Heart & Soul asking you what you want in Mendota
Interviews and chats happening to get public's input
By BRANDON LaCHANCE
MENDOTA – There have been many neon green shirts worn around Mendota lately.
They’ve been seen at just about every event in town as Community Heart & Soul Seed Grant Program and Reimagine Mendota members are asking the community for input.
For more than a month, the group has been at Victory Baptist Church, La Esquinita De Oro Ice Cream Shop, Parkway Family Restaurant, Estates Mobile Home Park, the Elks Lodge, Graves-Hume Public Library, Food Truck Mania, the Mendota Farmer’s Market, Lunch in the Park, and more to ask you questions on what you think needs to happen, change, or be added in Mendota.
There are only two more left as community chat opportunities will be from 6:30-9:30 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 28 at Ziggie’s Family Restaurant for a free coffee and chat morning and from 4-6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3 at Pizzas by Marchelloni for Youth Night where you’ll receive a free piece of pizza with a conversation.
“It has been going well. Some are better attended than others, but we really feel like we’ve tried to give a good chance for people to find us somewhere,” said Amy Brewer, who joined Annie Short as co-organizers for the Heart & Soul organization. “People are really interested, positive, and happy to talk about what they like here and what they hope for in the future.
“People really care about our kids. It comes up over and over again. It’s about having more things for kids to do, making sure they’re safe, and any other topic surrounding children. That’s been the main theme that I see.”
Brewer added a majority of the residents she’s spoken with love how easy it is to get around in Mendota, how friendly most people are, and how people know each other because of the small-town feel.
The process, Stage 2 of the project, is working how it was intended.
“The whole Community Heart & Soul project is a structured way – framework, training, money – to help do community building,” Brewer said. “By getting people to talk to each other it improves communication, people feel like they know each other better, and it seems to connect organizations with each other. Just by having members of Reimagine Community come together other organizations benefit because there are representatives from other groups, businesses and organizations in Reimagine Mendota.
“We’re trying to build communication and encouraging participation in our town and trying to get people to feel more civic minded. We’re trying to define what our values are and the things we will support as a town.”
Also, by having these chats and knowing what the community wants, it will help in grant-writing and being accepted as grants are received by towns and cities with plans and people who are putting them in action.
Raul Gonzalez, a 2019 Mendota High School graduate who also graduated from Illinois Valley Community College and is now studying Spanish at Illinois State University to become a professional translator, has been at many of the conversation events to help his community.
“I like doing this in the community and for the community. The interviews for Heart & Soul are going pretty well,” Gonzalez said. “I was at the “Business After Hours” event that we had at the Elks. A lot of business owners came and gave us some input. I thought the first “Food Truck Mania” was going to be slow, but I was surprised by the turnout and all of the people who wanted to talk about Mendota.
“I speak to a lot of the Hispanic community because I speak Spanish and we want everyone’s opinion because we all live here. We’ve spoke with young and old, and they all say the same things such as Mendota needs more businesses, more art, and to be more vibrant.”
Abigail Kunz may have just graduated from MHS in 2023 and is just beginning her college career at IVCC, but she is all-in with the efforts to improve Mendota.
“I think it’s cool that we’re finally doing something for Mendota. I feel like we’ve had other groups in the past, volunteer groups, do small things in the community, but it’s nice that we have a group that’s actually trying to do something real and big for Mendota,” Kunz said. “We’ve gotten quite a bit of information. I think we did a good job of reaching all of the demographics, which can be kind of difficult. We’ve talked with a lot of different racial groups in Mendota, different age groups, we’ve definitely hit both genders, and we’ve connected with different economic classes to get a fairly even distribution of all the demographics, which is very important. It’s been really fun to get to talk to people around Mendota about what they want to change.”
Kunz has been impressed with the positive, helpful suggestions and opinions of how Mendota could change.
Not only has she sat and interviewed people, but she did some extra research for the community project.
“I put out Mason jars at six different facilities around town with a stack of pieces of paper asking, ‘What would you like to add or change about Mendota?’” Kunz said. “They could fill out the form and put it in the jar. I collected approximately 100 answers.
Alderpersons and other city officials have been at a couple of the community interview sessions to get feedback as well.
After all of the sessions are completed in October, all of the data collected from residents will be entered and sorted and then organized into guiding statements that will be given to the city.
The city will then use the statements when making decisions for the town.
Public meetings will be held at the Mendota Civic Center from 9-11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18 and from 6-8 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 20 to show the community a draft of the statements and all of the information to make sure, as a united community, that everyone agrees on a filter, a blueprint for decisions in Mendota.
“It’s been nice to have a plan. With Community Heart & Soul giving us a plan, they’ve helped us with this hard work because they’ve studied it,” Brewer said. “Maybe there is a better plan out there, but at least we have a plan and we’re trying.”