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Real Michiana: Giving hand ups not handouts

LA PORTE, Ind. -- A La Porte County township trustee is giving hand ups instead of handouts to help her community.

For those who don't know, a township trustee basically helps the poor get their major necessities.

The Center Township Trustee, Lisa Pierzakowski, is going above and beyond that job description to not only maintain lives but change them.

“Lisa is fantastic...She will bust her butt to do what she can to help you," said Sandra Windham, who was homeless when she met Lisa.

“She’s the first township official, anyone in government that I’ve seen do more for the homeless, the at risk, the needy, and the socially ugly that other people in positions of power won’t even touch," said Michael Christianson, an Army vet who also found himself homeless some years ago after being released from prison.

“My passion has always been about helping the needy...As a former bus driver, I saw a lot of kids needing help on the weekends, people not having food. Kids asking where they can hide their food and stuff like that. It’s just I needed to do something more to help the public than what I was already doing," said Center Township Trustee, Lisa Pierzakowski.

She decided the trustee position gave her the best chance of doing that.

“What I was seeing before as a trustee position, I saw people’s rent and water being paid, but I didn’t see them getting out of that cycle, and I wanted to get in this position to do that. I want to give people a hand-up, not a hand-out...When clients come into our office and they’re needing help, we find out exactly what’s going on, not just we’re going to pay your rent, NIPSCO, and water...and then go forward from there," said Pierzakowski.

In her four years as trustee, Lisa has really expanded her office's role.

To see evidence of the transformation, all you have to do is head to the back room, which she has converted into a resource center/food pantry--which she calls the "gut" of helping their clients.

Besides the pantry, she's also set up classes to help people get their GEDs.

“We just try to think of anything somebody might need help with, and we try to have it here for them or try to locate it for them," said Lisa.

Her focus, though, is on getting the homeless back on their feet.

“I lost my house...couldn’t find a job...living in my car...I used to clean myself up with baby wipes. I washed my whole body up with baby wipes in my car. Oh I had it hard...In my car! Could you imagine living in your car?!” said Sandra.

Lisa came into her life when she had finally secured an apartment--but had nothing with which to fill it.

“We were just getting her set up into an apartment, and all she had was the sheet on her back over her clothes...so we came back…we got beds, we got furniture, we got food," said Lisa.

She says that's her favorite part: "when you see them from point A to point B.”

Although it's mainly homeless people she's helping now, for a while, she saw three addicts a week knock on her door.

“If they come in, and they say, I’ve got an addiction, I’ve got a problem. I need help. Can you help me get into some type of rehab? And we drop everything...If you don’t do that when they say they’re ready for help, you’re going to lose them," said Lisa.

“Just those little things, those little acts of kindness that she did. It’s just amazing," said Michael, who has become one of her closest friends.

“I want the community to stop the "not in my backyard" philosophy, because you can’t judge somebody. It might be your neighbor. It might be your neighbor’s child. And you know what, one day, it might be you.”

“You’re not going to be homeless knowing Lisa. You’re not going to be on the streets knowing Lisa. You’re not going to be with no clothes with no life knowing Lisa. Lisa’s a Godsend honey. She’s a blessing, and I love her so much," said Sandra, tearing up.

Now, Lisa is working on a program to connect recovering addicts with those who are just starting the process in a mentorship program.

If you know anyone who should be featured in our next Real Michiana piece, please contact Jess at jarnold@abc57.com.


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