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The Story of Our Local Community

If you follow me on Instagram (and if you don’t, come on already!), you’ve probably caught wind of my major passion for our local community. We live in my hometown of Modesto, California. And even though I love it here, it was a wandering path that led us away and then back. But I get asked all the time what’s up with Modesto, and why I am so into my local community. So here’s the story.

When Your Hometown Has a Stigma

Growing up here, you weren’t cool if you didn’t long to get out of Modesto one day. It has, in my opinion, an unwarranted reputation of being a small town with nothing to do. (In reality, the population is around 215,000 people, and my opinion has always been that if you’re bored then you’re boring. But I digress.)

Everybody wanted to leave. I never really had that itch, so it was kind of ironic when I did leave town for 10 years, first to NYC and then to LA. But when we started our family I knew I would want to be back here, close to family. So we moved back.

Coming back as an adult, I could see the town very clearly for what it was. Sure, it wasn’t NYC or LA, but just like I always thought, there was plenty to do if you went looking. That being said, other challenges have cropped up in our community — we battle a homelessness issue, an undesirable crime rate, and high rates of drug usage.

But. We also are in the Central Valley, where the local farms provide a huge percentage of America’s produce. We are the home of the Gallo winery, which reaches all over the world and provides major philanthropic love in our town. We’re the home of George Lucas and Star Wars, and American Graffiti and the original classic car cruise. And we’re the home of a growing population of people who truly care about the town and want to make this a place that people love to be.

We have maker’s markets, a performing arts center, a world-class farmer’s market, an ice skating rink, an incredible symphony orchestra, an award-winning architecture festival, mural artists — I could go on and on.

This place is so rich in history, culture, and community, and it started to make me absolutely crazy that people weren’t recognizing that when I came back as an adult.

Deciding to Go All In

So when we moved back to Modesto, we recognized all this and we made a big decision. We decided that if we were going to raise our family here, we wanted to show our children that this community is worth investing in. We decided to use the things that we have to make the community into what we want it to be. To contribute in every way we could, and to show our kids that the more you put in to a community, the more you’ll get out of it.

Love Notes To My Town

I wanted to take quick, messy action, so I settled on a simple DIY project that would literally be like love notes to the town. I wanted to do something public to hopefully use my platform here and on the blog to bring positive attention to Modesto. And that’s how the downtown love notes were born.

DIY Stencil Spray Chalk Sidewalk Messages

After the first round of love notes, people enjoyed them, so I did more. All in all, I think I did about 6 or 7 rounds of the love notes painted on the sidewalks. And they were having the effect that I had hoped for! People were sharing them on IG, they were going out downtown looking for them and then stopping into local businesses, they were sharing them in their own towns if they lived elsewhere.

Pretty soon, local leaders started reaching out, and this little love note project was what connected me to new projects locally. I teamed with our downtown commission on projects, I helped with local maker’s markets, and started attending events for local creatives.

Chalk street art

People Want To Hear Me Talk?

A while after the love notes started, I was approached to be a speaker at TEDx Modesto, our local TED Talk event. I half wanted to throw up because just the thought of it sounded so scary, but I also knew it would be a chance to spread my message of investment in the community to a larger audience in a more tangible and specific way.

So I did it! My talk was called “A Place Is What You Make It,” and it was about the love notes and their purpose. And it was a call to action to our community, to look inward and see what we all as individuals have to offer to our town.

A Place Is What You Make It

Because I had the chance to give that talk, I could really crystallize my feelings about how we can all make Modesto better. This place, with a stigma that has followed it for years, is starting to break out of that stigma because of the action of individuals. Just people. One at a time, contributing to the community with their strengths and passions.

And that’s exactly what makes a place! A place is what you make it to be. I feel so fortunate to be here in this season, with a rising tide of passionate and powerful people who are transforming Modesto into an amazing and desirable place to live.

What’s Next?

So what’s next? Well, it turns out, something very specific. I’m on the founding board of what will one day be The Modesto Children’s Museum! We’ve teamed up with two other families and we are in the early stages of planning a state-of-the-art children’s museum in our community, which will be able to serve kiddos from all over the Central Valley and beyond. It’s a huge project but it has so much support behind it, and we are making great progress. Stay tuned for a blog post on that soon!

So, friends, that’s the deal. I live in a very special place, where very special things happen every day. And I’m excited and honored to become part of its story.

Where do you live? How do you feel about it? What’s your community like? I’d love to know! xoxo

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