Thursday, October 29, 2015

An Awesomely Active October

Thanks to the 17 volunteers and 108 community members who came out to the Miller Spotlight Jamboree on October 23, 2015. 

(The community gave our Action Groups feedback on our SMAART Goals)

We had a ton of fun, braved the wind and the rain, plus got useful feedback on our attainable goals.
(Community snow globes and the bounce house were hotspots)

Gary’s Miller Spotlight is a Legacy Foundation initiative modeled after collective impact projects that have worked well on the south side of Chicago and in Indianapolis. Miller and Northwest Hobart are the first two Lake County communities to pilot the Neighborhood Spotlight program, which is a new place-based initiative for reinvesting in Da Region.
(Our Area Context Chairman discusses Goals with one of our community's fathers)

For the past nine months members of the volunteer run-Miller Spotlight project have gathered 4,013 comments about Gary’s very own Miller neighborhood from vested community members. These conversations have helped determine how we as a community plan to take action towards continuing to revitalize our neighborhood. By sourcing our information directly from the public we are hoping to identify which grants/ programs might best suit the needs of our community and all its residents. From our findings, seven themes emerged. 
(Volunteers logged the community feedback & got more interviews for our SWOT study)

Seven action groups were formed to address these themes: 
1.Environment and Ecotourism
2.Safety/ Code Enforcement
3.Education/ Youth Child Programming
4.Property and Blight
5.Area Context
6.Jobs and the Economy
7.Transportation and Infrastructure

(Face painting and crafts added flare)

For the past two months, Miller Spotlight’s 76 action group volunteers have been constructing attainable goals for these seven themes. 
(Kids and adults bonded while getting excited over the projects to come)

These goals will be crafted into our community plan. The notes received from the 108 participants at our Miller Spotlight Jamboree will be worked into our community plan, which will be presented at 2PM at Wirt-Emerson’s Auditorium and implemented in 2016. 
(Thanks to Brown's Inflatables and Tia's Cake in a Cup for helping make the Jamboree awesome!!!)

The first of our 7 action groups to host an early action grant event is our Education/ Youth and Child Programming Action Group. 

Come to the Miller Spotlight Harvest Festival and enjoy a ton of free, family friendly activities and meet your local educators/ youth and child programming organizations. 
See what our community has to offer your family! If you would like to help decide and act upon projects that can profoundly change your community’s future, please attend the Miller Spotlight Harvest Festival this Friday (10/30/15) from 4-7PM on Lake St. (Yes we will have a Thriller Flash Mob too!!!)
Congrats to Griffith and Gary’s Emerson community for being the 2016 awardees of the Neighborhood Spotlight Initiative. 

Gary’s Miller community volunteers look forward to future collaborations with our fellow Neighborhood Spotlight cohorts. 

If you would like more information about Miller Spotlight, or to schedule an interview with Gary-Miller’s community builder, please email Check out and for more info. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Flying through Fall!!!

Fall has been an amazingly packed season for our Miller Spotlight crew so far. Our seven action groups and our steering committee approved our Community Vision in September. This vision was drafted in a community workshop this summer. Volunteers attended the visioning session and dreamt up the ideal version of our neighborhood. Please click here for more details on that event. The vision below has gone through several rounds of notes and we will continue to strive for it and tweak it accordingly, as the community sees fit. This is an ideal we are hoping to attain by 2025. 

Our Community Vision for the ideal Miller in 2025:

Miller is a beautiful, high density, universally designed neighborhood in Gary, Indiana, known as an active arts community and a destination for beach and waterfront recreation.  Miller provides quality education and programs for its youth and a variety of activities for residents of all ages.  Inviting gateways and transit options make Miller accessible to visitors from throughout the region, and Miller’s inclusive community design make it easy for residents and visitors alike to enjoy the area’s activities and natural environment.  A vibrant downtown supports a strong business community and provides quality employment opportunities.  Resident leadership and initiative create a thriving, safe, and inclusive neighborhood with government, philanthropic, and business support enriching those initiatives.  The Miller neighborhood is a vibrant and functional community to live, work, and play in.

From our one-on-one community conversations where our volunteers gathered 4,013 comments, seven themes emerged. We then created seven action groups to address the needs of these themes. Each action group met 3-6+ times between the third week of August and first week of October. Our 76 volunteers met for a total 56 times!!! They constructed attainable SMART goals to address their group’s theme and wrote early action grants to bring attention to their theme as well. For the past two months, Miller Spotlight’s 76 volunteers have been constructing attainable goals for these seven themes. These goals will be crafted into their community plan. The plan will be presented in early November 2015 and implemented in 2016.

