Area zoos, parks, libraries find a friend in nonprofit groups

2013-09-08T00:00:00Z Area zoos, parks, libraries find a friend in nonprofit groupsDeborah Laverty deborah.laverty@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2223 nwitimes.com

Selection of the right name wasn't a stretch when Hobart residents in 2009 formed a group to preserve and improve a city-owned park.

Friends of Robinson Lake president Sandy O'Brien said the name "friends of" was a good fit for her Hobart-based group as well as others with similar purposes.

"We could have called ourselves anything but Friends of Robinson Lake, but friends groups are good in general, sort of like mom and apple pie. It was clear what our organization was all about," O'Brien said.

Throughout the area, other friends of not-for-profit groups have formed to assist the purposes of other parks, zoos and libraries.

The Friends of the Lake Public Library, with meetings held at the central library in Merrillville, was started in 1978,  library marketing manager Jennifer Burnison said.

"They just add so much to the library to make it fun things other than just books," Burnison said.

The group, which has 170 members, raises money for the central library and all the branches, primarily through books sales.

Those sales include books the library is weeding out and books donated.

Funds go to support summer reading programs for both adults and children and to special music programs.

"The Friends are so important to the library," Burnison said.

Not all groups use the "friends of" name but serve the same purpose, folks wanting to help, Porter County Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos said.

The Porter County Parks Foundation has been around for decades to help support operations and programs.

The foundation not only raises money, it can also assist the parks in receiving matching grants, he said.

"Porter County and most parks have foundations," Lenckos said.

The foundation has assisted with a whole host of projects including restoration at Sunset Hill Farm and revitalization of playground equipment.

"Every community has special needs. Sometimes it's best to have a government and sometimes best to have a private group. ... Sometimes you just need to find a champion for the cause," Lenckos said.

Lan-Oak Park District Director John Wilson said a Lansing park found a champion in a group of residents about three to four years ago.

The Schultz Park Neighborhood Group formed to help raise money and do work at Schultz park after a referendum seeking a tax increase for parks failed.

The park group raised $15,000 by holding bake sales and working car cruises. The Lansing parks district matched that amount to purchase new playground equipment, Wilson said.

"They just came in and gave us a check. It was a group that took charge of their neighborhood park. It's a nice cooperation with the park," Wilson said.

One of the oldest friends groups in the area is a nonprofit organization called the Zoo Society which dates back to the mid-1930s, Shawne Sheldon said.

The Zoo Society assists fund raising efforts for the Washington Park Zoo in Michigan City, Sheldon said.

Sheldon serves as a retail manager at the zoo and is also a treasurer for the Zoo Society.

"The group pays for all the animal care. They are always working on fundraisers to get more money. They are friends," Sheldon said.

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