• Alfredo Estrada | Lake County Young Democrats

    Lake County Indiana Young DemocratsThe 2016 elections are a year-and-a-half away. To the average citizen, that may seem like a while. To the Lake County Young Democrats, that makes now the ideal time to start getting people involved.

    The organization is aiming to energize young voters in Lake County. Chairman Alfredo Estrada, who has held his position since February, sees getting the youngest generation interested and involved as a top priority.

    Alfredo Estrada Lake County Indiana“We want to let them know there’s people their age who care about politics,” Estrada said. “It’s important for us to take responsibility in the political process, because the state might be moving in a direction that’s not healthy for them or their families.”

    Estrada was mum on potential 2016 candidates, as party bylaws stipulate Lake County Young Democrats must stay out of primaries. However, he offered some insight on what issues could be in play in 2016. For the state of Indiana, he named education and the economy as potentially big talking points.

    “There’s been an assault on Hoosier families through school funding and wages and jobs,” he said.

    On the national level, he described immigration as an issue that keeps becoming more difficult to ignore.

    “It hasn’t really been addressed,” he said. “It’s something that eventually is just going to boil over.”

    Estrada also stated a desire to move away from the concept of voting Democratic simply because Republicans are the alternative.

    “We want to move away from this anti-Republican message," he said. “We want to speak about who we are, what our ideas are. We feel that if voters really look at the issues, they’ll see that they’re more Democratic than they believe.”

    To that end, the focus right now is on reaching out to voters and finding what’s important to them.

    “The plan until this summer is to reach to those from 14 to 35 and to talk to them,” Estrada said. “By 2016, we hope those issues develop into talking points in Lake County. If we can get candidates and governors to come here and talk about those issues, we know we’ve done our job.”

    Lake County Indiana Young Democrats LogoAs part of that outreach, the organization held its first official gathering at Wildrose Brewing in Griffith on May 22. Despite the "young" part of the group’s name, the evening was attended by local residents of all ages, both longtime Democratic Party members and those who’ve only reached voting age in the last election cycle or two.

    Allowing in such a diverse range of people and viewpoints is essential, according to Estrada. It’s through such debate and discussion that the party finds a platform that’s the most beneficial to everyone.

    “We’re the party that debates within ourselves to figure out the answers to difficult questions,” Estrada said.

    While Estrada stresses the importance of voting, he’s quick to point out that fundamental change requires more than just casting a vote every election. It also involves getting the community energized and letting their voice be heard.

    Estrada, who's married with three children and recently earned a law degree from Valparaiso University, understands how life can be busy. However, he emphasized that every little bit of work helps the party and its cause.

    “Everybody’s busy," he said, “but you find time when it’s important to you. If it’s only an hour a month, it’s one more hour than the party had before. Or if you don’t join [the party], it’s just talking to your brothers and sisters, your mom and dad, and those you care about about the issues.”

  • Lake County polling goes to court

    In light of all the candidates jumping into the 2016 Presidential race, let me take the opportunity to urge my fellow residents of Lake County to pay attention to a case currently before the Indiana Supreme Court: State of Indiana v. John Buncich.

    A little background: Senate Enrolled Act 385, passed by the state legislature, requires a study on consolidating Lake County voting precincts that cater to 500 voters or less. The law is ostensibly aimed at making the polling process more efficient.

    The law was struck down by the Lake County Circuit Court for violating the State Constitution, which prohibits passing local or special laws related to elections, among other things. The case went before the state Supreme Court on Thursday, which is set to rule on it.

    The law applies only to Lake County, proponents claim, because it has a high number of such small polling precincts. However, plaintiff John Buncich, Lake County Sheriff and Chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party, argues that the law would make voting more difficult for Lake County residents.

    Buncich is not wrong to be skeptical. The last half-decade or so has seen the rise of voter ID laws in several Republican state legislatures, supposedly to ensure voter integrity, even though the extent of “voter fraud” is beyond minuscule (Indiana passed such a law before the slew of other states followed through). Such laws have disproportionally made voting more difficult for poor and minority voters in those states. And a lot of those same states have also cut down on early voting programs and restricted voting hours.

    Is the law aimed at Lake County a similar attempt by a Republican legislature to place voting obstacles on a strongly Democratic corner of the state? To be fair, Lake County’s turnout in last year’s election was only 27 percent, so maybe it is just about streamlining the process. I’d at least like to think that the Republicans' reasoning is out of practicality, not a partisan move to limit democracy for their benefit.

    But even if they are acting in good faith, I’m still against such polling place consolidation. I believe citizens should be given every opportunity to vote. If that means several precincts that cater to a relatively smaller number of people, so be it. The cost of keeping those polling places running is a small price to pay for democracy.

    However the Court rules in this case, all Lake County Residents planning to vote should pay close attention to their registration status and their assigned polling place. There’s still plenty of time to get everything in order before next year’s primaries and elections.

  • Neighborhood Spotlight | Winners Announced


    And the Winners are...

    Neighborhood Spotlight has several projects lined up for 2015.

    The organization recently announced that two Northwest Indiana communities to be the recipients of generous grants. Gary-Miller and Hobart-West Side will both receive up to $50,000 next year to devote toward their vision of revitalization. Additionally, both communities will receive aid from the Indiana Association for Community Economic Development to help build consensus among community leaders, develop specific strategies for using their grants, and attract businesses to the area by establishing strong relationships with business owners.

