “You enjoy helping people when they need to be helped. You get a feel of the community.”
Particular skills used/gained: “I’ve learned to be open-minded and a lot more giving,” Beebe said, citing mentoring to adults and youth.
How long has this person volunteered there: Beebe has served with Lake Area United Way for nearly 20 years. He’s been involved in disaster relief for 10 years.
Any other volunteering, past or present: Beebe has been active in Boy Scouting for 66 years. He started as a Cub Scout in 1952 and earned the Eagle Scout rank. He attributes his community service background to his scouting days, especially a food drive in which Scouts in uniform delivered food to needy families. “That was my inspiration for giving back to the community,” he said. “We were inspired and we saw the need to give back.” Other volunteering includes the Selective Service Board, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and Vietnam Veterans Association.
Insights gained from volunteering: Beebe cited insights gained from people’s reactions to disasters and everyday life. Among his favorite moments is the National Boy Scout Jamboree, where more than 50,000 young people gather. He appreciates his capacity to mentor young people, some of whom otherwise may not have a positive adult influence. In helping the needy or those recovering from disasters, Beebe believes it’s important to talk to people, especially those dealing with trauma, who need someone to listen to them talk about their problems or particular life situations.
Advice to others who might volunteer: “It’s a great way to give back to the community,” Beebe said, noting the expression on Boy Scouts he has helped earn the Eagle Scout designation. “I feel like the richest guy in the world.”
Spirit Awards winner: Joseph Baker
Joseph Baker, Valparaiso
Occupation: Retired electrical engineer
Where/how this person volunteers: Baker began volunteering as an electronics instructor at Porter County Career and Tech Center in Valparaiso. Since then, he has also taken on the responsibility of directing electronics students as they wire a 3,200-square-foot former Grand Trunk rail depot into the Cosmetology Education Center, located adjacent to the career center serving Porter County and Hobart students. Working with blueprints from the 1912 building, Baker’s students are converting the train station into a learning center, installing the entire electrical system. The goal is for the depot conversion to be completed by August.
Why this person volunteers there: “I know so many educated journeymen who don’t want to pass skills on to the next generation. I do the opposite," Baker said. "If I can share my educational experience, hey, that’s what it’s all about.” Working with young people, Baker encourages them to remain drug-free and to understand what employers expect in the work environment.
Particular skills used/gained: Baker said he uses much of what he learned in high school. Growing up in Buffalo, New York, at a time when energy was cheap and jobs were plentiful, Joseph worked in electronics, as did his father and grandfather. Joseph went one step further, earning a degree in electrical engineering. He worked 10 years for McGill Manufacturing Co. in Valparaiso, then another 27 years at Weil-McLain, a foundry in Michigan City. While volunteering at the career-tech center, Baker earned a substitute-teaching license.
How long has this person volunteered there: Baker has volunteered with Porter County Career and Tech Center for seven years.
Any other volunteer work: A member of the Kiwanis Club, Baker was the first inductee into the Porter County Career and Tech Center’s Volunteer Hall of Fame. Another Tech Center project for Baker was the installation of a solar energy system on the rooftop of the main building. The center is now not only using the energy but also selling some of it. He’s also involved with the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum in North Judson.
Insights from volunteering: “There’s such a wide variety of talents and desires,” Joseph said. “There’s also a vast uncertainty” due to young people nervous about their future. A blue-collar type of guy who does not work from a textbook, Joseph said, “I teach hands-on. I show the students how to do things to meet codes. I leave the books to regular teachers.” Looking at his students’ work around the former train depot, Joseph noted, “I try not to do too much. I want them to do it, and do it correctly. If I do it, they don’t learn.”
Advice to others who might volunteer: “Do it. It is very rewarding,” Baker said, noting that two of his current high school students have already been hired by a local contractor. “It gives me a sense of accomplishment to see these kids” learn and grow, he said.