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VALPARAISO — There are so many stories to tell in Northwest Indiana, Allison Schuette believes.

She and her partners in the Welcoming Project’s Flight Path initiative are trying to capture as many of them as possible.

The stories of growing up in Gary, of white flight, of changing times and neighborhoods continue to be collected as part of the project, said Schuette, a professor at Valparaiso University.

The group, which began collecting stories in 2015, is ready to take it a step further.

A $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities will allow them to launch those stories on a prototype website beginning this summer.

Project volunteers have been collecting stories of Region residents, especially those who call Gary their hometown.

Schuette said they are continue to record stories and are, in particular, looking for stories about the Hispanic experience in Gary. They are also expanding the project area and are looking to document stories of people who were raised in Merrillville or whose families left Gary during the period of white flight from the city and settled into the town to the south. In particular, they are looking for African-American families growing up in Merrillville in the 1980s and 1990s.

Schuette said the personal experiences of the storytellers will be embedded within the website, pinpointed by their neighborhood. The stories of the Civil Rights movement as well as white flight are also going to be told in what will be an interactive experience which can give Regionites and visitors wanting to know more about NWI’s history a chance to take a virtual tour of the Region.

This month, Schuette said, they are conducting focus groups to determine how user-friendly and attractive the website is to potential users.

The project is being led by Schuette and a team of some two dozen people from Valparaiso as well as universities and organizations across the country.

Once the prototype is completed, they will apply for a third grant from the NEH in 2020 for the completion of the website. Schuette said it could be 2025 before the entire project is completed. As part of the project, Schuette said they are also interested in facilitating conversations about the Region’s history, neighborhoods and changes for various groups.

They also produce a podcast that can be found on any podcast platform by searching Welcome Project at Valparaiso University and have partnered with Lakeshore Public Media, which broadcasts stories on Tuesdays between regular programming.

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.