    Legacy is also working in conjunction with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on the Knight Cities Challenge. The Knight Foundation provides grants to 26 different cities across the nation, one of which is Gary. But unique to the challenge is the fact that any resident can submit a proposal for the grant. Proposals from anyone will be considered so long as they meet three criteria: Attracting talented people, expanding economic opportunity, and creating a culture of civic engagement.

    “The Knight Foundation is looking for innovative ideas to transform communities,” Kelly Anoe, Director of Grants & Partnerships of the Legacy Foundation, said. “These proposals can be submitted by anybody: universities, government, non-profits, activists, hackers, or just regular citizens.”

    The deadline to submit proposals for Gary is November 14. Finalist will be announced before the year’s end, and the proposal will be chosen and the grant awarded in 2015.

    How it all started [This section previously published]

    Investing in a business means taking a risk for personal reward. When investing in a whole community, opportunity impacts a much greater number of people.


    To the Legacy Foundation, that kind of return on investment is worth taking on Lake County and its residents. In their eyes, rebuilding local communities effectively takes collaboration among the people living in it as well as investments to be made.


    “Legacy Foundation is expanding its grant-making capacity into creating a strong sense of place in communities across Lake County, IN. Our traditional funding approach allows us to make individual grants to single organizations working on a specific mission-related objective. Those Legacy investments have created and will continue to have positive outcomes,” commented Tina Ronger, Interim Vice President of the Legacy Foundation.


    That is where the Neighborhood Spotlight program comes in.


    She continued by adding, “However, our goal with Neighborhood Spotlight is different. Legacy will scale-up and co-invest with a range of public, private and non-profit partners in place-making for transformational results. The before and after images of neighborhoods will speak for themselves and each of us will have played a part in making community change happen.”


    Generating a Plan for the Future


    Neighborhood Spotlight is the foundation’s signature initiative for community building. Under this grassroots approach, investors not only invest in local businesses, but in the whole community and its people.


    Collaboration is fundamental for achieving collective impact. Civic leaders, community members, business owners, residents and development partners set out a plan, and work together every step of the way. Key decisions on project undertakings and the use of funding resources are aligned to the community plan.  Prioritized action steps mutually reinforce fulfilling the various needs within a neighborhood. Investors ultimately invest in the overall community plan, rather than individual businesses, and their return on investment is measured by the successes of implementation.


    From Plan to Action


    Such a plan for collective impact seems like it can easily become tangled and result in all those involved tripping over each other, so to speak, or sit on a shelf.


    However, Neighborhood Spotlight has a solid framework that prevents that from happening.


    First, a combination of formal and informal leaders in concert with engaged residents and investors find a common vision and work out a specific agenda for the group efforts. Community-based organizations serve as the anchor the community change process by facilitating the stakeholders around the common agenda. All projects and programs are meant to mutually reinforce each other, not conflict with one another. Continuous communication among all involved brings a level of transparency and accountability in reaching specific goals and sharing real dollars and in-kind support.


    “Collective impact is another way of saying we are in this together and committing over a long haul. We know that authentic community change will not happen overnight. Building trust and reconnecting people will take time,” said Ronger.


    Neighborhood Spotlight will aid one or two communities each year in seeking information and funding options for such revitalization. But under this model, residents lead the charge. So, in choosing its grantees, Legacy Foundation looks for communities with distressed neighborhoods and clear needs, often with strong capacity for collaborating and community building led by a local non-profit organization.

    Tina had these sentiments regarding the project, “Legacy is creating this unique model and supportive space for people to work together over the next 3-5 years. By doing so, investors can be more certain about the intended outcomes of community plans. Neighborhood Spotlight can be the catalyst for community development in your neighborhood.”


    There are three essential steps for a community to be considered for Neighborhood Spotlight, however. The first is to fill out the Commitment to Change form, on the foundation’s website. The second is to attend the three required training sessions. And the third is to complete the Letter of Interest, which is required by September 1.


    The final training session is June 23rd, 9:00 a.m. – 12 Noon at the Radisson Star Plaza in Merrillville.


    To register and for more information visit their website at:www.LegacyFDN.org

  • Two 911s might not be better than one.

    You’d think that there would be some things out there that are immune to political partisanship. You know, like our emergency services.

    You’d think that, but apparently not.

    In case you haven’t been following, Indiana passed a law stipulating that each county in the state can have no more than two 911 dispatch centers, with the deadline to consolidate their call centers being the first of this year. Lake County missed that deadline, but has been working to establish one main call center in Crown Point, with a backup center in East Chicago.

    Most of the towns in the county signed on to this plan, but Schererville and Cedar Lake have held out every step of the way. Even when the state started withholding millions in funding to try to force their hand, they still won’t go along. Now, even though the Lake County E-911 center will be operational soon, the two towns are still operating their own joint call center.

    It’s hard to find a reason why the two towns are refusing to cooperate. The lone argument against 911 consolidation that might be understandable is the fear that fewer dispatch centers would somehow cause a drop in service or longer response time. But even this contention falls apart when considering one big, simple factor: technology.

    In today’s age, "smart" mobile devices can place one’s exact location. I’ve also spoken before about how police are able to track cellular phones. Well, the upside of that creepy security state stuff is that emergency services can find you easily, and they can coordinate with cops, EMTs, and firehouses across a whole county area instantaneously.

    Years ago when the world was still mostly analog, the argument that consolidation could adversely affect emergency responses might have had some weight, but not so much today. On the contrary, one whole system with everyone working on the same page seems way more practical than two separate, independently operated ones.

    I can’t really think of another reason why to fight consolidation, other than petty politics. If that’s all it is (and to me, it seems that way), Cedar Lake and Schererville should give up this fight and go with the option that’s more efficient and effective for Lake County.