Is North Riverside the nicest place in the United States? Of course, the folks of that village like to think so. After all, its motto is “a small community with a big heart.”
In early July, we’ll find out whether the nation agrees.
On June 20, the Reader’s Digest announced that North Riverside was one of the Top 10 “Nicest Places in America” and is now asking people to vote online to select the nicest place in the nation. You can vote daily until the contest ends on July 7 at 6 p.m.
“Let’s continue the Chicago tradition,” said Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. “Vote early, vote often, tell your friends and show ’em how it should be done.”
As of Thursday afternoon, North Riverside was running fourth in the voting.
The winner of the contest will be the cover story in the November issue of Reader’s Digest and will also be featured on the TV show “Good Morning America.”
Robin Roberts, co-host of “Good Morning America” was on the panel of judges, along with Reader’s Digest editors, who chose the 10 finalists from a field of 450 submissions.
“It’s been a privilege getting to know these incredible communities and I’m thrilled to share their heartwarming stories with America,” said Roberts in a press release.
The 10 finalists are an eclectic mix of “places” and range from municipalities — like North Riverside; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Katy, Texas; Bothwell, Washington; and Ellijay, Georgia – to a public library in Baltimore, a rural county in southeast Minnesota, a falafel shop in Tennessee, a yoga studio in Texas and a street in Burbank, California.
“These stories exemplify the America that’s too often ignored, where people trust their neighbors, welcome strangers, band together to overcome tragedy and give others the dignity and respect they deserve,” said Bruce Kelley, editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest in a press release.
Tina Valentino, who produces the village’s official quarterly newsletter, the North Riversider, put together the village’s submission for the contest in collaboration with Village Clerk Kathy Ranieri and village hall administrative assistant Sherri Belmonte.
Valentino said finding out about the contest was kind of a fluke. She gets regular emails from Reader’s Digest and often skips over them, but the subject headline for a “nicest place” made her click it.
“When I read it, there was never a doubt in my mind it’d have to be North Riverside,” said Valentino, a Melrose Park resident who has been doing the village newsletter for about a decade.
Valentino said the application process was involved. In addition to writing her pitch, she included links and had a lengthy follow-up interview with a contest official.
“I felt like I was writing a grant application,” Valentino said.
At the heart of Valentino’s pitch for North Riverside is the village’s Neighborhood Services Committee, formed in 1992 and coordinated since that time by resident Carol Spale.
“For more than 25 years, the town’s mantra has been to do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” wrote Valentino in her submission. “It has changed lives, including my own – and I don’t even live there. I wish I did.”
Included as part of the submission were stories and links attesting to the effectiveness of the Neighborhood Services Committee and its block captain program as well as Belmonte’s account of the support she witnessed during the 2013 flood, when scores responded to a social media post asking for volunteers to help fill sandbags along 19th Avenue.
In selecting North Riverside as one of their 10 finalists, Reader’s Digest editors remarked that the village “literally wrote the book on being nice,” referring to the Neighborhood Services Committee’s handbook, “Neighbors All: Creating Community One Block at a Time,” published in 2011.
“It’s a much bigger deal than I thought it was,” said Valentino after seeing the 10 finalists announced on “Good Morning America” on June 20. “This whole thing has been kind of exciting.”