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MERRILLVILLE — It wasn’t the Olympics of bowling, but it was fun. Participants were bowling for a good cause. Plus, there was pizza, pop and cookies.

After just a few years, TradeWinds Services Inc. is coming close to filling Stardust Bowl, where bowlers gathered Monday night for the agency’s annual benefit.

“Every year, we get a little closer,” said Jon Gold, CEO of TradeWinds. “We started three to four years ago with 17 lanes, and today we’re up to 50. We just have 14 more lanes to go.”

Gold described the TradeWinds bowling event as “just a laid-back, fun event, so you can mingle with consumers and staff. This allows our board members time to spend with our consumers. They get to know each other, and they just love it.’

According to Lisa Tatina, director of development and marketing for TradeWinds, the annual benefit drew 50 teams consisting of 265 people, including consumers, sponsors and board members.

Wearing blue T-shirts bearing the slogan “No pin left standing,” participants of varying bowling abilities raised funds for TradeWinds’ residential services. As Gold explained, TradeWinds operates six eight-bed group homes, along with six other apartment complexes and other residential facilities.

Six buildings offer independent living for adults ages 18 and older with special needs and are located in Crown Point, Hobart, Merrillville and St. John. Semi-independent living facilities for special-needs adults are located in Crown Point, Gary, Griffith, Merrillville, Hobart and Lake Station.

Sherry Croustone, of Crown Point, a TradeWinds consumer bowling with the Chicagoland Popcorn team, had just scored another strike when she said she enjoyed “bowling and pizza.”

Dwayne Walker, president/CEO of Chicagoland Popcorn and a new TradeWinds board member, said upon learning of the three-hour fundraiser, “I just had to get involved. It sounded like so much fun.”

Four lanes were filled with consumers from TradeWinds Deaf Services. Speaking through a signer, James and Ardelia Brown, of Merrillville, said they look forward to the evening fundraiser.

“It gives me a chance to get out and it’s exciting,” James Brown said.

“We really enjoy it,” added Ardelia, James’ wife. “We know we’re helping support TradeWinds.”

Beginning in the 1940s as The Lake County Association for Crippled Children, TradeWinds became incorporated in 1967 and today is a full-service agency providing services for special-needs persons, from infants to seniors. Services include summer camp, adult day activities, pre-vocational services, respite for caregivers, deaf assistance and residential services.

Chaz Pacheco, who recently joined TradeWinds as residential group home coordinator, noted, “It’s amazing we can bring the community together and get the consumers out and they can interact with staff and board members. It’s fun for everybody.”

“I just enjoy being with people,” consumer Steve Mitchell said. “I’m a pretty good bowler. I’ve bowled a 200 game.”

After knocking down all the pins, fellow consumer Walter Burke added, “I just love this game.”

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