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Spirit Awards winner: Nicky Ali Jackson

Nicky Ali Jackson stands beside donations made at this year’s Mardi Bra, a party at which women donate new bras and feminine hygiene products to benefit a local homeless shelter.

Editor's note: The United Way of Porter County and The Times Media Co. are honoring eight winners of the second annual Spirit Awards. These individuals exemplify the spirit of volunteerism.

Nicky Ali Jackson, Chesterton

Occupation: Coordinator and associate professor of criminal justice, Purdue University Northwest, based at Hammond campus

Where/how she volunteers: Nicky has volunteered or served on the boards of Housing Opportunities, The Caring Place, United Way of Porter County, Duneland Chamber of Commerce and Duneland YMCA. For Housing Opportunities, a facility for the homeless, Nicky has sponsored Mardi Bra, a “party with a purpose” through which women donate new bras, tampons and sanitary napkins for women in need. This year’s program on March 9 drew 300 women. “All women deserve dignity,” Nicky said. “As women, we must continue to 'uplift' each other.”

For United Way, she started a bunco fundraiser in 2017 and has developed a focus group for women. With the Duneland chamber, she created Hatta Girl, a program featuring a panel of women to discuss the many hats they wear in society.

Nicky is most proud of her work, started two years ago, in addressing people wrongly convicted of crimes in Indiana. As she explained, those serving time in Indiana prisons and then exonerated are not provided any services by the state, while those released after having committed crimes are offered services. Often, Nicky said, those exonerated turn to groups such as United Way, The Caring Place and Housing Opportunities for help. For the past two years, Jackson has been working with other centers around the country on service packages offered to those wrongly incarcerated.

Why she volunteers there: “I try to help every nonprofit with everything they need help in and create events to help them gain recognition. I try to help as many as I can,” Nicky said. “I feel I have been very blessed with tools. My kids have been privileged. It’s important to give back to my community. My children see me doing things, and that’s very important. My daughter (Bryn) is very engaged at school. For her, service is second nature.”

Particular skills used/gained: “My goal has been to build strong teams and to get the members of these teams working efficiently to accomplish a successful event,” said Nicky, who engages her Purdue students in all her events. As faculty adviser for PNW’s Criminal Justice Club, she has seen these young people get involved and remain active after their college years.

Insights gained from volunteering: As a professor for 27 years, Nicky has seen “nonprofits all working together. They help each other out. They’re not competitive. They really are sister agencies, which I think is pretty cool.”

Advice to others who might volunteer: “Think about something they’re interested in,” Nicky said. “Reach out to the agency and see how you can be of help. Some agencies need money; others need your time. Some need both.”

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