Local volunteer group committed to beautifying downtown Niles

Published 6:30 pm Tuesday, December 19, 2023

NILES — A local organization continues to do its best to beautify the downtown Niles streetscape.

River Essence Group is the volunteer organization responsible for much of the decoration of Main Street and nearby side streets. 

Vikki Jurgonski, president of the nonprofit group, says that their mission statement is “the beautification of downtown Niles”. They have spent recent years executing that goal, through flowers, holiday decorations, and more. Their work has been showcased in the flowers adorning the new downtown streetscape, in the corn stalks tied to poles in the fall, and in the current holiday decorations.

“I love this town,” said Jurgonski.

She described recognizing the history of downtown and the beauty of the older buildings, as well as the desire to help bring out more of that charm. As ideas began to stir, she knew she would need many people to help. She began recruiting volunteers, among them her sister, who had the skills to take Jurgonski’s visions and make them real.

“I knew it when we planted the first flower,” she said. “That was a big day.”

Jurgonski explained that she knew things were going to change as soon as they got started. Residents and visitors to Niles expressed their excitement. She went from reaching out for volunteers to having them come to her. Now with a regular group of almost twenty, they can be seen often setting up the latest decorations downtown, while responding to honks and thank yous from cars passing by.

“The gratitude is really overwhelming,” she said. “You can feel the energy switching. It’s contagious.”

She described her belief that those who see the beautification of downtown have an increased pride in their community. Many of them choose to pull together and help with the cause. Business owners and residents, thrilled with the changes, begin to increase their own efforts. That communal spirit helps add more energy to the vibrant downtown.

In addition to increasing volunteer numbers, River Essence has collaborated with other local groups, such as Niles Main Street. They connected with local businesses, such as East Main Gardens, who donated space in their greenhouse for the group to plan and prepare for the next set of decorations.

They have also found success in raising funds for their projects with the help of local foundations and donations from businesses and individuals.

One of their biggest fundraisers is the annual Polar Plunge. For the past two years, volunteers have raised money by agreeing to be dropped into a frigid dunk tank

“It’s a fun event,” Jurgonski said. “That’s been a really great fundraiser for us.”

Looking forward, Jurgonski hopes for people in the area to come to River Essence with their own visions of how to continue beautifying downtown. She envisioned additional holiday decorations, more plants, and art spread throughout the area.

“Let’s keep rolling,” she said.

Information on River Essence Group can be found on their Facebook page at facebook.com/riveressencegroup.