DOI / VISTA Team Projects

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore: Community Action Through Stewardship (CATS)

Rachel Veronesi

DOI / VISTA: Rachel Veronesi
Supervisor: Kim Swift
Address: Dunes Learning Center, 700 Howe Road, Chesterton, Indiana 46304
County: Porter and Lake County
Voice Telephone: 219-395-1859
Web site:
Web site 2:
Congressional District: 1
Bureau: National Park Service (NPS)


The mission for Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is, “to preserve for the educational, inspirational, and recreational use of the public certain portions of the Indiana Dunes and other areas of scenic, scientific, and historic interest and recreational value in the State of Indiana." Park partner, Dunes Learning Center’s mission is to provide an in-depth exploration of the dynamic relationship between people and their environments using the natural and cultural resources of the Indiana dunes region where nature and society co-exist.

The DOI/VISTA project site Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is sponsored by the National Park Service (NPS) whose mission is to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.

About the Surrounding Community

One of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore’s primary goals is to engage all of its neighbors in meaningful dialogue and relationships that foster a stewardship ethic of the resources of the park. Since the national lakeshore reaches into a variety of communities, it continues to strengthen its relationship with its neighbors, especially in the community of Gary. The population of Gary is 85% African American and has a per capita income of $15,383 while the median rent is $635 a month.  The community is significantly underserved with 25.8% of the population living below the poverty level, 19% of individuals over the age of 25 unemployed, and 23.3 % of the adult population suffering from obesity. The shuttering of the steel mills has left the population looking for new jobs with livable wages.  Like many industrial communities, Gary has inherited the issues that come with urban blight and the neighborhoods in Gary suffer from urban neglect. However, the city is undergoing a variety of revitalization efforts such as creating a Green Urbanism Department within the city.

Within walking distance of the Douglas Center are two of Gary’s larger schools. Marquette Elementary School and Emerson High School are predominantly made of up of African American students.  87% of the students at Marquette Elementary and 62% of the students at Emerson participate in the free lunch program. All of these schools have shown a commitment to the national park; they bring classes out to participate in the education programs at Douglas Center and participate in other environmental activities including International Coastal Clean-up. 

Project Overview

DOI/VISTA Rachel Veronesi works alongside NPS and Dunes Learning Center (DLC) staff in a variety of projects including reaching into underserved communities of Gary, Hammond and East Chicago, Indiana to bring Mighty Acorns, Calumet is My Back Yard and other programs which are curriculum based education programs developed by members of Chicago Wilderness, a consortium of land management organizations.  Rachel will be working to help the communities understand a variety of restoration projects in the park including the restoration of a rare habitat in the west end of the park, and community impact on social trails through a dune system.  Members of the community help participate in stewardship projects that promote community pride, create an opportunity to volunteer and to provide skills that could be translated into new jobs. The volunteers working on the project will come to understand that what they choose to plant in their yards affects what happens in the park.

Restoration is not limited to the land, Rachel helps reach out to the community on important water resource issues. While the ground water in parts of NW Indiana is too contaminated to be used for vegetable gardens, Rachel is part of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership working cooperatively with communities to improve water quality for consumption and recreation.

Rachel also works with the Douglas Center staff to create a cadre of volunteers to develop an after school program for the students of the nearby schools. Students could improve their science skills, participate in volunteer activities, learn about healthy habits, and use the trails adjacent to the Douglas Center that link their community to the national park. She also assists the park in increasing the capacity of the local organizations to work with the city in a constructive manner. The park and the DLC will invest in new programs with schools, non-profits, youth agencies, and churches to get involved in a variety of city improvement projects and environmental awareness initiatives done by both the city and the park. 

Sponsors and Partners

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