Andrew Huff of Gary stands near St. Ann Church in the Black Oak neighborhood he grew up in, on Oct. 28. Huff recently joined the Catholic Church, receiving the sacraments of initiation, and looks to spread inspiration and build on his life coaching business, where he promotes health and balance of body, mind and soul. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)
GARY – Entrepreneur and life coach Andrew Huff tries to live by a holistic paradigm, that is, caring for the body, mind and soul. Always a believer, church was just a “vague memory” for him until recently.
Huff, 24, was baptized, made his first confession, received the Eucharist, and was confirmed on Nov. 1, the Feast of All Saints, at St. Ann in the Black Oak neighborhood of Gary. He said joining the Catholic Church family was a very motivating experience.
“With all of this, I feel accomplished, enthusiastic, renewed, and one with God,” Huff said, smiling ear-to-ear. “I feel like my faith has increased tremendously, and it is flowing into other aspects of my life such as work and relationships.”
Huff participated in the Rite of Election for Catechumens on March 1 at the Cathedral of the Holy Angels in Gary. He received his sacraments of initiation eight months later, due to logistical delays that resulted from coronavirus pandemic mitigation efforts.
Huff approached this interruption with patience, a theme he preached about this fall when he presented a series of motivational seminars at St. Ann. He advocated learning about and working on skills every day, because “Nobody is born with life skills.”
Huff’s motivation and positivity are reflected in the role he sees for himself. As a college graduate living in his old neighborhood, he wishes to be seen as a “good seed” and a proud representation of a city he said is in need of a better narrative.
“It’s my roots, my beginning,” Huff said about Black Oak and Gary. “Everybody starts somewhere and we grow over time.”
The son of Robert Castellano and Anna Huff and eldest among four siblings, Andrew Huff attended the former Grissom Elementary School, Lake Ridge New Tech Middle School and Calumet New Tech High School, all in Gary.
Describing his younger self as “energetic and enthusiastic,” Huff was a good student and an even better runner. At 13, he remembers completing his first one-mile run, clocking in at a blistering 6:07.
Along the way, mentors such as Rob Lukowski, Huff’s middle school physical education teacher and a cross country and track coach, provided timely guidance.
“(Lukowski) paved the way for me,” Huff said, recalling the coach proving the “strategy” for the teen’s success in sports and beyond.
Lukowski spent many hours coaching and instructing Huff. He said not only was Huff a hard-working athlete, but he was also a leader among his peers.
At team gatherings hosted by Lukowski and his wife, post-dinner motivational speeches were usually delivered by Huff. “He drove that team; we were like a small family,” said Lukowski, presently a physical education teacher at Lake Ridge New Tech.
“I’m pretty proud of Andrew, because he always finds a way to make an impact on others,” Lukowski said. “I’m glad to see that now that he’s an adult and moving forward in life.”
After walking across the stage to graduate from Calumet, Huff began running for the Cougars of Chicago State University, on an athletic scholarship.
At CSU, Huff met Tim Lee, the director of on-campus housing. Huff said Lee became a mentor as he also took a job as a resident assistant.
During this period, Huff saw that Lee was a person who inspired those around him to pursue health of body, mind and soul.
“Lee opened my eyes to what one person can do to change lives,” Huff explained. “He was also big on spirituality.”
Desiring fellowship and determined to strengthen the bonds among a multicultural group of student-athletes, Huff founded Sigma Lambda Beta International Fraternity Incorporated at CSU.
In 2018, Huff graduated from CSU with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. However, he soon discovered that work in that field was not his passion. He built a small service business and continued to put a lot of effort into personal relationships.
He began dating his girlfriend, Mariah Porras, who is a practicing Catholic.
Huff said his grandparents set a good example of active church membership, but that practice did not continue for his generation.
“My dad would tell me that his family would always come to church when he was younger. That tradition kind of didn’t carry on with us,” he explained.
Yet as he was building a romantic relationship, he began to take a greater interest in the beliefs and traditions of the Catholic Church and how that culture played out in his girlfriend’s family.
Porras is a St. Mary, Griffith, parishioner, but encouraged Huff to reconnect with the church in his neighborhood. When Huff finally stopped in St. Ann Church, a building he’s driven by thousands of times, he found “people who care,” there.
One such person is Paula Hammersley, director of religious education. She has known Porras for many years, and when Huff visited the Black Oak church, Hammersley playfully remarked, “Oh, so this is the guy.”
Huff said he began participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults sessions at St. Ann with the goal of “deepening my relationship with God.”
Huff believes he has gotten plenty of good advice from teachers, coaches and catechists, and he is confident he will have plenty to share with clients he sees as a life coach.
“I feel like it is no coincidence that this time has come while I am still in the beginning of my new venture of empowering others to positively develop their lives,” Huff said.