Legacy Foundation Shines a Light on the Community Builders

Legacy-Foundation-Collage-02-24-15When the Hobart-West Side and Gary-Miller neighborhoods were selected in 2014 to be Neighborhood Spotlight communities, one of the first tasks was to find a community builder dedicated to doing the collective impact work.

The community builders will work with a local steering committee to interview and build relationships with neighborhood residents, businesses, local government and community groups. The feedback gathered from engaged leaders and other community participants will help develop a vision for the neighborhood improvement plan.

Legacy asked the community builders a few questions to get to know each of them a little better.

Christopher Meyers: Community Builder for Hobart

Even though you are new on the job, what is one thing you have learned about this experience so far?
The local leaders, comprised of residents, social organizations, and businesses, are highly interested in being involved with the Neighborhood Spotlight Program. The overall turn out and willingness to participate so far shows the community's desire to bring a comprehensive vision for the area and its future.

Have you always lived in Northwest Indiana? Did you grow up in NWI?
I was born and raised in Chicago. My family moved into Northwest Indiana in 1985. What appealed to you about working as a Community Builder in Hobart? To assist the community and local leaders to coordinate and capture ideas to strengthen the NW section of the city.

What professional and educational experience do you have that you think will be helpful to you in this role?
I believe that my career experience in Planning, Zoning, & Development will greatly aid in my role as Community Builder. I have been charged with the development of local Comprehensive Plans, the updating of municipal code, and leading public facilitation and participation for several large-scale projects.

What do you see as the greatest assets of Hobart?
The local human capital: Hobart's people, social organizations, and businesses. Further, the physical characteristics of the NW Neighborhood Spotlight Target Area including the proximity to Chicago and its markets, interstate highway connectivity, the variety of building types and uses within the target footprint, the amount of open space and natural features available to the community, and the city's overall tax base.

Jessica Renslow: Community Builder for Gary-Miller

What is one of your favorite quotes?
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds...”
-President Theodore Roosevelt
(Of course I would change it to “The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena.” )

Even though you're new on the job, what's one thing you have learned about this experience so far?
Well, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find out about all the activities, clubs, and organizations Miller has to offer. Whether you want to chitchat about books, wax poetic about art, get politically active, or go for a hike, odds are you can find your tribe here. So, there is always something to join and another opportunity to be vested in the community.

Have you always lived in Northwest Indiana? Did you grow up in NWI?
I’m originally from the Miller Beach neighborhood of Gary, but my family ended up moving a lot because of my father’s career. We went out of state for several years. I attended seven schools and graduated from Gavit in Hammond. I got my BA from Ball State and then spent my early 20s bee-bopping around Europe and Asia as an English teacher/ non-for-profit manager. After returning stateside, I moved to Los Angeles where I lived almost nine years working in the film/TV production sector. I just moved back to Miller and am happy to be home!

What appealed to you about working as a Community Builder in the Miller neighborhood of Gary?
I always knew I would move back to Miller. I think leaving Da Region as a kid, seeing other places and understanding how unique NWI is, gave me an interesting perspective. I knew Miller was where I wanted to raise a family, so helping build up the community I have chosen as my permanent residence made perfect sense. Miller has so much potential, it always has, so to be able to harness it and foster the kind of economic growth it deserves, while still sustaining its innate charm, was a mission I had to join.

What do you see as the greatest assets of the Miller neighborhood of Gary?
Miller has always had a great, eclectic community vibe to it. It isn’t prefabricated, or cookie-cutter, this affects everything from the people to the architecture. This diversity is an asset because it requires residents to cooperate and collaborate daily, which lends well to facilitating community building as a ton of the intrapersonal foundation has already been laid. Miller also has a wonderful host of natural resources. Being so close to the dunes, the landscape is extreme and beautiful at the same time.