Hannah’s Hope Bowls with a Purpose

Story originally published on 03/19/2017 on nwindianalife.com

Sunday, March 19 was a memorable day for Hannah’s Hope as they held their fifth annual Shamrock Shootout Bowling Tournament at the Inman’s Fun and Party Center in Valparaiso. Families and friends were all invited to a day full of friendly competition while supporting a great cause.

“Hannah’s Hope is a non-for-profit that benefits kids with special needs, yet a lot of our events aren’t geared towards kids,” Mike Martinez, executive director of Hannah’s Hope, said. “This is the one event where kids of all abilities [and] families of all abilities can come and bowl. There’s a tournament side and a family side. I love the fact that we have so many families and kids show up. Our little niche is kids with special needs so the tournament side doesn’t mind seeing that there’s a bunch of families here with kids. It’s relatively inexpensive [and] it’s a great way for everyone to connect.”

The Shamrock Shootout Tournament is one of the many fundraisers that Hannah’s Hope’s has to support their cause. The goal that started this non-for-profit organization is what has kept sponsors excited about their loyal involvement with Hannah’s Hope.

“I’ve been involved with Hannah’s Hope since the beginning. Mike and I have been very close since we were ten; we’re all in our late thirties so we go back a long time,” Joe Hall, long time family friend and sponsor, said. “The goal for this event is to make it a family fun event. We want to make sure all of our families are included as much as we can. Also, we want to be able to contribute to helping Hannah help others. By our events, we’re collecting money and sponsorships and donations and we’re using that money to help Hannah do what Mike and Mary [Martinez] set out to do years ago. Everything that we do to help Mike and Mary and to contribute to Hannah’s Hope, is very near and dear to our hearts. Being able to contribute to that, that means the world to all of us.”

Hannah’s Hope also has a new project in the works. Recently, they have started to raise money for a park specifically for special needs children.

“Now they’re trying to build the park, a special needs park. Most of the money that they have been raising the last few fundraisers goes directly to the special needs park,” Cindy Mastey, friend and attendee, said.

The Shamrock Shootout Tournament has become a favorite to many, and Mastey still remains in awe at everything that Hannah’s Hope does.

“This [event] actually has become very popular over the years; they’ve actually sold out so it’s an awesome thing what they do. They don’t take any of [the money] for themselves, everything goes straight to help children in need. It’s awesome,” Mastey said.

Lake Central Art Students Sweep the Floor in 2017

Story originally published on 04/03/2017 on nwindianalife.com.

20 Lake Central High School Advanced Art students entered in an art contest entitled “Your Mental Health Matters.” The top three prizes went to LCHS students: Cordelia Weatherby (9), Marija Ivic (12) and Lauren Gronek (12). The participants were to base their art work off a Ted Talk video entitled “To This Day,” by Shane Koyczan.

“The Mental Health Association was doing a contest and it was about Mental Health. They invited us to watch this Ted Talk and it was about a guy who was bullied [and] how you have to have the mindset to get out of it. It had a hopeful message to it,” Gronek said.

Gronek submitted a photograph that included three of her friends. She was inspired by a quote in the Ted Talk video and that bloomed her idea for her project.

“I took three of my friends and painted on them with face paint. I painted flowers on their faces and shoulders. I [chose] the quote “Beauty blooms within” [and] one of those words [were painted] on each of their faces. I had to think of [this] for a while. There was a little quote in the Ted Talk talking about a mom. She was bullied when she was younger because she had a birthmark on her face, but her son saw what was inside of her. If you want to fight depression from bullying, you need to know who you are within and that’s what truly important. I wanted to show that through the flowers. [They] were supposed to symbolize what’s within like the good parts that are flowing out of you,” Gronek said.

Ivic used her own personal feelings for her project, which made it more relevant to her life.

“[For my piece,] I did a girl with a tear. It represents how she feels. I was thinking about me and when I moved here. The words are sad and depressed and that’s how I felt when I moved here. I searched something online and then I saw a similar drawing and I just changed it. It’s not about the money that I won but it’s about [how] I won second place in Indiana and it just means so much to me,” Ivic said.

Trying to find a way to put her feelings in words, Weatherby submitted a unique piece that earned her first place. This was a piece that she will always cherish.

