Thanks to major funding from Legacy foundation via the Lake County Community Fund and NIPSCO, a 12-year supporter of NI’s programs, NI installed 10 of these microparks throughout Highland’s neighborhoods.

On September 14th NI held its second “Please, Have A Seat!” unveiling to welcome the project to Highland. Held at the home of Barbara Iler of 9244 Spring Street, attendees included Mary Luptak, Executive Director of the Highland Chamber of Commerce, Michelle Anderson, First Financial Bank, Harry Vande Velde III, President and CEO of Legacy Foundation, and other bench recipients. Mrs. Iler was the first to claim one of the Highland benches when she attended a presentation made to the Highland Leadership Council on May 19, 2011. She volunteered to be the “guinea pig” and break the ice on introducing it to Highland.

The Town of Highland’s newsletter, The Gazebo Express, did a story on Mrs. Iler’s bench, where she voiced her continuing support for the program and said that she loves her bench.

“I have a neighbor who walks her dog and always stops to sit on the bench,” she said. “I sit there in the evenings and visit with my neighbors. I have had several friends tell me they think it’s neat—and I always agree with them. A lady from Illinois even stopped and said she wanted one. I told her to call Neighborhoods Inc.”

Robert Widiger, a bench recipient on Kennedy, loves the bench for practical purposes. He wanted to have somewhere for his daughter to sit to wait for the school bus in the morning. Not only does she sit there, all the children in the neighborhood wait there for the bus.

Another longtime Highland homeowner, Henry Jacobi of Clough Street, had a more sentimental reason for getting the bench—his wife of nearly 70 years had recently passed away and he had the bench installed in her memory.

There are ten benches scattered throughout Highland with a waiting list for other interested homeowners.



At a 2004 holiday party, a new partnership began to form between NI and the Highland Redevelopment Commission. Interested in how NI successfully ran 12 neighborhood contests in the past 3 years with over 220 households participating, NI was invited to make a presentation to the Commission and Town Council on March 7, 2005.

Highland resident Keith Magiera enjoys
seeing his family and neighbors use his bench.

In June the Commission and Town Council officially approved a pilot Best House on the Block Contest® and the promotion of the Healthy Neighborhoods Loan Program. Both programs fit within Highland’s master plan for upgrading its neighborhoods.

The area selected was a 1,000-home area bounded by LaPorte Avenue (south), Liable Road (east), Little Calumet River (north) and Norfolk Southern railroad tracks (west). Twenty residents entered the contest.

The implementation of the NI Best House on the Block Contest® proved to be a success. Seventeen of the twenty entrants completed their projects. Judging for the top five finishers took place the first week of October.

The winners were announced at an awards ceremony held on October 27 at the St. James Church Hall. Sixty people attended, including entrants and their families, Highland town officials and representatives from the City of East Chicago and Town of Dyer Redevelopment Commissions. Prizes ranging from $1,000 for first place to $200 for fifth place, as well as certificates and participation awards were handed out by Commissioner Rex Burton.

Highland invested $17,000 in this project and netted over $123,500 in improvements to entrants’ homes. Post-project surveys indicate that the “ripple effect” that occurred in Hammond and Calumet City after their respective BHOTBC® contests has also occurred in Highland. Thirty-three other neighbors did improvements during or after the Highland contest. Half of the entrants surveyed also stated they plan to make more improvements to their homes in the future.



Due to the success of 2005’s contest, the Highland Redevelopment Commission tapped NI to conduct this home improvement competition again the following year in a different area of the town which covered 2,000 homes, thanks to an anonymous donation which allowed the Redevelopment Commission to double to original contest boundaries.

Over the six-month period between March and October, 46 homeowners entered and completed their projects, adding over $355,000 of improvements. Of note were the 12 households that entered the contest on the 2700 block of Clough Avenue, due to the perseverance of Block Captain Rich Garza. Mr. Garza convinced many to enter and coordinated a volunteer effort with the Suburban Bible church to make significant improvements to a widow’s home.

On October 19, 2006, participants gathered at the Wicker Park Social Center for the awards ceremony honoring their hard work. Packed with over 110 persons including entrants, their guests, NI board directors, Town of Highland councilors and elected officials, all attending enjoyed refreshments and fellowship prior to the awards presentation. Three contestants won door prizes donated by the following local businesses: Highland Jewelers, Langel’s Pizzeria, Les Brothers Pancake House, National City Bank, The Blue Room Café and the Downtown Highland Deli. Popa Heating and Cooling made a financial contribution for the awards ceremony and use of the Social Center was donated by Senator Frank Mrvan and North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan.



For the third consecutive year, Highland’s Redevelopment Commission hired NI to conduct the BHOTBC® in the Wicker Park Estates neighborhood. Even working with a much smaller area than last year, the entrants made significant improvements to their homes, adding over $44,000 to their properties.

Those participants were honored at an awards ceremony at the Highland Town Hall in front of the Redevelopment Commission.