Building the Peoria I see: a transplant’s reason for wanting to Build Peoria
This article is written by BUILD PEORIA member Jaymee Toler
Every weekday, I wake up in my Central Peoria home. On a good day, I can make it to work in the time it takes to listen to Lionel Richie & Diana Ross’s “Endless Love”. In a matter of minutes, I can get to a local lunch destination like Khoury’s Cuisine, Cracked Pepper, or One World. I can run any errands I need to, and not have to worry about battling traffic to get back to work in time for my early afternoon meetings.
While many young transplants spend their weekends running off to big cities like Chicago and St. Louis, there’s no shortage of reasons to stay in Peoria. The Riverfront Museum is constantly bringing in new exhibits that interest people of all ages, or you can catch a movie in its Giant Screen Theater. Our community theaters put on professional-level performances. Test your mind (and friendships) by trying out one of several escape rooms. There are so many unique, local restaurants that you could try a new one every weekend and still not get to them all in the course of the year. If nothing else suits your fancy, take in the beauty of nature while walking along the riverfront.
So, what brings people to Peoria? And what makes them stay?
Like many people, work brought me to the River City. I moved to Peoria in 2013 for my first full-time job out of college, working as a producer at a local news station. I signed a two-year contract and told myself I wouldn’t stay a day longer than the 730 days I was contractually obligated to. In those 730 days, I got involved in local theater, found a church that welcomed me in a way I’d never experienced, and attended just about every festival on the riverfront. I had great friends. I never felt unsafe navigating the city alone. I saw the generosity of this community in the many organizations it supports. And I saw the biggest show of support for those who lost everything in the November 2013 tornadoes. Nonetheless, my two year tenure came to a close, and I moved to a bigger city for a new career opportunity.
That dream job quickly revealed itself to be a nightmare. The crime rates were so high I was constantly in fear. The cost of living was unproportionally high compared to the pay raise I got with my new position. Within six months, I found myself back in the River City, unsure of the future but positive about my happiness. I jumped right back into local theater, landed a new position at my former employer, and got involved with more organizations, knowing Peoria was where I intended to stay.
But the Peoria I see is not the Peoria everyone sees. I’m not naive. I know not everyone shares my enthusiastic view of this city. Many transplants and natives alike have little good to say about the Peoria area. I know not everyone sings “Endless Love” on their drive to work or feels safe heading home after dark. They find themselves bored with the selection of activities and don’t feel like they belong in any of the area’s many organizations.
But it’s like taking your friends to your favorite restaurant: you want them to love it as much as you do. I want everyone to see the Peoria I see. I want my children to grow up in a city where they feel safe and where everyone has the sense of belonging I feel here.
For those with a less-than-rosy view of our area, I want to ask what solutions they’re offering. The way I see it, you can do one of three things: keep complaining about it, leave it, or build it.
Build Peoria chooses the third option. In just its first few years of existence, members have started the process of improving our area. The organization’s first project, a dog park in Peoria Heights, added a new family-friendly activity and destination. The organization is currently raising money to renovate a resident officer home on Peoria’s near north end. Hopefully, having a police officer living in their neighborhood can give people a sense of safety and peace of mind.
As Build Peoria continues to live out its mission to “Build Peoria. Leave a legacy.”, I know more people can start to see the Peoria I see.