On a spring morning, Felix and Mary Vallejo, both retired, began their daily routine by sitting on the porch of their home to enjoy their morning coffee and watch the rush of cars and buses on 5th Avenue in the Floreciente neighborhood. As the rush slows down and the neighborhood grows silent as kids are at school and adults are at their jobs, Felix and Mary’s minds begin to fill with ideas for the property they just purchased that sits directly across from their home. They took the risk of purchasing the dilapidated building and surrounding property. Much to their surprise, the risk rewarded resources in the form of community engagement, participation, and a neighborhood attraction that would create a permanent impact in their neighborhood.
The property located at 820 5th Avenue in Moline, IL historically served as a Skelly Oil gas station in the Floreciente neighborhood during the 1930s and later as an antique store. Eventually, the property closed down and began to deteriorate, leaving the building empty and abandoned by its owners. When the Vallejos purchased the building in October 2017, they planned to revamp the property by paying out of pocket to make minor improvements on the facade. They were unacquainted with the available resources offered by the City of Moline and other nonprofit organizations in the Quad Cities, including Global Communities. Willing to assist with a neighborhood project, the Flourishing Communities team contacted the Vallejos to organize a meeting with the city of Moline to inform the family of the city’s façade program and other avenues for support. Despite the Vallejos’ best intentions, their property did not qualify for the program as the building had been rezoned in the 90s as a residential area due to its lack of use over many decades. Despite the disappointing news, everything began to fall into place when Flourishing Communities introduced the Vallejos to their small façade program in Floreciente. The cost-reimbursable program provided businesses on 4th and 5th avenues up to $3,400 to update the exterior of their location. A few businesses applied for the grant, but with a lack of applicants, the Vallejos were allowed to apply since their property still met the location needs and once served as a business.
The Vallejos quickly applied, but before receiving funds they met with Habitat for Humanity as the property could have been designated as a historical site due to its age and venue. A Habitat volunteer from the preservation committee helped the Vallejos determine the types of materials they needed to purchase in order to properly restore the building and roof.
“Every time I drive by here, I will know that I helped with the beginnings of the new mural, which makes me feel good.” – John Deere Seeding employee
With the multiple opportunities of support, the Vallejos were thrilled. They knew this would not only be a great start for them, but for the entire neighborhood would now have an updated building. As former volunteers in many neighborhood events and projects, the couple decided to attend a May Floreciente Association Community Meeting. For two months the Floreciente Association board sought out a location for a new mural. With two properties declining their space, the board requested information at the May meeting for anyone that knew of property owners that would allow a mural to be on their building or space. The Vallejos immediately thought about all the support they had received. From Flourishing Communities connecting them with the City of Moline and one-on-one support from Habitat for Humanity, it was now their chance to return the favor. The Vallejos offered their retaining wall at their 5th Avenue property as a space for a mural. The 9 X 20 foot wall was more than enough space for a mural and would display a colorful marker in the neighborhood for all residents and visitors of Moline. Overjoyed with the news, the Floreciente Association board gladly accepted the gift and started planning designs for the mural.
Soon after, Flourishing Communities informed the Vallejos of another project happening in the neighborhood with John Deere Seeding. The project, a collaboration between Habitat for Humanity and Global Communities, consisted of identifying small areas in the neighborhood that needed improvement. They opted to improve the old gas station. During the second week of July, 144 John Deere Seeding volunteers dispersed throughout the neighborhood to plant bushes, pick up trash, and paint homes. Throughout the course of four days, John Deere Seeding volunteers worked the Vallejo’s property where they were able to prep the wall for the new mural, paint the exterior, and replace cedar planks. The old gas station was finally coming to life one stroke at a time.
“Everything was planned so thoughtfully. I felt super comfortable and it was a joy to participate. Thanks for being so welcoming and friendly, and I can’t wait for another chance to contribute in my small way to this lovely project!" – Lisa Arkfield, Volunteer
After the tremendous support between the city of Moline, Habitat for Humanity, Floreciente Association, and John Deere Seeding, the first day of painting on the new mural began on Saturday, July 14. Seventy volunteers painted the blank white canvas colors to match the excitement of the event. In spite of the gloomy day, volunteers brightened the area by exchanging laughs and smiles as they enjoyed food, music and games. Many cars passed along the one-way street and slowed down to honk at the volunteers and cheer on the new art of the neighborhood. Over the course of six days, 85 volunteers assisted in the process of the new mural, a truly collaborative effort to brighten up the neighborhood.
“We had long-term plans to fix up the place and with help of Global Communities the process went a lot faster. We didn’t do this by ourselves, and none of this would have been possible without them.” – Felix Vallejo, property owner
Following the painting of the mural, the city of Moline awarded the Vallejos the city of Moline’s “Neighbor of the Month” award for renovating the building and helping to improve their neighborhood. Felix and Mary Vallejo are a prime example of what can be accomplished through collaboration and community support. Although the building still has improvements planned for the future including a complete revamp of the interior and replacing doors, the colorful space has become a window into the future of an ever-improving Floreciente neighborhood and a reminder of the impact generated by working together.
Funded by the John Deere Foundation through October 2019, the Flourishing Communities program is working in Floreciente to create long-lasting, community-led change by organizing residents and business owners to participate in community development decisions affecting their neighborhood. For more information on our programs in Moline, Illinois contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.globalfloreciente.org.