If you would like to help decide and act upon projects that can profoundly change your community’s future, please attend the Miller Spotlight Jamboree. The community will have the opportunity to meet the action group volunteers and give notes on their drafted goals. This feedback will be reviewed before the community plan is finalized. So, come join in the fun, tell Miller Spotlight what your thoughts are, and mingle with your neighbors at the jamboree! They will present these goals at the Miller Spotlight Jamboree on Friday, October 23, 2015. You don’t have to be from Miller, or live there to join in the Neighborhood Spotlight process. You just need to care about the revitalization efforts occurring in this community to attend this fun, free family-friendly event on Friday, October 23, 2015 from 4-7:30PM in Marquette Park. Located at 1 North Grand Boulevard Gary, IN 46403, they will be at the picnic area next to the lagoon. Look for a bounce house, basketball hoops and a ton of festive folks. 

Miller Spotlight Themes/ Action Groups:
Transportation and Infrastructure
Property & Blight
Area Context (Engagement and Communication)
Environment and Ecotourism
Education/ Youth and Child Programming
Safety and Code Enforcement
Education and Youth Programming
Economy and Jobs

Meet the fabulous folks chairing our 7 action groups!

Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman

Ken Parr

My name is Ken Parr (Kenneth A. Parr). I am chairing the Transportation and Infrastructure action group. I heard about Miller Spotlight on Facebook. God brought me to the Miller Beach community in 2012.  I was searching for a home in Gary in general, but the home I reside in now became available at exactly the right time and at exactly the right price. I am passionate about the Transportation and Infrastructure Action Group because I prefer to walk or bicycle to my destinations.  I understand that American urban centers are getting away from an automobile culture, so I want to help my community prepare for a more walkable environment.

Property & Blight Co-Chair

Jennifer White

My name is Jennifer White. I am the co-chair for Property and Blight. I heard about this project from the Miller Arts District website/ facebook. I love the beach, but was looking for an affordable place to own a home and still have access to Chicago. I also wanted to start a non-profit to help struggling communities. Gary was the perfect place, with a wealth of salvageable materials, but a unique community. I started a non-profit to salvage building materials, after seeing so much waste during construction projects as an Architect. I also have a passion for rehab and being part of community revitalization. Miller is a wonderful community with many passionate and diverse residents, with a lot of creative energy behind it. 

Property & Blight Co-Chair 

Eric Dean Spruth Ma, AKA Vontiki

My name is Eric Dean Spruth Ma, AKA Vontiki. I’m co-chairing Property and Blight: the ultimate transformations program. I heard about Miller Spotlight from a most amazing women named Jessie. The beach, the people the opportunity to be a part of the Renaissance of Gary, IN brought me here. I see myself as an escape artist of sorts. I am an avid fan and performer of magic, and consider Sacred Transformations my ultimate trick. I feel that the biggest escape is escaping the minds we’re stuck in mentally and spiritually. Be yourself, be proud it's not about escaping Gary, IN. it's about staying and continuing to be a small part of the amazing and undeniable transformations and rebirth occurring here, while all the time respecting what was hear and those who never left and have maintained so very much.

Area Context (Engagement and Communication) Chairman

Simeon Burks

My name is Simeon Burks!  I'm currently co-chairing the Area Context Action Committee. A friend of mine from Church told me about it, and I've always been interested in Gary's community development. I was born here! I really like the weather (I know) and I love the sense of neighborhood that's lacking in a lot of other places. Just a bunch of friendly people. I believe image is very important for any neighborhood- and as an art major, I feel that I could be of use in designing ways to market Miller. 

