Curtis Whittaker Sr., Gary
Occupation: Pastor at Progressive Community Church in Gary’s Emerson neighborhood; also owner of a certified public accounting firm
Where/how he volunteers: Whittaker has been actively involved in FAITH CDC and FAITH Farms. FAITH stands for families anchored in total harmony. FAITH CDC is a group of five area churches collaborating on projects. FAITH Farms started five years ago with three raised beds and has grown today to four hoop houses, three of them measuring 20 feet by 48 feet and the fourth standing 10 feet by 20 feet. Inside are planted such produce as carrots, okra, melons, collard greens, cucumbers, squash, kale and broccoli. Last year the farms produced 10,000 pounds of fresh food. Plans call for an indoor greenhouse and chickens for eggs.
Why he volunteers there: “We’re in the middle of a food desert, and we want to bring fresh food to people in the community,” Whittaker said. “Food and health go together. As we bring fresh, affordable food to the neighborhood, we intend to see a decrease in health-related issues." Whittaker also sees the potential for removing abandoned buildings and converting that into greenspace for farming. There is also a business angle to farming, as Whittaker explained. Ten percent of everything grown is given away; another 20 percent goes to farm volunteers; and the remaining 70 percent can be sold. By making produce affordable, neighbors won’t need to purchase them from stores and can use their money for other needs.
Particular skills used/gained: In addition to learning patience, the pastor said farming has provided a greater sense of agrarian life from a biblical perspective, “to see what Jesus meant about agriculture. Without knowledge of growing, you can get a sense, but you don’t know about growing.” Whittaker is also a strong believer in environmental stewardship, as Progressive Community is the only Gary church with rooftop solar energy panels.
How long has he volunteered there: Whittaker has been a part of Progressive Community Church for 34 of his 46 years. The farming ministry started five years ago.
Any other volunteering, past or present: Chairman of the Lake Area United Way board of directors for two years; board member for Northwest Indiana Forum; member of Baptist Ministers Conference; and Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
Insights gained from volunteering: The pastor noted, “In Northwest Indiana, we have a lot of people who want to do great things. They spend a lot of time talking, but not necessarily just doing it. I’ll meet with folks, but I want to do something memorable. At some point, you gotta do something.” Whittaker added, “People have heard about what we’re doing here. They got inspired. I’m inspired when I see things come to fruition.”
Advice to others who might volunteer: “Find your passion. Be passionate,” Whittaker said. “Don’t just volunteer. Find something you love doing and look for those opportunities to serve.”