Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Northwest Indiana Chapter celebrated the spirit of giving by awarding National Philanthropy Day® honors to local philanthropists at outdoor events in Lake and Porter counties.

Awards were presented to Carol Smith for Outstanding Individual Philanthropy; Suncrest Christian Church for Outstanding Organization; Willow Wilson for Young Philanthropist; and Flora Richardson Foundation for Outstanding Foundation. Each award presentation was filmed, in order to be shared via social media.

Carol Smith was nominated by the Legacy Foundation to receive the award for Outstanding Individual Philanthropy. Smith was one of the founding members of Friends of Marquette Park, which formed in 2016.

When Smith helped form the Friends of Marquette Park, she was nervous about fundraising, but her love of the park outstripped her fears. “I really didn’t like raising money, but our park was slowly falling into disrepair,” she said.

The Friends of Marquette Park have taken on several projects to beautify and protect the infrastructure of the park. Among their recent projects were – creating the statue garden at the park entrance, installing 20 memorial benches, repairing the bridges to the island, and placing trail signage throughout the park.

Smith said she appreciates how the Legacy Foundation, City of Gary, Miller Community Fund, and others have come together to care for the park. For her, it’s a passion project she’ll continue to pursue.

“We love the beach, we love the water, we love our park, and we’re just thrilled to be able to make a difference,” she said.

Suncrest Christian Church was nominated to receive the Outstanding Organization Philanthropy Award by Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Indiana. Church members have been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity for the last eight years building homes, to help low-income families attain home ownership.

Suncrest’s Lead Pastor, Greg Lee, said, “For us, generosity springs out of a desire to make the world a better place.”

Lee believes the best way to better our communities is by investing in organizations that lift people up from difficult circumstances. “We want to see people lifted up throughout our region,” he said.

Willow Wilson was nominated for the Young Philanthropist award by Dunes Learning Center. Willow, 7, and her parents have volunteered at Chellberg Farm for her entire life. Willow decided she wanted to raise avocado plants, and her mother, April Wilson, chose to use Willow’s project to teach her about empathy.

Willow grew the avocado plants and sold them on Facebook to raise funds for two victims of domestic violence. Willow didn’t know what domestic violence was before this project, but is now an advocate for survivors.

“[Willow] is a lover and loves everyone. Some people feel like no one cares, and they are not loved. Willow is one to tell you she loves you and she cares,” Wilson said.

Flora Richardson Foundation was nominated for the Outstanding Foundation Philanthropy award by Dunes Learning Center.

Nearly 20 years ago, Flora Richardson Foundation Board Member and public-school teacher Bill Schaudt was asked to add an educational component to the foundation’s conservation efforts.

Schaudt wanted to find a way for all local children to experience the natural wonders of the dunes. “Whatever you provide for one student, should be available to all students,” he said.

To bring environmental education to all students, Flora Richardson Foundation partnered with Duneland Schools to send every fourth grader in the district to Dunes Learning Center for a two-day, overnight program that provides an intensive environmental education in an outdoor environment. Despite living near the Indiana Dunes National Park, this program is sometimes the student’s first experience at the Dunes.

Flora Richardson Foundation Board President Jeannette Bapst hopes the program challenges students to connect with the natural world around them. “I would hope students gain an appreciation for nature and comfort in the environment,” Bapst said.

The National Philanthropy Day Awards were made possible through sponsorships from: Legacy Foundation, Porter County Community Foundation, Indiana University Northwest, and Ivy Tech Community College.

Short video presentations for each of the honorees are on the AFP Facebook page: