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From the stacks at the Valparaiso Public Library to the animal shelter, volunteers of all ages are making a difference in the community.

A love for animals spurred Giana Gavaller to launch Kids Power Porter County along with her mother, Kim. Kids Power is a community service group that supports the animal shelter through activities and fund-raisers. The organization is for kids of all ages seeking to make an impact at their own level as the group does not require a time commitment.

“We wanted to start Kids Power because we wanted to help the animals at Porter County Animal Shelter and give other kids a chance to help, too,” Giana says.

The group has used the funds its members raise to purchase items for the animals and shelter staff including a lawn mower, power washer, cages, microscope, exercise pens, cleaning supplies, gift cards, a stretcher and kongs. Over the years, Kids Power has raised more than $18,000.

Giana says sprinkling in fun prompts her to volunteer even more. Events such as the group’s talent show add an element of entertainment to the time the kids contribute to the community.

“Volunteering doesn't have to be boring. In Kids Power, we try to have fun while helping the animals. If you come up with fun ways to volunteer, it makes you want to do it more,” she says. “Volunteering for the community makes the community a better place. We made the animal shelter a better place for the animals and sort of for the workers, too.

“For volunteering, someone should volunteer because they want to and because they want to make a difference, not because someone tells them to. It's something you have to do because your heart tells you to.”

For lifelong Valparaiso resident Cheryl Oestreich, there were no doubts where she would give her time upon retirement.

She volunteers with the Friends of the Valparaiso Public Library and serves as the Friends sale room co-coordinator.

“I love books and I have lived in Valpo all of my life. I grew up in this library system so when I retired, it was the first place I thought of to give back some of the good times that I remembered from being a child,” she says.

The United Way of Porter County’s Power of Youth council brings together students from Porter County high schools who seek to serve the community. The teens engage in and promote volunteer opportunities, including the Youth Day of Caring at Taltree Arboretum and Gardens, and support youth-based initiatives through grant funds.

“It’s easy to see how beneficial their yearly grant is, this year distrusting $10,000 to youth self-esteem programs in Porter County. These students also promote the spirit of volunteerism by recruiting hundreds of their peers for a number of opportunities throughout the year,” says Mackenna Schon, director of volunteer engagement at the United Way of Porter County. “The greatest impact this program makes is on the student members. Each year they learn about their community on a higher level, what the needs are, what non-profits are doing to help, and who the leaders are. They learn collaboration, leadership, fund-raising, volunteer recruitment and management, even the grant process.

“By the time these students graduate they have become incredible assets to their community.”

The Power of Youth members’ main fund-raiser is the Valparaiso Half Marathon in the fall.

“Each year, the council plans the event, helps in its execution as course directors, water stop leaders, course times and several other positions throughout the day,” says Denis Ribordy, 18, Power of Youth member. “This year, we purchased supplies needed to provide birthday kits to Hilltop House. The kits included ingredients for a cake, candles, a card, and an aluminum pan to bake the cake in.”

While at Wheeler High School, Ribordy also volunteered at the Special Olympics and other organizations that work with individuals with disabilities, including the I Can Bike camp. Through his participation in Boy Scouts, he planned, organized and completed his Eagle Scout project at Opportunity Enterprises with the assistance of more than 30 Scouts and adults.

Ribordy says volunteering is the “most satisfying hobby to have.”

“I think that by volunteering in general, the community of Northwest Indiana is improved. The goal of Power of Youth is to promote youth self-esteem, and I hope that I have had that impact,” he says. “There is nothing better than interacting with the people you have helped and seeing their gratitude. I think that if everyone volunteered, we would gain a better sense of the needs of the community.

“Volunteering also teaches the importance of giving to teenagers.”

Schon often hears from Power of Youth members how they wish they had started volunteering at a younger age.

“Similarly to playing a sport or learning an instrument, the earlier you develop the love of volunteering the more good you can accomplish and skills you can develop,” she says. “When you start volunteering at young age, it doesn’t become something you try to make time for because it is part of your lifestyle.”


Every year, the United Way Day of Caring unifies volunteers for a one-day blitz of completing tasks for area non-profits. This year’s event is set for Friday Aug. 21.

To sign up or view additional volunteer opportunities, visit

For more information on Kids Power Porter County, visit

For more information on the United Way Power of Youth council, visit