Leaving It Better in northern Indiana

LaJuan's Story
Leaving Things Better

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On Screen: LaJuan Clemons

Voiceover, LaJuan Clemons: This was supposed to be a soup kitchen. Because my grandmother worked at a soup kitchen on Thursdays at the church. And so, I wanted a soup kitchen because I wanted to serve food. But… I bought round tables instead of long tables. And when I put the round tables out, it looked kind of… classy!

It's $6 for a meal, but if you can't afford it, just pay what you can.

My wife is... she does the heavy cooking. She's the chief executive cook. My daughter Mariah is the hostess, maintenance, you name it. The children... all of the children... they’re the, the staff, in a sense. Their smiles is what gives people this... joy. I see it, they come in and they, when they see the children, they perk up. 

Gary has a stigma about it. What I see is a landscape. And now we can redraw. We can paint a portrait of what we want Gary to look like. In the Bible it says, “Can these dry bones live again?” Brick by brick, we can build... anything we want to. And it don’t cost a lot. So if you have a loved one at home that needs something, we have someone that’s willing to go out there.

The first ingredient with anything is love. You gotta first love the place that you’re in, before we do anything.

So our mission is to show that. But I see a place where people can come together and enjoy a meal. When you come here, weights just fall off your shoulder because there’s love... in the place. That’s what we’re all about.

LaJuan Clemons is #LeavingItBetter by feeding his community and meeting them where they’re at. Check out his story.

Dale's Story
Leaving Things Better

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On Screen: Dale Cooper, Michigan City

Voiceover, Dale Cooper: If you think about it, a lot of children, especially in the inner city, they don’t get to see food grow. Uh, you ask them where French fries come from. They're going to tell you, you go through a drive through and you order them. I started a program called “Growing up Green.” We got Master Gardeners from our area to go in and talk to the kids and explain to them what was going to go on with growing and it taught them how to water the plants, and then the kids got to see the basil growing and then they got to a watch as it was put into their school lunches. So, it was pretty cool! I actually named it “Growing up Green” because it’s about... the cycle of life, in my opinion. Watching plants grow, watching children grow — that's the connection for me. 

I wake up every morning and I think about, “What can I do to make it better?” That’s just what I want to do. Creating something is so important to me. And leaving something for everybody else. Something that’s going to outlast me.

That's one of the reasons that I love fundraising — so every child can have art in their lives. I know TV is fine, games are fine... but to be able to create something yourself is just totally different. And I want every child to be able to experience that. That’s all my job is, is creating with friends. Whether I know you or not, we’re going to become friends, if we’re talking. That’s what I love to do. It's never too late to start. Get out there and do it. Every day that you wake up, that's another opportunity to get out and help somebody in your community.

Dale Cooper is #LeavingItBetter by showing local kids how to grow nutritious food - and how to discover their inner artist. See what inspires her.

Jerrod's Story
Leaving Things Better

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On Screen: Leaving It Better.

Voiceover, Jerrod Tobias, local artist: 

I was born in Fort Wayne and it’s just been a really great and affordable place to be an artist and raise a family and do it all within reason.

We have a daughter and two boys. They have been more of a catalyst for me than anything because I’m responsible for keeping this world spinning so they can just live in it. 

We are just one tiny piece of this magical tapestry that we’re lucky to be a part of. My challenge is how do I make artwork that speaks to people in a way that uplifts them – that they want to be a part of that.

The difference between public art – mural paining – and traditional gallery work is that the gallery system caters to a minority of the community. So, public work, kind of breaks down those barriers and makes it accessible to the entire community. So people who might not engaged with an art scene are then presented with an opportunity to have an experience without any of the economic barriers or educational barriers. This is something that’s just supposed to be a reflection of the community and it is an offering to the community.

I’m putting the best work I can do out there, and I’m trying my hardest to make it inspire people and challenge people -- and if I can do that, that’s like the most rewarding experience.

Jerrod Tobias is #LeavingItBetter by looking at a building wall and seeing a blank canvas. See what inspires him.

Jon's Story
Leaving Things Better

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On Screen: Leaving It Better.

Voiceover, Jon Groth, Director of Career and Technical Education, Porter County Schools: I follow the philosophy of Christa McAuliffe, "I touch the future, I teach." And that's what I think makes us all feel good about what we're doing. At one time, this was an alternative school program where you sent kids that weren't successful in other schooling so you sent them to vocational school. But since then, we've become kind of an elite school where kids find it hard to get into our programs because we have full enrollment. The initiative for our solar project was 10 years ago when the state cut our education budget by $300 million. We had one solar panel in our electronics lab that was being used as a demonstration. I thought, "That's good. Let's put that up on the roof and let's operate a light so that it's very tangible, it's not just theoretical." And then we thought, "Well we'll throw a few more solar panels on the roof and we'll start operating some of the lights in our hallways." If you walk down our hallway today, half of those lights are operated by solar panels on the roof and a couple of wind generators that we built also. We have a video camera that's focused on that wind generator that the kids built because they want to see how it functions. And when they log into our web cam, they do it during storms to make sure that wind generator is working the way it's supposed to be. They do that to solve these problems, they want it to work. My teachers, too, have a passion for this subject. Whether it's repairing automobiles, building parts for machines, or doing electronic work, the kids learn that and they develop a passion and expertise for it. For me, it's reaching a challenge or goal I set for myself. I do translate that back into what I do for a living with my students. I really force them to set goals, and I really think that's important for all of us.

Jon Groth is #LeavingItBetter by inspiring the next generation to embrace renewable energy - and to build it themselves.

See how we're Leaving Things Better

Our plan, called Your Energy, Your Future, is a balanced, gradual and orderly transition to retire nearly all coal-fired generating units by 2023 — and all of them by 2028 — and to begin replacing them with new lower-cost, cleaner energy sources, including wind and solar.

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