If You Build It, They Will Come

By: Chris Mahlmann Last Updated: June 4, 2013

Sometimes the lyrics of a song or the words from a great book or movie will run in your head as you are doing something that reminds you of that line. If you build it they will come was that line for me recently when meeting a guy that you know from the minute you are walking and talking with him - particularly if you are walking with him on a cold, rainy day in May through mud and woods in the city of La Porte-  is just good guys and I was immediately better off for having gotten the chance to meet him.

In our business we get to meet good people. And the coolest thing is that those people introduce us to other good people who naturally introduce us to other good people, and life is good for everybody. Pretty simple theory, right? But watch the storyline of that theory. It took different turns and at every juncture it came down to a guy or a gal that just “got it” and he or she was doing things in life in order to do something about what they "got" it and made a positive impact in doing so.

We launched PortageLife in 2009 and started working with Dave Kasarda and Nancy Simpson at the Portage YMCA, and they have been one of the most engaged partners and truly cool people to work with ever since. Dave is positive and driven, with the Y running through his blood. And we have worked with the Portage Y loads of times to promote good stuff. As you can see in his photo for this story, Dave brings fun and business to whatever he is doing.

Fast forward to this year and we meet Cindy Berchem at the La Porte County YMCA and start working with her team to help do the same with LaPorteCountyLife.com. We are greeted just the same - awesome, love the idea, let's work together, here's all the cool stuff the Y is doing, etc. Similar to Dave, Cindy has a business mind and a Y heart, having seen the impact of the Y on her kids and community directly.

Cindy recently brought Dave into the La Porte County YMCA because they are expanding their programs, exploring ways to grow the Y in new areas throughout the county, and building this brand new park.

So all this brings us to this guy, Don Berchem, who I walk up to meet on that misty morning to see the beginnings of the Andrew Avenue Outdoor Education and Recreation Center. We were meeting with Cindy, Dave and Vanessa Franklin that day. And when they excitedly told Jenny Craig and I about their park plans, we all jumped into cars and headed over to see it. I saw the park and it is incredible; the diversity of offerings they are going to have with fields, play areas, basketball, and trails; all of which are being built to give kids a healthy and safe place to get outside, learn, and enjoy.

Don is a salt of the earth guy. You can tell from the minute you meet him: strong handshake, a hearty and warm smile, and a twinkle in his eye when he talks about things that make him happy. On that morning, Don was very happy. And when you think about what he is building you can see why.

Don is Cindy's husband. He has been in a family commercial construction business his entire life that dealt in building huge jobs with lines of concrete trucks for warehouses and industry. But this job was personal. Don and Cindy have seen first hand the impact that the YMCA has had on their children, and the impact that those children (as well as others) and the Y together have on their community.

Both Don and Cindy were very successful with construction and she in corporate finance. But the Y is personal, and that is why Cindy is the La Porte YMCA’s CEO and Don is driving the project to build a park for the La Porte YMCA on land that he and his dad own and are long term leasing to the Y for about the cost of a cup of coffee. And they are building it in record time, with incredibly helpful relationships coming from a lifetime in the construction industry to help the Y make the most of their resources and get it up and running for the kids. This week - summer's here, and they'll be welcoming kids.

As Don walked with me throughout the property and proudly told me about designing his own backyard dream play area of all of the features that are planned and the connection to the property, the woods and trails, and the camps that they will host there, his excitement was all over his face. He spoke of the attention to preserving the trees on the trails so that kids can have a real walking path that is safe and secure, the play areas that have the tried and true four square and the new Gaga Ball pits. There are even plans for a tree house (that is what every one of us dreamed about as a kid) in a huge tree that was preserved just for that purpose.

This wasn't a guy just writing a check at the fundraiser. He and his incredible positive energy and love for what he is doing and who it is trying to help made me better off for having a private walk in the woods to hear his story. He's leading the effort, but not vicariously in an office far away. The mud on his boots and the grip of his hand tell you that Don chooses a pretty active leadership style.

So Dave and Cindy - thank you for getting it and introducing me to Don. And Don - thanks for showing me your park for the kids. I did not grow up a Y kid, but I sure am getting converted as I get older and can see in your eyes and hear in your voice why you "get it". Thanks for building it. I am sure those kids are going to come and enjoy it. They'll "get It", and we'll all be better off for it.

These are some quick details of the upcoming park that the La Porte County YMCA will have, and we will keep you updated on details and new programs they will be able to have for kids as the upcoming summer unfolds!

1. 3200 square foot pavilion with rest rooms and first aid supply room.

2. Soccer field k+1

3. Soccer field 2+3

4. Soccer field 4+5

5. Activity pad... Ga ga pits, hopscotch, tetherball and four square ... 2 of each 

6. High school basketball court with extra backboards/ rims.

7. Parking lot for 35 cars.

8. Two beach volleyball courts

9. Activity tree house