As a member of the Board of Directors for Lake Area United Way, I’ve seen amazing growth in the organization with fresh ideas cropping up at every corner. For instance, I have enjoyed watching the evolution of the ambitious “Canstruction NWI” project from Lake Area United Way and United Way of Porter County, in collaboration with Congressman Pete Visclosky’s office, now in its second year.
This is an initiative that enables middle school-aged children from Lake and Porter counties to take part in a unique program. In about a month’s time altogether, the kids meet as a team and take their collective vision of a structure, which is made entirely of canned food, from concept to completion. The students work together from Design Camp and the Purdue Calumet CIVS experience (Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation) through Build Day, which took place at Southlake Mall on July 24.
This year’s project brought about a bigger opportunity for both United Ways to engage new sponsors, volunteers and partners -- all of which helped to provide a first-class educational and fun experience for the kids.
Contrary to what many think, collaboration is alive, well and thriving in Northwest Indiana, and the Canstruction project is an excellent example of this. It is surely an innovative avenue to introduce this age group to the idea of working together as a team, while offering them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
By this age they’ve likely been involved in some type of organized team or sport, but nothing like this. During the experience, students gained exposure to the STEM principles in a fun way. They had access to specialized apps and 3-D technology that made them think about structural integrity, visual appearance, and staying within an allotted budget for buying the canned food and building materials, all while staying within the guidelines as set by Canstruction’s national governing body.
They learned about hunger. They learned more than 104,000 residents in Lake and Porter counties are facing hunger every day, and more than a third of those residents are children just like them. They not only learned about it, but did something about it. In total, the students used over 20,000 cans of food to complete their structure. At the end of the competition, when all structures have been dismantled, the canned food will be donated to Northwest Indiana food pantries to help the same residents the students learned about earlier in the competition.
The students had direct access to professionals and role models from several industries and walks of life. They had the opportunity to hear from Congressman Pete Visclosky, who encouraged them to take a deep look at the great Region around them -- to consider attending one of our world class local universities and to make Northwest Indiana their home after college.
They worked closely with staff from both United Ways, who lead by example on how to work not only across county lines, but organizational lines as well. They were coached by professionals and aspiring professionals in the fields of engineering, architecture, construction, energy and finance. Professionals including Ken Turner, of Price Coopers Waterhouse, who returned to coach for a second year and even recruited his son Alec to help. Others were Tim Sanders, director of the Northwest Indiana Engagement Office for Purdue University; Dan Thompson, a mechanical engineer for Sims Engineering; Christian Redar, an engineering intern for Enbridge Energy; and Emily Hendrickson and Courtney Espravnik, interns at BMWC Constructors in Munster and inspiring young women eyeing careers in the construction industry.
The many moving parts, plans and details of this project may even make the best project manager uneasy, but it went off without a hitch. Seeing everyone from Lisa Daugherty and Sharon Kish – respective presidents of Lake and Porter County United Ways – and their staffs, volunteers and sponsors pull together to make this project a large scale success encourages me about the future collaboration and endless possibilities for regional advancement between the current and future leaders in Northwest Indiana.
On a side note, today is the last day to vote for your favorite structure and show your support for these kids who have worked so hard. If you’re at Southlake Mall today, ballots are available next to each structure. If you can’t make it to the mall, visit www.canstructionnwi.org where you can cast your vote from the home page.
Matt Saltanovitz is Director of Economic Development for the NWI Forum & also serves as Board Secretary for Lake Area United Way
(Originally published in The Times of NWI on 8/2/15)
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.