Environment and Ecotourism Chairwoman

Natalie Johnson

My name is Natalie Johnson and I’m chairing the Environment & Ecotourism Action Group. I heard about this project through the Nextdoor Neighbor App & Legacy Foundation.I moved to Northwest Indiana in 2012 from the St. Louis metropolitan area after landing a job in the region. I knew nothing of Northwest Indiana, nor had I ever heard of Miller. Over the last few years, I experienced a lack of community where I was living in LaPorte County. I was miserable. I didn’t think there would ever be a place that I felt would be “home” in this area. I eventually found my way over to Miller in 2014 because I wanted to live a block from the beach. It was the only place that was affordable and, after comparing it with the other beach communities, it seemed to have this warm, welcoming feeling that I had been trying so hard to find. After renting for a year and falling completely in love with the community, I bought my very first home right here. Miller welcomes its newcomers with open arms. It is the place where I have felt the strongest sense of community in the region, and now it’s the place where I call home.I have worked in the environmental field for the last ten years, embracing the field as more than just a job, but a part of who I am. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than working with others on environmental themes, sharing this passion with others, and feeding off of each other’s enthusiasm. In Miller, we are so fortunate to have such wondrous environmental assets and a community ready to protect and promote their use. It’s exciting to come together and talk about such a huge defining piece of the Miller community.

Education/ Youth and Child Programming Chairwoman

Erica Justine Sipp

My name is Erica Justine Sipp and I’m chairing Education/ Youth and Child Programming Miller Spotlight was introduced to me via my sister. We were running errands for her event planning business and found out about the meetings via the local art gallery located on Lake Street. As far as my connection with the community is concerned, I have been in Northwest Indiana for all of my life. I was born in Munster, Indiana, but lived in the Miller community for all of my life. My parents started off in one of the slab homes that used to be on County Line Road. Shortly after I was born, my parents moved into a home that they built for us as a family. I attended elementary school at Fairhaven Baptist Academy located in Chesterton, Indiana, high school at Andrean High School located in Merrillville, Indiana, and completed my undergraduate at Indiana University Northwest.  During my undergrad years I lived in Merrillville for a little while but moved back home so that I could attend graduate school. I have been here ever since. I guess what really made me stay after high school may have had something to do with not really being able to afford going to the college of my choice and me not really having a plan for college. At that time, I felt that the experience that I had was somewhat constricted and thought that I really would not be able to explore more and gain exposure until I went away to college. Even with these ideals, I did not have any personal career goals. My parents and I decided that it would be best for me to stay local until I knew as college was and still is a huge investment. Having some type of direction can help with things. I would not say that this was a negative thing as being here has allowed me to witness the ups and down that Miller has had as well as Gary overall. Being aware of what the community used to be and seeing the transition that has happened, both ups and downs, has given me an “homegrown” or authentic experience of what Miller really is and how surrounding populations feel about Miller.  The theme of education is something that has been very present in the circles that I participated in. I could not even get away from educational obligations with the jobs that I had growing up. My mother, uncle, and aunt were educators and even though our family members had different occupations, they all were educators themselves. We were always taught that it is important to get an education so that we could better ourselves, have a career, and help to build a life for our families when we start one of our own. Education had a presence in our home and if we were not focused, my parents utilized tools that helped us get back on track. I believe that if we as individuals can provide a system of things similar or better than the educational tools that we were presented with as children, it could be able help to transform what we have now for education into something better. It could possibly lead to children looking at education as a positive thing rather something done out of obligation. I am hoping that this position allows me to bring awareness to all of the different things that the community has to offer for building and developing its youth regarding education and other character building skills.

Safety and Code Enforcement Chairwoman

Carolinda Camisa

My name is Carolinda Camisa and I’m chairing Safety and Code Enforcement. I heard about this project from Nextdoor. I grew up in Gary and have always loved the Miller area for the lake and the natural beauty. I've met many wonderful people and reconnected with old friends since moving here. I like the spirit of the community. Local organizations and volunteers have done some great work to improve the area. I chose Safety and Code Enforcement because people need to live in a safe and well-maintained area. Miller and the rest of Gary have so much potential. I want to contribute to reaching that potential.

Economy and Jobs Chairwoman
Derreka Rollins

My name is Derreka Rollins and I’m chairing the Economy and Jobs Action Group. 
I met Jessie Renslow at Gary Middle College while she was presenting a project and I was interested to learn more. I am a Gary native. Though I resided in Houston, Texas for two years, my desire was to come back to my home town to take part in redevelopment. I believe economy plays a huge part in the social climate of the city of Gary so by taking an initiative to improve this aspect of the city, the social climate has an opportunity to change, families will be able to thrive and survive.

These awesome folks have been leading our 76 volunteers through the decision stage of Miller Spotlight come to the Jamboree on 10/23/15 to see what the goals are so far! For more info please check out our Facebook , or email our Community Builder, Jessie Renslow, via