Over the past 20 years, Unity Foundation of La Porte County has played an important role as a convener and community catalyst – in addition to giving millions of dollars in grants and scholarships.
In collaboration with other key partners, the community foundation has supported project and coalition work in housing and homelessness, the environment, education and literacy, economic and rural development.
President Maggi Spartz said, “We fund many beneficial projects and issues to benefit La Porte County. Community foundations play an essential role in bringing partners together for greater impact on key issues such as homelessness, education and community development. Unity looks forward to providing even more ‘forever’ funds and leadership to strengthen La Porte County.”
Housing and Homelessness
Eleven single family homes were built in La Porte for moderate income families. Because they were energy-efficient, the cost of living in these homes was even more affordable. Unity’s involvement was critical to the success of this project, conceived by then Mayor, Carl Krentz.
For nearly a decade, Unity and the Duneland Health Council have convened the Home Team, made up of social service agencies, government representatives, funders, non-profits, churches, developers, health providers, veterans groups, workforce development agencies and concerned citizens.
This work resulted in Michigan City and La Porte working together to create a comprehensive County-Wide Plan to End Homelessness in 2009. Unity served as the leader, and made the funds go farther by leveraging both cities’ planning dollars. “Without this collaboration, each community would have had to pay significantly more to develop city-only plans.” Spartz noted.
With the Plan to end Homelessness, Michigan City had an edge to earn a $2.8 million Neighborhood Stabilization Grant for the West Side, working closely with Michigan City Housing Development and Horizon Bank. The grant helped demolish condemned homes and build more than 20 new, energy efficient homes, using local organizations and hiring neighborhood residents. The city was the smallest community by far to win this grant in Indiana.
“The Unity Foundation continues to be a critical partner in Michigan City’s effort to end homelessness and to provide housing and services to low income persons,” Community Development Block Grant Program Administrator Judy Pinkston said. “Their expertise and leadership has made a definitive difference in the work to improve the lives of the low-moderate income residents of Michigan City resulting in a 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness and providing a foundation for the Neighborhood Stabilization Grant for the Westside of Michigan City.”
Unity also provided the first grant to start the Interfaith Men’s Overnight Shelter, and funded the Salvation Army’s summer shelter and case management help for the men. The Home Team helped attract Housing Opportunities to locate and provide needed services here, expanding the focus on getting people into permanent housing.
Unity Foundation manages the donations for the Homeward Bound Walk. Homeward Bound is an annual walk to build awareness and raise funds for organizations that prevent or respond to homelessness.
Unity has championed environmental issues, funding well over $1 million in environmental grants for projects and organizational support. The foundation has leveraged grant dollars by working with local government agencies and private funders on critical projects, such as:
- Initiating the 2006 Trail Creek Watershed Planning process, in very close partnership with the City of Michigan City, IDEM and others. The Environmental Improvement Fund was developed to fund important projects.
- Supported the acquisition and development of Red Mill County Park.
- Pursuing the Love Our Lakes – 1010 Pine Lake Avenue project in La Porte. This work will make a lasting impact by keeping two acres of land open to the public and preserving the view of Pine Lake for all. The ultimate goal is to pay for the purchase, get it ready, build a maintenance endowment and ultimately give it to the La Porte Parks for all to enjoy.
Mayor Blair Milo notes: “Our parks are some of our greatest assets and the resources within them, especially our lakes, are such a key piece of our identity as a community. One of the things that sets La Porte apart from so many other communities is that not only do we have these beautiful gems, but we make sure that everybody can access and enjoy them! So many other cities may have water resources, but the opportunity to enjoy them becomes limited to those who own adjacent property. We pride ourselves on our stunning lakes and opportunity for all to enjoy and are thrilled to work with our great partners at the Unity Foundation, NIPSCO, Horizon Bank, Alcoa and many others supporting the Love our Lakes project, to grow that unique access and view for one of our dearest treasures, Pine Lake.”
Education & Literacy
In the areas of education and literacy, Unity Foundation has worked with our neighbors from Porter and Lake Counties to secure $18 million from the Lilly Endowment to focus on education improvement. The successes were numerous, reaching more than 68,000 learners in the first three years.
Spartz adds, “The effect of that huge effort continues to ripple out in good waves. Much planning went into this effort prior to making any investment in programs. This wouldn’t have happened without the faith, hard work and innovation from our board members, educational institutions and non-profits. We continue to inspire educational excellence through our many grant and scholarship programs and leadership roles.”
Unity is also a leader in terms of funding or championing college scholarships. To-date, 50 area students have earned the Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship, which provides full tuition to any Indiana university or college. Unity voluntarily administers this generous program. Over the years, scores of students have benefitted from nearly $1 million in support through other scholarships established by caring people.
Spartz said the foundation was a key member in developing the Literacy Council of La Porte County, which made it possible for literacy providers to collaborate under the umbrella of Healthy Communities of La Porte County. As a result, many grants and donations of books helped to increase literacy levels of children and adults.
Unity also challenged New Prairie Schools to begin and expand on the “Literacy for Life” training they received. Significant results are being achieved, with K – 5 students gaining new skills and heightened enjoyment of reading and writing.
Strengthening the Community
From an economic and rural development angle, five Rural Summits were held over the years to bring together leaders from smaller communities to train and engage them in pursuing improvement projects.
Summit facilitator and Unity Board member Jim Jessup said, “The Unity Foundation has supported our initiatives to build stronger rural communities in La Porte County by offering technical support and grant funds to help them take a strategic look at themselves, to complete projects, and to increase their leadership capacities.”
In a further capacity building role, Unity staff reaches out to professional advisors to help them help their clients find joy in philanthropy. Technical assistance also has been provided to numerous nonprofits, to educate on basic financial planning and the benefits of having a diversified income stream, including permanent endowment funds, as well as to train in specific skills such as grant writing, fundraising, administration, etc.
Several trainings, seminars and facilitations have been provided for all kinds of organizations, such as a Roberts Rules of Order workshop for a city council. Unity also has been closely aligned with Leadership La Porte County for decades to cultivate our leaders.
Overall through the past two decades, Unity has used its knowledge of the community and its organizations to look for ways to bring others together for mutual benefit. These efforts have reduced the duplication of efforts in the county and leveraged our resources for the common good.