“Children are the world's most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”
—John F. Kennedy
This sentiment, uttered many years ago, still resonates in Northwest Indiana within organizations that have a mission to help young people succeed. Though each works to fulfill their mission year-round, the holidays are a particularly important time for the children they support.
Early Learning Partnership of Northwest Indiana
Early Learning Partnership of Northwest Indiana (ELPNWI), based in Hammond, recently held a family holiday party at Miller Elementary School where children received gifts as well as books. “We do many book distributions,” notes executive director Kim Smith. “During our 17 years, we’ve given away over 35,000 age-appropriate books.”
Smith says ELPNWI’s goal is to “provide parent education and support so parents can be the first and best teacher of their children.” Programs are open to Lake County families with children from birth to kindergarten entry. Though ELPNWI offers meetings and workshops, services are primarily delivered via home visitation. “We offer support, resources and strategies when 90 percent of the child’s brain growth is happening, which is by age five,” Smith says.
ELPNWI screens for early childhood development, including language, cognitive, social and emotional skills, and emergent literacy. Degreed professional case managers are trained and certified as parent educators.
ELPNWI makes connections with Head Start and On My Way Pre-K, if families can’t afford preschool and connects families with holiday turkey drives and Angel Tree drives. Smith says individuals can help by donating books and volunteering. Monetary donations are welcome, with a year-end campaign featuring a dollar-for-dollar match.
Beth Szamatowicz, director of marketing and public relations and volunteer services at Campagna Academy in Schererville, says Christmas is the one time of year to give their kids homemade baked goods. Volunteers drop off a total of 100 dozen cookies to distribute to 100 residential children and 40 in foster homes. Donations are being accepted through Dec. 20.
A gift wish list of what the kids want and what the organization feels is appropriate is located at Smile.Amazon.com. People can purchase from Amazon Smile for the children and a percentage is also donated to Campagna. “It’s like giving twice,” Szamatowicz says.
Other efforts include Southlake Mall’s Giving Tree, Faith Church’s pajama drive, Girl Scouts’ silly socks collection, Red Key Realty in Crown Point, Wintrust Bank in Dyer board game drives, and Valparaiso University nursing program’s gift wrap, ribbons and bows drive.
“It blows my mind how generous the public is,” Szamatowicz says.
CEO Elena Dwyre says Campagna holds a “Getting Strong and Giving Back” event each year where the children fundraise for an organization of their choice. “The kids see that they can impact the community,” she says.
Dwyre says Campagna Academy’s mission is to restore hope and build dreams. The core residential program has been expanded with in-home programs to support foster care and Campagna’s Northlake Program serves almost 50 youth, ages 10 to 21, with cognitive disabilities. “We are the only certified residential treatment facility and PRTF-certified psychiatric treatment center in Northwest Indiana,” she says. “These youth share the same trauma as the others on campus, but require specialized care.” Families can place their children in the program for care even if it’s not court ordered.
Each month, the facility hosts “Campagna Hour” so the community can tour the campus and meet the kids and staff. In return, they are asked to share Campagna’s story.
Boys & Girls Clubs
A focus on academic success, good character and citizenship, and healthy lifestyles is what makes Boys & Girls Clubs tick. Ryan Smiley, president and CEO of the Porter County organization, says everything they do fits in one of those buckets. “I firmly believe that our mission is the greatest secular mission of any nonprofit in the country, because of what we do for children and families that need us most,” says Smiley. “While we’re available to all children, our sweet spot is the time between school and home.”
Smiley says if there were no Boys & Girls Clubs in Northwest Indiana, 1,800 kids on a daily basis would have no place to go after school. Yearly, more than 10,000 children, ages six to 18, receive tutoring and homework help so assignments are submitted on time and so they advance through grade levels. Members of the program have very high graduation rates, which creates a path for the future after high school to be caring and responsible members of the community.
Alison Martin, Boys & Girls Clubs of Porter County director of resource development, says during the holiday season many people want to make an impact. “One woman buys gifts for each needy child’s entire family, which translates to 60 to 100 people.”
Community businesses donate as well as organizations and churches. “There is an anonymous sponsor who gives $10,000 in gift cards each year for families in need,” Martin says.
Torch and Keystone Clubs, two community service groups within each Boys & Girls Club, allow members to give back to the community. During the holidays, kids carol at senior citizen homes and make holiday crafts to give as gifts to their families.
Megan Henning, Boys & Girls Clubs of Lake County development manager, says that the holidays are often a tough time for their members’ families, with 45 percent being single parent homes that qualify for free or reduced lunch at school. “Help bring a smile to a child’s face this holiday season by donating a new toy or board game to any one of Lake County’s six clubs,” she adds.
Lake County Boys & Girls Clubs’ Torch and Keystone Clubs also give back to the community. “Youth at our Gary Club ran a supply drive for local veterans,” Henning says. “Youth at the Cedar Lake Club are raking leaves for the elderly in their area and going caroling.”