New docuseries chronicles efforts to rebuild Gary

Dangling vines and rampant shrubbery consume blighted, crumbling storefronts as Michael Pirtle intones that Gary has a stigma in the trailer for FaithWorks Media’s upcoming documentary series “Relentless Faith: Rebuilding the City of Gary.”

The director of Liberty House Recovery Cafe recounts in a voiceover how people are warned to not go to Gary and told it’s a horrible place. The screen segues to shots of such landmarks as the Miller Lagoon, Broadway and City Hall. Pirtle and others then talk about how the Steel City had a rich history and once prospered but suffered when the steel industry started to struggle, causing jobs to vanish, stores to shutter and homes to be abandoned.

The economic woes lead to social ills, such as drugs and gang activity.

But as the music swells, the trailer starts to show hammering and other rebuilding activities. The interviewees begin to take a more hopeful tack.

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“We’re hopeful and expecting for Gary to turn around and be back on the map like never before,” FaithWorks Network Chairman Dennis Walton says in the trailer.

Video provided in partnership with The Times, JEDtv and WJOB. Sponsored by Strack & Van Til.

FaithWorks Media will start livestreaming the show on its Facebook page at 5 p.m. Saturday. New episodes will come out roughly every month.

CEO Jennifer Walton and her father hope to change perceptions of the city and inspire hope.

“The docuseries is a journey of rebuilding,” she said. “FaithWorks Network is a coalition of businesses and ministerial leaders devoted to enriching the lives of the people. Specifically, people need hope. Positive things are happening despite the negative stigma put on Gary.”

“Relentless Faith” aims to shine a light on the positives and the change that’s occurring in the lakefront city, whose population has declined from a peak of 180,000 to around 70,000 as the result of deindustrialization, disinvestment and white flight.

“It doesn’t just show the positive things in the city and the rebuilding taking place now,” she said. “It also seeks to inspire people to get involved in the rebuilding.”

It’s an outreach program by FaithWorks Network, which has churches and community centers in Gary and Merrillville.

“The vision is to see Gary rebuilt and restored,” she said.

FaithWorks partners with similar organizations like the Tolleston Project. It is promoting farm-to-table programs and working to establish workforce and contractor incubators in Gary to prepare residents to work in the carpentry, electrical, plumbing, roofing and HVAC building trades.

The group hopes to create a culture of love to bring about a healthy community. It aims to restore the city by promoting goals like business growth, holistic healing, community safety, environmental justice and renewable energy.

The series chronicles Faith Works Network’s rebuilding efforts “in the midst of insurmountable odds.”

“The history of Gary has always interested me. My father and mother, Apostle Dennis and Minister Sheila Walton, were both born and raised in Gary,” Walton said. “Together, they raised my sisters and me in Merrillville. Our house was located on the border of Gary.

“Growing up, I never saw the prominence of Gary, but I saw the effects of its decline and wondered what happened. I wanted to help make a difference through the best way I knew how, which is through media. This docuseries will paint the narrative of the good things taking place in Gary through FaithWorks Network and other city initiatives.”

The first season will consist of seven 22- to 25-minute episodes. They address what’s being done to combat food deserts and other issues while highlighting local restaurants and farmers markets. Other subjects include the work that Liberty House Recovery Cafe does to help people suffering from drug addiction and the FaithWorks initiative to teach young men building trades so they can go on to have fruitful careers.

“We ultimately want to assist in the revitalization of Gary,” she said. “It’s a journey through the lens of FaithWorks what it takes to restore and rebuild the city, what it takes to keep the city clean and promote safety. Change happens from the city out.”

Each episode will have a particular focus. All will feature interviews, footage of the Steel City and a little history.

“It will talk about where we’ve come from and encourage people to do more research. It will share how people can get involved. Our goal is to help people how to visualize how to rebuild a city, to visually show how it’s possible.”

More than 10 people were interviewed for the first episode. The filmmakers talked to pastors, political leaders and grassroots volunteers who sat down for 20- to 30-minute interviews that were edited down and juxtaposed with B-roll footage.

It’s still shooting interviews for future episodes, which will be released as they’re finished.

“We show that when people do have hope, they do incredible things,” she said. “FaithWorks Media is a production company that creates films out of the power of raw faith. We want to give people hope and show there is a brighter future for the city of Gary. But we have to work for it. We have to be active and do something. We need to take action.”

The hope is that the docuseries will serve as a call to action, leading more people to get involved.

“Some people think Gary has nothing to offer and that the past is over. We want to dispel that perspective and what other people have said. Gary is a jewel with a lot of amazing things. It’s important we determine how we see the true value of Gary. Gary has a lot of value. It’s got the beaches, the Lake Michigan waters, some awesome historic sites and the house of Michael Jackson and his family.

“There are great things within our city. People need to see it. People look at the houses that have been condemned. We want to show the houses that have been fixed up so they look brand-new. There’s hope for Gary.”

For more information, visit faithworksmedia.org or find FaithWorks Media on Facebook.

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