“The community is decaying right before our eyes,” Nate Lawrence says, lamenting the decline of his old neighborhood near the Mississippi River in East Moline.
“I grew up in Watertown. There used to be four schools, three grocery stores, and now we have none of those.”
There are no service stations and only Shorty’s Pizza for a restaurant. It’s a “food desert,” with only two two convenience stores.
“That’s not how you sustain a community,” Lawrence said.
He and others are asking Watertown residents and anyone interested in seeing the neighborhood make a comeback to meet at 6 p.m. Thursday at the United Auto Workers Union Hall, 630 Martin Luther King Drive, East Moline.
The group, calling itself the Watertown Community Empowerment Coalition, says it’s looking for economic growth, educational enhancement and particularly social opportunities with the creation of a new community center.
Organizers are asking residents to “bring your hopes and constructive ideas” as to how this neighborhood can grow. Watertown is in the northern part of East Moline, between Illinois 84 and the Mississippi River.
“We need to claim the community and from that pride, we’ll grow,” Lawrence says.
Lawrence said that Watertown has been left behind.
“The city has grown and changed,” he said, “and Watertown hasn’t advocated for itself.”
Part of that reason, organizers say, is because some 40 percent of its approximate 4,100 residents are of low to moderate income, with a declining number of owners and increasing number of renters.
Of the 12 new homes built there in the last seven years, six were built by Habitat for Humanity, the group says.
“This community was once vibrant from John Deere and Rock Island Lines’ workers,” Lawrence remembers. “This is where their families’ citizenship matured, and we don’t want this heritage to die.”
Robert Mason, a retired Rock Island High School principal, says the goal is to find ways to raise money, through possible state and federal grants.
Resident Fred Segura adds the neighborhood “lacks some basics and needs to be revitalized.”