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MERRILLVILLE — Five individuals and organizations have been selected to have $1,000 contributions made to a charity of their choice in the annual Northern Indiana Public Service Co. Luminary Awards.

The awards have been given out since 2012 and recognize the community improvement efforts in five categories: community leadership, economic development, education, environmental stewardship and public safety/emergency response. The utility company also recognized a group of its own employees for their efforts to raise money to combat autism.

In announcing the various award winners, Dana Berkes, of NIPSCO's Public Affairs Office, said, "These award categories reflect NIPSCO's community support and corporate citizenship focus areas for the communities we serve."

The leadership award went to Vanessa McCloud, president and CEO of the Urban League of Northwest Indiana.

McCloud recalled walking into the Urban League offices on her first day and not being able to get in the door. She thanked NIPSCO for efforts from helping clean up the grounds to providing her with a desk, something she didn't have when she started the job.

Hobart Economic Development Director Denarie Kane received the economic development award for "helping communities become better places for over 30 years in both private and the public sector positions. She has been a project manager for numerous city projects, ranging from lake dredging to road improvements and has successfully secured millions in grant dollars," Berkes said.

Two chapters of Junior Achievement were chosen to receive the education award. Berkes said the award recognizes those who provide opportunities for students of all ages, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The awards were given to Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana and Junior Achievement of Chicago.

The award for environmental stewardship went to The Nature Conservancy of Indiana, which Berkes said has protected more than 20,000 acres of land in northern Indiana since 1959 with the results ranging from improving the health of rivers for drinking water, restoring rare habitats and wetlands and returning bison to the restored prairies on Kankakee Sands.

The final award went to the Multi Agency Academic Cooperative Foundation for its state-of-the-art training facility in Valparaiso. The facility offers combined classroom and hands-on training experience for first responders in the area at no charge.

A group of NIPSCO employees were honored with the Charity of Choice Award for helping raise $137,000 that was given to help support 10 organizations working with autistic children and adults in Indiana.

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