ROCKFORD (WREX) — Seven years ago, the city of Rockford decided to do something a little different for the holiday season.
It wanted downtown to look and feel the part.
Thus Stroll on State was born.
The annual decorating of downtown Rockford is now considered a tradition for the Forest City.
Giant presents scattered around, decorated store fronts and, of course, the giant Christmas tree at the corner of State and Wyman.
To put on such a grand event, a lot of work needs to be put in.
Work that is happening right now by volunteers in the community, being led by Rockford Sharefest.
“The whole theme for Rockford Sharefest has been how do we bring help and hope,” Rockford Sharefest Director Creig Day said.
“What happens when you bring help? You also bring hope,”
Creig Day helped lead the charge to start Stroll on State.
It was the continuation of a mission to build up the place he has called home for nearly two decades.
“When I first moved here 18 years ago, one of the things that struck me was we had a city with it’s head down and I couldn’t figure it out,” Day said.
Day’s first step toward improving Rockford was taken 14 years ago far outside the stateline area.
Roughly 950 miles or so.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Day and other volunteers collected clothes to send down south to help victims dealing with the natural disaster.
“Collecting clothes in Rockford, shipping them down there and distributing them down there for months after the hurricane because people had no clothes, no ability to wash their clothes,” Day said.
The ability to impact people across the country opened Day’s mind to the possibilities of the improvements they could make right here at home.
“If we could do that for some place called Waveland, Mississippi, what could we do right here in Rockford if we decided to rally the community,” Day said.
This signified the beginning of Rockford Sharefest.
The organization began by renovating schools in the area, asking people in the community to help.
A call that was answered quickly and by many.
“We saw thousands and thousands of people come out and say ‘how can we help , how can we help.’ It’s indicative of the spirit of Rockford,” Day said.
None more important than Joe Vettore, who has been by Day’s side from the beginning of Sharefest and has led most of the group’s projects over the last 14 years.
“Joe brings energy, enthusiasm and a desire to solve problems and the ability to lead people to solve problems which is simply remarkable,” Day said.
“I’ve had the privilege to be able to partner with a guy who is a great friend of mine who I’ve had immense respect for since day one.”
The sentiment is mirrored by Vettore, saying Day is vital to his success and vice versa.
“At the end of the day, when you find somebody to partner with for a project that is much larger than you, you relish that relationship,” Vettore said.
Vettore is a Rockford native who, before working to improve the area, never really made his way downtown.
“I have been downtown more in the last seven years than my entire life living in the city of Rockford,” Vettore said.
“Once we started Stroll on State I thought ‘okay I had no idea our downtown was this pretty.'”
Sharefest has renovated 14 schools, helped beautify parks and worked with the city to improve downtown Rockford.
However, in the eyes of Day and Vettore, the biggest impact is seen in the people devoting their time to make the city better.
“Rockford Sharefest is an organization. It’s not about me, it’s not about Creig. It’s not about our leaders,” Vettore said.
“The people that have been in and out of Rockford Sharefest for the last 14 years leave changed people.”
Day is one of those who have been transformed by seeing how the community jumped on board with the mission of Rockford Sharefest.
“I’m constantly inspired by the people of Rockford and what they are willing to roll up their sleeves and do to change our community,” Day said.
“It was a matter of just being able to remind us that we don’t have to wait for anyone else to come and change our city. We can change our city ourselves.”
If you want to learn more about Rockford Sharefest and how you can volunteer, click here