MERRILLVILLE — Fueled by a sense of purpose, area churches, service organizations and businesses have recently got to work helping their neighbors.
Oh, and throw in lots of donuts and pizza.
About 100 to 150 volunteers cleared brush, installed storm doors and cleaned gutters for Christmas in September, sponsored by Rebuilding Together of South Lake County.
“Safe, dry and warm” are the organization’s goals, said board chairman Mitch Barloga. “We focus on seniors, veterans, single mothers, people with disabilities and people with low incomes.”
Rebuilding Together of South Lake County serves Lowell, Cedar Lake, Crown Point and Merrillville on a rotating basis. The Christmas effort in September of this year focused on Merrillville.
Volunteers painted, repaired and carried out necessary maintenance work for eight homeowners with limited income. The organization received 60 service requests.
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Addressing the volunteers gathered at the Dean and Barbara White Community Center, Barloga said, “It really means a lot to us and to the people we help.
This grassroots effort was founded in 1995 and is led by an all-volunteer board made up of community members. During this period, the group has repaired and modernized nearly 100 properties.
Among the faith communities providing volunteers was CrossPoint Church in Crown Point. Reverend Mike Kakalow, associate pastor, said his group was doing yard work, replacing windows and doors, painting, cleaning gutters, repairing the roof and painting. Church volunteers included members of youth groups.
Connie McNinch, a church staff member and co-captain of the group, said the volunteers were “just blessing the lady, getting her house in order”.
A five-year veteran of Rebuilding Together, McNinch said, “I like to serve.”
Norma Dewes, whose property was featured by CrossPoint, commented: “It’s wonderful. I couldn’t do this by myself.
Dewes’ property spans a quarter of a mile, and friends have said she could never have done the necessary work.
City Councilman Richard Hardaway, D-Ward 2, was another team captain and is another rebuilding veteran, helping nearby communities.
“It’s not about publicity. We’re contributing,” Hardaway said. “I like giving back to the community. We’re helping people, and there’s a need.
The Hardaway crew worked on stove replacements, fence repairs, electrical replacements and ceiling repairs.
The South Lake County group is one of more than 200 affiliates of the national organization which, in 30 years, has modernized more than 100,000 properties.
In some cases, owners have helped volunteers. This included Marybeth Gregor, who along with a neighbor hauled trash in a dumpster.
“It’s great to have my house redone during this time,” Gregor said. “I could never have afforded it.”
Volunteers worked inside and outside Gregor’s property, replacing an old toilet and doors, landscaping, repairing his patio and working on his swimming pool.
Tim Brown, another construction project veteran, said his group’s projects included storm doors, with driveway and bathroom work to be done at a later date.
Brown worked on his first property in 1997, noting, “We’re just helping other people, that’s a big thing. A lot of these people are old and they just couldn’t do it.
Brown implicated his son Bradley. Now a team captain, young Brown started out as a scout. His group worked on fixtures, flooring, and concrete work that came later.
“I just love helping the community,” Bradley Brown said. “It’s a great program to give back as volunteers.”
Since the start of the South Lake branch, Tim Brown has estimated that $350,000 in materials has been spent on community projects.
Roger Hayward, another captain, is also Vice Chairman of the South Lake Board of Directors. His group worked on replacing old soffits and fascias, guttering and removing an old planter.
“This is an opportunity to give back to those who are underserved. They can’t do it and they need help,” Hayward said. “It was that they didn’t have to worry about the challenge; we’ll take care of it.
“We can help these people move on and feel better.”