ELKHART — With 884 people who clocked almost 11,000 hours of volunteering last year, LaCasa Inc. has a lot to live up to in 2014, and the organization is ready to rise to the challenge.
LaCasa, a community housing development group, celebrated achievements from 2013 and previewed a few upcoming projects at its annual meeting Wednesday, March 26, at the Lerner Theatre’s Crystal Ballroom in downtown Elkhart.
“LaCasa works with individuals and community partners to create opportunities for personal growth, family stability and neighborhood improvement,” LaCasa president Larry Gautsche told a room full of local leaders.
Gautsche highlighted some of the projects that were born out of recent partnerships including the opening of new apartments in Elkhart County for former homeless individuals. He also pointed out the Little House that Ben Built, a project started by a Goshen couple whose 22-year-old son took his own life after revealing that he had been abused as a child. The home on Main Street is a refuge for families recovering from abuse. The house, Gautsche said, will be “a blessing for families for many years to come.”
Gautsche also mentioned the renovation of the Hawks Arts and Enterprise Center, which will break ground next month in Goshen. The building will include 35 lofts where artists and entrepreneurs can live and work while embarking on their careers and starting new businesses.
LaCasa is expanding its Goshen Help-a-House program, which recruits volunteers to repair homes to make them safer and more energy efficient. This year marks the first time LaCasa will repair homes in other parts of the county. The organization has raised $86,300 since the end of January and has a goal of reaching $100,000 before May 10.
Homeownership counselor Monica Hyde introduced the crowd to a LaCasa success story, Emily Ulrich. Ulrich was a preschool teacher for nine years and later worked with ADEC Inc. to help adults with disabilities find jobs. Now, Ulrich works with Child and Parent Services of Elkhart County as a home visitor helping parents connect with their children. LaCasa helped her become a homeowner by teaching her about finances and assisting her with her new home’s down payment.
Coaching people on money management and stability is a key part of LaCasa’s mission, Financial Capabilities Program manager Chris Kingsley said.
“Witnessing that spark in peoples’ eyes as they realize that financial opportunity and success are within their grasp and watching them make progress by using the tools that we provide brings deep fulfillment to my work,” he added.
Others shared their positive experiences with LaCasa, including Vinnie Roundtree. A former collegiate athlete who played basketball for Rutgers University in New Jersey, Roundtree spends time teaching children at LaCasa’s summer program and opens the Roosevelt Center’s gym up to kids twice a week.
“We teach kids how to play basketball,” he said. “We teach kids how to stay out of trouble.”
Follow Elkhart Truth reporter Angelle Barbazon on Twitter at @tweetangelle.