“My piece described anxiety and depression. The piece itself was [about] a person. It was a women, and then it was a man, and there’s a water scheme going on. It’s kind of hard to explain unless you look at it. Ging through those issues myself, [this was] the best way I could describe it to anyone who hadn’t gone through [it]. It was through the representation of [like] drowning and being chained down in certain situations. It definitely took me a lot of time and I am very proud of it. It might be the work that I am most proud of,” Weatherby said.

These students will have their work on display at the Indianapolis State House during the month of May. All 20 pieces will be exhibited at Mental Health America of Indiana and the Systems of Care Conference in Indianapolis during the month of June.

Fifth Graders Tackle the U.S Constitution

Story originally published on 05.02.2017 on nwindianalife.com.

Mrs. Meagan Bruni’s advanced fifth grade class is preparing for the ‘We The People’ competition coming up in May. The students did a project where they got to demonstrate their knowledge on the U.S. Constitution.

“Our unit is on different parts of the Constitution. Our [section] has a lot to do with like freedom of expression and religion. It’s good to know about the Constitution and its functions,” Claire Alexander (5) said.

The students will participate in two competitions, one in Gary on May 5th and one in Indianapolis in May 19th. Students will get to compete against other schools in the region, as well as present their project to judges.

“There’s going to be judges and they’re going to ask us follow up questions. We’re going to have to answer them and be an expert on our unit,” Madison Walczak (5) said.

Preparation in this project has helped the students delve deeper into the purpose of the U.S. Constitution.

“[This project is important because] you can learn a lot about the Constitution, about politics and how the government works. It’s good to participate in your government, ” Walczak said.

Mrs. Bruni hopes to start to get more students informed in the government and politics, at an earlier age.

“There’s so many people who aren’t involved in government. Especially in fifth grade, they see so much on T.V [and] on the internet, I think starting kids out at a younger age, even at 10 and 11 years old, is very powerful for them. I just think it’s a great experience for fifth graders,” Mrs. Bruni said.

Austin Weinstein Has a Positive Outlook on a Negative Experience

Story originally published on Feb. 6, 2017 on nwindianalife.com


Summer break is an unforgettable time for many teenagers. Sharon Austin-Weinstein (7), however, had a summer experience different from most people her age.

“Over the summer I was with my friend and I jumped into her pool. I hit the ground [and] I broke my leg. I had to be in a cast for six months. When I first started walking, I had to have crutches just to help me since I didn’t walk for six months. That took me around two or three months to finally get back but then I had to do physical therapy. Now I am pretty much back to normal,” Austin-Weinstein said.

Unfortunately, there were some things in her day-to-day life that had to be altered. She also had to approach practicing for sports, like running and basketball, in a different way.

“I couldn’t go out because my wheelchair would be too much work [and] for school, [and] I couldn’t always walk around in case I fell down. I was afraid when I broke my leg, people would go away from me but nothing really changed. I’m [also] on the travel team when I’m not on the school [basket]ball team. I had a thing called an air cast which was just something that went over my leg. I would stand up and practice shooting free throws and something that I could do on one leg, so I never really like stopped playing. [But] the first time I ran it was not pretty so I kept working to build up my muscle mass and it just came natural to me to start running again,” Austin-Weinstein said.

Even after almost a year in recovery, Austin Weinstein still managed to keep a positive outlook on things.

“I feel good about myself for just getting through it and working up to where I am now. [What kept me motivated was] knowing it’s only temporary and I’ll get back to the things I am used to doing. It’s not a permanent thing,” Austin-Weinstein said.

Area Students Get Dancing with the Centralettes

Story originally published on Feb. 1, 2017 on nwindianalife.com

The Lake Central Centralettes hosted their annual dance clinic on Jan. 29. While still making time for laughs and smiles, the clinic gave the younger girls a chance to be a Centralette for a day.

“The Centralettes have always been tremendous ambassadors of goodwill for LCHS. This goodwill exists not only because of our achievements both locally and nationally, but because selflessness and mentoring are as important today as they were 20 years ago. 2017 marks the 22nd year we have hosted this clinic for our community. Many of our Centralettes are former Junior Centralettes. They understand their role in mentoring young dancers who may someday stand in their proverbial dance shoes. It is because of this mutual benefit, the connection we have with our community continues to flow both ways,” Kevin Mathis, Dance Director, said.

This clinic provides benefits not only for interested Centralettes, but current Centralettes as well.

“The purpose of our clinic is to make dance accessible in a safe and friendly environment. It introduces the community to our team while allowing our dancers the opportunity to reconnect with the community of a personal level. It reminds our dancers why they choose dance as their sport,” Mathis said.

