GRIFFITH — A group that has helped spruce up town residents' yards and make needed home improvements could use a few more hands as it attempts to tackle larger projects.

The Griffith Police Department, Griffith Lutheran Church and South Shore Dance Alliance launched the Griffith Community Initiative in 2015 after receiving a $2,500 grant from the Legacy Foundation.

The project started as a solution to a persistent problem, Operations Cmdr. Matt Moore said. 

"We would get calls about upkeep," he said. "Code enforcement would talk to property owners, try to get them to come into compliance."

While noncompliance remains an issue with some property owners, officers noticed others faced challenges that prevented them from complying, he said. Some were elderly, while others had disabilities that left them unable to do the work themselves.

Volunteers started out with small projects: They trimmed weeds and overgrown trees and painted a garage. They helped a woman who needed a wheelchair ramp. 

The goal was to help those who couldn't help themselves while improving the town's appearance, Moore said.

"It's something near and dear to my heart. That's why I became a police officer," he said. "To be out there with the people, to help the people — it's such a great feeling."

Moore, who has led the initiative, said the need for a larger project eventually came to his attention.

A family was having trouble getting a woman, who uses a wheelchair, in and out of her home. But this project would take more time and money than anything volunteers had tackled before.

When Moore looked at the project, he decided a wheelchair lift would look nicer and cost the same as a ramp.

Moore remembered a businessman who approached code enforcement to offer help, after he had heard about the Griffith Community Initiative.

Roger Aurelio Sr., owner of New Supplies Co. on Main Street, immediately donated to the project the day Moore and Police Chief Greg Mance approached him, Moore said.

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"He's a very giving person," Moore said.

The family also contributed, but Moore knew this project would take skilled labor, so he picked up the phone.

Steve Sammons, of Doug and Steve's Construction in Schererville; Nick Biancardi, of Acorn Fence; and Tom Anderson, of A&E Electric, all agreed to donate labor and materials. John Frantom, of Scooters and More in Valparaiso, gave the group a deal on the lift.

"With Steve, Nick and Tom, I knew that everything was covered," Moore said.

The group came together last year and installed the lift. The family, who did not want to be identified for this story, said the lift has helped tremendously.

Moore has identified other residents in need, but grant funds have been exhausted. Moore said he can ask only so much from those who've already donated, so he's hoping a new group can be assembled to take on more larger projects.

"I've got another family right now that could absolutely use a wheelchair lift," Moore said.

An application project was developed, and a new group could work with police to connect with a family in need, he said.

Moore said he's grateful for the support of the Town Council, which has agreed to waive permit fees for projects and has supported the initiative's mission.

Smaller projects — which require mostly sweat equity — will continue under the Griffith Community Initiative, he said.

Mance said the initiative has been a great project that has allowed officers to interact with residents in a proactive and positive way.

Anyone interested in volunteering should reach out through the Griffith Community Initiative's Facebook page, Moore said.

Contractors and families in need can call the Police Department at 219-924-7503.

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Lake County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Sarah covers crime, federal courts and breaking news for The Times. She joined the paper in 2004 after graduating from Purdue University Calumet.