BLOOMINGTON, IL – Mid-Illinois Realtors® Association (MIRA) and Town of Normal are enhancing University of Illinois Extension’s Unity Community Center with the creation of a pollinator garden.

The Unity Community Center in Normal has become a bedrock of the Orlando/Northbrook neighborhood since opening in 2003. Illinois Extension staff provide essential after school programs, vibrant summer camps, food donation services, a children’s garden for teaching, and a production garden for community donation.

MIRA received a $4500 Placemaking grant from the National Association of Realtors® to help make Normal a better place to live, transforming an unused space into vibrant public garden for the community to enjoy. The goal of the landscape project was to utilize smart design principles and proven plant varieties to create a welcoming garden. The educators who serve Unity will use the space to teach youth about gardening principles, tracking when plants are in bloom, while providing a space to learn about pollinators and wildlife.

MIRA member and Illinois Extension Master Gardener, Dan Slagel, along with the MIRA task force (Ron Briscoe, Karen Stailey-Lander, Chair of MIRA), coordinated the installation of 230 plants with assistance from horticulturists from Town of Normal and Illinois Extension.

MIRA identified this project through their Illinois Association of Realtors® Government Affairs Director, Kristie Engerman working with Mercy Davison, Normal Town Planner. Dan Slagell said, “MIRA found the Unity Community Center Pollinator Garden to be a perfect fit for the Placemaking Grant and were excited to assist in the project.”

“Realtors® live, work and volunteer in their communities and take immense pride in working to improve them,” said Karen Stailey-Lander. “Placemaking can help foster healthier, more social and economically viable communities. It creates places where people feel a strong stake in their neighborhoods and are committed to making things better. This grant will allow us to address areas in our community that need enhancement and revitalization, and create a place where friends and neighbors can come together.”

Town of Normal Horticulturists Bobbie Jones and Nathan Bair followed the principles from Roy Diblik’s book "The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden." Diblik started the design trend of lush, but low-maintenance gardens made up of complimentary plants.

Jones and Bair have been successful applying this principle throughout the town, creating beautiful green spaces. And they are equipped to tackle areas that are not so garden friendly. They knew the principles of low maintenance, proper plant selection, and wildlife gardening would be a perfect fit for Illinois Extension’s Unity Community Center.

Extension Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup, says “I love Diblik’s principles of plant selection and plant combination because it is beneficial to wildlife, but it also establishes much faster than most other designs. By this time next year, Unity’s front landscape will look like it has been in place for three or four years.”

“We are always so thankful for community members and organizations’ continued support of the Unity Community Center program. It is through new support of organizations like MIRA, and sustained support through our funding partners State Farm and the Town of Normal that we can continue to help our youth excel and be the best versions of themselves possible,” says Bobbie Lewis-Sibley, Illinois Extension Unit Director for Livingston, McLean, and Woodford counties.

Placemaking grants are awarded to local and state Realtor® associations to help them and their members create new public spaces and destinations in a community, like turning a parking spot into a people spot (parklet) or a vacant lot into a pocket park or garden. Realtor® associations and their Realtor® members are actively engaged in the community and know the neighborhoods and the properties that would benefit most from these placemaking projects.

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