There were three age groups at the clinic: Preschool/Kindergarten-3rd grade, 4th-6th grade and 7th-8th grade. The younger girls were able to show off their hard work during the Parent Show at the end of their session.

“The kids were so excited to show their parents and vice versa. I think the kids really picked up the dance well, so we impressed a lot of people,” Maisie Westerfield (9) said.

There were a few challenges getting the girls to break out of their shells, but at the end of the session, the smiles on their faces proved that the hard work paid off.

“It was difficult getting them to be quiet and listen since they are little [and] they love to laugh and talk to us and the other girls. My favorite part about today was bringing the shy ones out of their shells and seeing them have fun and also hearing how they wanted to become dancers like us. They really are the future of the Centralettes,” Hannah Hopkins (11) said.

Purdue Northwest Presents Kids Day Sponsored by McDonalds

Story  originally published on Jan. 28, 2017 on nwindianalife.com
Purdue University Northwest invited the community for a family-fun afternoon at its fifth annual Kids Day, sponsored by McDonald’s. Before the women’s and men’s basketball games, activities and carnival games were set up for the attending children, like face painting and coloring areas, as well as a surprise visit from Ronald McDonald.

“We’ve been doing this for five years now. It’s just to engage the community and the little ones and it’s supposed to be a lot of fun. My favorite part is getting to see the smiles on the faces of the little ones. I know they’re excited about wearing the black and gold and wearing the little t-shirts with Leo the Lion on it. It’s just all about fun,” Athletic Director Rick Costello said.

The gymnasium was adorned with balloons and was filled with friendly-chatter, laughter, and the dribbling of the basketballs. This was also a special event for the women’s team, as this was their Senior Day.

“It’s our Senior Day and we’re going to honor three senior players that have been awesome representatives of the university, so it’s a special day for us. We try to get exposure with all the young kids, families and Northwest Indiana. Hopefully, they’ll come out and support athletics here and realize that Purdue Northwest is a family-friendly university and we are really proud of what we have to offer and we need to get the message out,” Coach Tom Megyesi said.

The size of the crowd also excited one first-time PNW athlete.

Dance team member Renn Arvanitis said, “This is my first year at Purdue Northwest and I’ve been on the dance team all season. I love that there’s a big crowd at this game. Usually, our crowds aren’t this big so I feel like there’s a different atmosphere with all the extra people here. It’s going to help the team have a better game.”

Whether it is to bond over sports or just spend an afternoon with friends and family, Purdue Northwest Kids Day had the attendees covered.

“I’m a Girl Scout leader so I was looking for more events to do for the girls and I looked into this actually on Purdue’s website. It’s a great outing with the kids and to show support for the team,” said mother, Milica Barron.

I’ll Still Feel You Here Until the Moment I’m Gone

Story originally published on Nov. 23, 2016 on nwindianalife.com

On the night of Nov. 13, the Castle Marching Knights Band suffered a tragedy. On the way home from Bands of America Grand National finals, Castle’s singer and flute soloist, Sophie Rinehart, passed away in a car accident along with her father and grandmother.

“It’s very tragic. This was Castle’s first year making it into finals, and instead of getting last place in finals, they got tenth, so they moved up. She did get a good experience before she passed, but it’s still awful,” Nikolas Rivera (11) said.

This accident drew the attention of many people, even the attention of singer Sara Bareilles who’s song “Gravity” was featured in Castle’s show. After the accident, hashtags like #singforsophie and #weareallcastle trended around the band community. Many even wore blue, part of their marching band uniform colors, to show their support.

“I personally think this is a good idea to show support because the band community is a very close one. When we lose one of our own, we all mourn together. I also know how close of a community Newburgh [Ind.] is. My grandma has been telling me about how the entire mood of the community has changed. For such an event to happen to such a young, talented performer is horrible,” Jacob Bailey (10) said.

The Lake Central Tribe of Pride was one of the bands who showed support for Rinehart and her family. At their annual potluck, Jacob Bailey (10) organized something special for Castle.

“Lake Central is going to be making donations towards the Rinehart family. We are also writing letters of support to the Castle band family. We plan to hopefully deliver a picture of our band [wearing blue] down there as well. I want to show Castle and the whole town of Newburgh [that] we are standing with them,” Bailey said.

