The first item on his agenda was to get rid of the stigmatization of the rundown area, which was crassly known as “Larâghetto”, and create a branding for the area. Inspired by the abundant old houses in the area and the geographical location, he dubbed his neighborhood “Old Northwest.” The area is what could be described as “Downtown Largo”, and its boundaries are Wyatt, 20th Street, Missouri Avenue, and 8th Avenue. Initially, he received some flak for his decision from his neighbors. “Who said you could do this?” he was asked. “Nobody did. I’m a resident,” was his response. He created signs and stickers with a logo on it, signs and stickers which have now gained acceptance and decorate businesses and houses in the district.
“I had a dream a year ago and went with it,” says Stefko. Through his persistent “follow through” of his idea of a better Largo, Stefko has grown the neighborhood support for his cause. “People are starting to notice it because they see something good in it.” He believes in, “bonding together to build a community…When we do that, we all win,” he says.“There’s nothing personal in this for me besides making my neighborhood nice”
The Old Northwest holds monthly meetings at a different business each month, which not only unites the community, but citizens to know what businesses are in their area. Stefko started a website for Old Northwest. www.discoverlargo.com contains information on the neighborhood and the date and location of each Old Northwest meeting. Also present on the website is the neighborhood’s media coverage, another thing Stefko used his persistence to get.
Old Northwest will soon be receiving a community garden. Two shabby city buildings were torn down, and instead of having empty space, Stefko lobbied for community gardens to be put in the space while it was not in use. The idea would not cost the city any money, but would greatly increase the aesthetics of the area, not to mention the camaraderie among citizens.
“Anything can be done,” says Stefko of his successful grassroots level work to improve Largo. “As a citizen, you can do anything .” Eventually, Stefko would like to leave his salon (which he converted from his old house, a process which took him five years to receive permission for the zoning change), to Old Northwest as his legacy. But that is still a way aways. For now, Stefko continues to roll up his sleeves and work hard for a better Largo.