Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Indiana, a Gary-based organization is the local chapter of the philanthropic organization of the same name that operates around the world.
Their efforts are focused on providing affordable housing for needy families. The organization refurbishes old homes and selects sites on which new ones are constructed. The homes are then provided to chosen families on a low, interest-free mortgage.
“Our philosophy is, we’re a hand up, not a handout,” Director of Development and Community Relations Lisa Benko said. “We hold the mortgage and they pay. This doesn’t just provide them with a decent place to live, it gives them a tangible asset.”
Habitat of NWI serves local residents who earn between 30 and 80 percent of the Lake County Median Income. They mainly operate in Gary and Hammond, where they can keep the cost to the homeowner down. They do have other projects peppered about Lake County, however. The organization also operates the ReStore in Gary, which sells donated household items of all kinds.
The economic downturn of the last half-decade coincided with a change of leadership at Habitat of NWI. Upon acquiring the position of Family Services Coordinator, Penny Triezenberg spread the word about the organization’s aim to help area families. The requests came flooding in.
“We’ve gotten a whole lot more applicants since then,” Benko said. “We have more applicants than we can build homes for.”
Habitat made it a priority to help area veterans who are struggling to get by. Joining forces with the Northwest Indiana Veterans Action Council, the organization launched the Veterans Build project at the start of this year.
“There are 37,000 vets in Lake County,” Benko said. “17 percent are living in poverty. So we sought to find a veteran or surviving spouse of a veteran with a family.”
The chosen candidate is a veteran of Desert Storm and Desert Shield who is also the single parent of two teens. Their new home recently broke ground in Merillville.
Veterans Build brought Habitat of NWI a lot of publicity, which meant many members of the community have been willing to help.
“Usually organizations have just one big event every year,” Benko said. “But there’s been a lot of interest in us this year. A lot of organizations put on their own fundraisers, making Veterans Build their target.”
The most recent event raising proceeds for Habitat was the Victory for Veterans Motorcycle Ride held at Wicker Park in Highland on Sept. 28.
Still, Benko stresses that the heart of Habitat for NWI are the volunteers, of which the organization has about 6000 on record. In addition to publicity and word-of-mouth attracting members of the community, recent high schools have made community service a requirement, which leads many students to volunteer.
“We’ve been getting a lot more calls since then,” Benko said.
Most Habitat volunteer work consists of constructing houses or running the ReStore. Through this, Benko says, volunteers not only help others, but also gain valuable skills.
“It helps teach teambuilding,” Benko said. “And you can also learn new sets of skills