Bailey plans on delivering these messages, donations and the picture to either the Director or Assistant Director of Castle. With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, it’s important to remember to not take things for granted, and to honor the memories and people who they have touched.

“Sometimes it’s reassuring to know you’re not alone in a terrible situation like this. When people in this activity are able to come together and show their support and love, it’s meaningful, and I think it’s worth it. It just proves how we should all be thankful for who we have and never take anyone for granted and just cherish the people you have,” Hayley West (11) said.

Lake Central High School to host Ghouls at School

Story originally published on Oct. 25, 2016 on nwindianalife.com

On Wed. Oct. 26, Lake Central High School will be holding their first annual event, “Ghouls at the School,” available for all students 8th grade and under. Doors open at 5 p.m and features a dance, costume contest, and a trick-or-treating event.

The trick-or-treating portion of the night will start at Door A and then continue down the hallway. Along the way, there will be a photo Halloween backdrop for parents to take pictures, outside of the library. They will continue down Hallway B and enter the gym, where there will be face painting, games, a DJ, Kona Ice, a costume contest and more.

“It is a first-year event and we are hoping for 800-1000 kids to attend. We like the idea of having the high school volunteers interact and engage with young students in a fun way. It’s a fun event that brings the students and high school community together,” Brynn Denton, Guidance Counselor, said.

Dollars for Scholars is the group responsible for this event; preparation for Ghouls at the School started in the summer. Dollars for Scholars President, Katrina Lozanoski, along with Guidance Counselors Brynn Denton and Ashley Kline, worked hard to get this event together.

“We had to find people to donate candy and different companies to have a booth. We also had to plan different games and activities for the kids,” Lozanoski said.

Aside from giving the kids a good time, Ghouls at the School serves two other purposes: to raise money for scholarships for LC students, and to show the community the new and improved Lake Central High School.

“We are always looking for news ways to raise money for scholarships for LC students. Now that we have this beautiful building, we want to be able to invite younger students and parents here to see their future school,” Brynn Denton (Guidance Counselor) said.

Meet Kahler Middle School’s Meg Alessia

Story originally published on Oct.23, 2016 on nwindianalife.com

Throughout high school and college, Kahler Middle School Special Education teacher Meg Alessia’s love for running grew.

She ran the 400 on the 4×400 relay.
She ran the 10,000 on the track.
She did cross country.

All this lead up to one of the her bigger challenges: the Olympics.

“I started running in high school because my best friend ran cross country. I liked running in high school but I did not love running [in general]. I had moderate success so I figured I might try and run in college. I went to Manchester College [and] I started to love running. I was hooked. I have completed 4 marathons. My last one was 25 years ago, [and] I was trying to get an Olympic Qualifying time. They lowered the time that year from 2:50 to 2:45. I ran a 2:46,” Alessia said.

Even though she was one minute short, Alessia still maintained a positive attitude after the outcome. That was one of the more memorable marathons in Alessia’s running career.

“At first, I was sad that I did not meet the Olympic marathon qualifying time; to be so close and not make it is still something I think about and wonder, “Did I slow down somewhere? What if I had started out faster?” [But] I had made such a huge time drop that I was happy with my performance; I had run a 13 minute PR,” Alessia said.

This moment will live on with Alessia for years to come. Afterwards, she found a passion for coaching. Alessia went on to get her master’s degree in Exercise Science and went back to Manchester to coach men’s and women’s cross country and track.

Aside from running and coaching, she also started a few programs to help promote running to a younger audience. She credits her children for inspiration for these programs.

“I [started] a “Girls Have the Power” program in my community to inspire and education middle school girls about things like peer pressure, self-esteem, nutrition, eating disorders, bullying, etc….as well as the benefits of walking and running. At the end of the program, we ran a 5K. Hundreds of girls went through the program. I eventually started “Boys Have the Power” and “Kids Have the Power” to empower others to believe in themselves and see personal growth,” Alessia said.

Running has always played a huge part in Alessia’s life, and as a coach, she uses her experience in the Olympic Qualifying marathon as an example.

That was my last marathon, but things happen for a reason and I had put in all the right training and had a great race, so I can’t be upset about that. That is why I always, as a coach, tell my athletes to give it everything you have. Walk away knowing you gave it your all so you have no regrets. I like to encourage others to run and be healthy in some way. There are so many benefits to running and other cardiovascular exercises. All it takes is to just get started,” Alessia said.