I have known Paul Schreiner since the early days of ValpoLife.com and have never ceased to be inspired by the amount of labor - whether it be mental or physical - that he puts into all the projects he is working on and by the impact they have on his community of Valparaiso and the communities around us.
Through his work, along with countless others at Project Neighbors, they have started or helped along an incredible array of positive community organizations and facilities, including Hilltop Neighborhood House, HealthLinc, New Vistas High School, Dayspring Women's Center, The Tech project, and WVLP Radio. So when Paul reached out to me early on to help tell the story of Neighbors Place, I knew I had some good news on my hands.
A need can be either a problem or an opportunity, depending on how you look at things. One growing need in Valparaiso is the availability of basic, safe, and affordable housing for women on a limited income. "Needs" or "Opportunities" are abound in every community, but it takes people coming together for a common cause to take action on the issues. The history of Project Neighbors shows the spirit of how a group saw a need, asked for help from a variety of others, and then together made a significant step forward. Neighbors Place went from an idea for how to utilize the old HealthLinc building after HealthLinc moved moved to their new facilities, to creating a place for lower-income single women to have an affordable place to call home in Valpo, to the fruition of the first ladies moving into the facility in early September. All of this happened through an incredible amount of effort and community collaboration.
Recently, I had the blessing to sit down with a group of Valpo men who have volunteered countless hours of their time and talents from Immanuel Lutheran Church in a group that is appropriately named, Impact. Created as a way to help members of the Immanuel community coordinate and collectively share their talents and labor to those in need within their membership, the group has grown to help others like Project Neighbors and Neighbors Place through their service. Jesse Gerdes, Jack Steffen, Bob Albers, Norm Schultheis, and Mike Millikin all sat down with me one morning recently during construction as I asked them to share their story of why they are involved. Though the path of life that got them here is different for each, the humble mission to serve others is absolutely the same among each of them.
Common for all of them is a core belief in service, but also in how much they enjoy serving others. Jack Steffen spoke up right away when asked why he was here. "We all want to stay active, learn new skills, and help others," he told me. "Here we get to learn from good people." Norm Schultheis added, "We all get out of it more than we put into it. Good fellowship is the reward."
The guys obviously enjoy each other's company and fellowship was a consistent theme, as was humor. Mike Millikin remarked, "I got involved because I made a mistake telling them I knew a little bit about electricity." He brought it right back to the essence of the project by adding, "Jesus came to serve us and gave us a pretty good pattern to follow and that is what we do."
Bob Albers is a retired cabinet maker and was a builder in the Navy where he learned carpentry. For many like Jesse Gerdes, who spent his career in IT, and Jack Steffen, who was a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Valparaiso University, they have enjoyed all the on-the-job-training from Paul Schreiner. "He gives you a task, he helps you with anything you don't know and then he leaves you alone," Steffen commented about working for Paul. How does Paul get so many in the community to help, I ask. "He asks," Steffen replied.
The top level of the new Neighbors Place will welcome in their first residents the week of September 9th, and the crews are working hard to complete the 2nd floor units in the coming weeks. Ultimately 18 women will call this place their home and will appreciate the opportunity to have a low-cost, long-term, basic housing option in Valparaiso. Each of the units is equipped with a bathroom, kitchenette, sitting area, and small bedroom, but the greatest amenity that comes with the place is knowing that their community cares. Mike sums up the, "hand-up, not hand-out" mentality that Project Neighbors weaves through their efforts, with nods from the rest of the guys around the table. "This place helps people get back on their feet," he said. "People want to be responsible."
Project Neighbors is actively looking for donations of resources, time, and talents to help complete the rest of the units and are interested in hearing from area organizations and individuals who can help support these efforts. You can find them online at http://projectneighbors.org/ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ProjectNeighbors