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CHESTERTON — One advocates for tobacco and gun safety awareness. Another walks for cancer awareness. One is a longtime historian and 4-H leader. Another teaches troubled youth.

These people and others improve and strengthen their communities. In earning the 2019 Spirit Awards, they “validate that volunteerism is alive and well in our community,” said Randy Zromkoski, 2018 United Way of Porter County campaign co-chairman.

From 57 nominees for volunteer service, United Way of Porter County and The Times Media Co. presented Spirit Awards to seven individuals Thursday at Duneland Falls Banquet & Meeting Center.

Honoree Rolando Chilian, cited for his service to The Salvation Army, noted, “It’s totally worth it. You meet so many great people and you help so many people.”

Kaye Frataccia, who reads to children at Hilltop Neighborhood House in Valparaiso, encourages would-be volunteers to “find your passion. … “Everyone can and should do something to help your community.”

Anthony Gutierrez is planning his third walk from Indianapolis to Washington, D.C. to promote cancer awareness. The experience has taught Gutierrez to “never take for granted an opportunity to volunteer in the community. I’ve met some amazing people and I consider them family members.”

A retired educator, Sarah Miller became the first member of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society and has been a 4-H leader for 60 years. Service starts, she said, with putting others before yourself.

The youngest Spirit Award winner, Abigail Naumann, 16, is a junior at Lake Station Edison High School. Having lost a relative to tobacco-related problems and a friend to gun violence, Naumann now advocates for tobacco awareness and promotes gun safety.

“It’s about passion and engaging people,” said Naumann, who’s learned three things through her involvement. “You have to be helpful. No matter what you’re doing, always keep others in mind. And always be humble.”

Brenda Bocek has been a volunteer tax preparer and RSVP volunteer for several years. “It’s about giving back to the community,” she said. “I’m grateful to be part of this community and I like doing what I believe in.”

A retired Hammond teacher, Jack Schlesinger today volunteers at Lake County Juvenile Detention Center in Crown Point, teaching physical education and writing.

“I couldn’t quit even if I tried,” said Schlesinger, noting how troubled children, despite being stigmatized, are just like any other youth, given a chance.

“There’s very little difference between them and other kids,” Schlesinger said. “They need to hear how talented they are.”

Special recognition went to the three Cordero children of East Chicago: Saul, 10; Rachel; 8, and Sael, 4. They started a Dr. Seuss book drive this year for preschool and kindergarten classes at Carrie Gosch Elementary School in East Chicago. That initial drive netted 300 books.

“I’m very proud of them,” Liza Cordero, the children’s mother, said. “They want to continue this next year and double the amount of books.”

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