Sunday, August 15, 2021
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Actual property buyers from throughout the U.S. are shopping for houses in Peoria, Sick., sight unseen

PEORIA, Sick. — A block that had as soon as been dwelling to greater than 100 folks was down to…

By Staff , in Car Rentals , at August 15, 2021

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PEORIA, Sick. — A block that had as soon as been dwelling to greater than 100 folks was down to 6 who lived amid the ruins of one other period. There have been gaping holes in roofs and crumbling foundations. Some homes had been so unhealthy that even the squatters had give up on them, and now solely raccoons and rodents sought them out for shelter.

After which, for causes that nobody in Peoria may fathom, folks from throughout America started snapping them up. By early summer time, seven homes on this block of West Lincoln Avenue had bought to patrons from Los Angeles, San Diego, Lengthy Island, Tacoma, Wash., and different far-off locations.

Amongst them was Jayvon Michael Culver, a barber in Salt Lake Metropolis, the place within the waning days of the pandemic the median worth of a single-family dwelling had raced previous $515,000, excess of Culver may ever afford to spend. With just a few frenzied clicks and emails, he had grabbed 2011 West Lincoln Ave. for $4,500, sight unseen.

“First home I ever purchased in my life,” stated Culver, 36.

Many of the patrons had acquired their houses by way of on-line auctions. None had ever truly been to Peoria; nor did they’ve any plans to maneuver there. And but they bid by the handfuls, if not a whole lot, on houses all through Peoria’s dying south finish, drawn by the need to personal property, a vital piece of the American Dream that had eluded them within the locations the place they lived and appeared to develop extra distant with every passing month. By some means, that they had discovered a model of that dream on-line — and in a spot known as Peoria — that appeared virtually nearly as good. “I felt like I had lastly discovered a cheat code,” Culver stated.

Now he was the proprietor of a home in a metropolis that he had till lately by no means heard of, on a block whose ever-dwindling numbers included a 20-year-old named Benny Cook dinner. Within the spring, amid the shopping for frenzy, Cook dinner and his fiancee had rented one of many block’s final liveable houses and cleaned out the dirty garments and spoiled meals left by the homeless individuals who had been staying there. For cover from the addicts who sought shelter within the block’s deserted homes, Cook dinner purchased a guard canine, safety cameras and an AR-15 rifle.

“In the event you ain’t scared to go in an deserted home at night time, you ain’t scared to do one thing to me,” he stated.

It was the primary place Cook dinner may name his personal and a spot the place he and his fiancee hoped to start out a household. “I could make it our dream home,” he stated. Some 1,500 miles away in Utah, Culver was beginning to make plans too: for his first journey to Peoria and for the home and land he believed may sometime change his life.

An aerial view of West Lincoln Avenue in Peoria on June 9. Malkebu Moore, a long-haul trucker from Philadelphia, takes a break on the porch of the home he purchased on West Millman Avenue in Peoria. Moore inspects the home, which he bought sight unseen in a web based public sale. (Pictures by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Submit)

The story of West Lincoln Avenue’s weird summer time land rush begins with the deindustrialization of the Rust Belt, which had hollowed out Peoria’s once-thriving south finish. It spans a long time of rising inequality, which had turned America into a spot of winners and losers with much less and fewer in between. The set off, although, was the pandemic, the recession and the restoration.

In a lot of the nation this spring, low rates of interest, bidding wars and pent-up demand had sparked an actual property growth. In California, the median single-family dwelling worth hit a report $818,260, up practically 40 % because the begin of the pandemic. Utah costs surged 30 % throughout the identical interval. By June, economists had been utilizing phrases like “unprecedented” to explain the rise and speculating that in some markets the dream of homeownership could be eternally out of attain for many middle-class People.

Peoria had the other downside: a whole lot of decaying houses that it couldn’t afford to demolish. In 2020, pandemic-related price range cuts had compelled town to droop all non-emergency teardowns. Many of those deserted homes had been funneled to the county’s tax foreclosures public sale, which that September included 190 properties, greater than double the earlier yr.

On the bottom in Peoria, these houses had been nugatory. On-line, although, that they had worth. A 31-year-old investor from Texas bid $751 — $1 over the minimal — on nearly each property within the public sale and walked away with 54 of them. He bought 43 to an investor in Sarasota, Fla., for about $1,400 every.

The Sarasota investor put just a few of the houses on, a web based public sale website, every week this spring and early summer time. “Nice Alternative,” his pitches normally started. Decrease down, a disclaimer cautioned: “In uncommon circumstances home could be demolished or burned down.” Many of the homes bought for $3,000 to $6,000.

Ross Black, town’s neighborhood growth director, likened the buyers who purchased homes in bulk to vultures making an attempt to extract the final little bit of worth from a dying place. They’d virtually no incentive to sink a penny into the houses earlier than they flipped them, normally for a small revenue. Black had extra sympathy, he stated, for the “unlucky patrons” bidding for them on-line. In early Might, he pressed play on his workplace telephone, the place a girl from Stockton, Calif., had left him a voice-mail message.

“I’m a brand new property proprietor in Per-rora. … I can by no means say it,” she started. “There was an enormous misunderstanding.”

Quickly, Black was driving to the home, down potholed streets and previous an deserted brick elementary college with Gothic-style home windows and hovering smokestacks, a remnant of the times when Peoria’s south finish was dwelling to 42,000 folks, lots of whom walked to work on the hulking factories alongside the river. Now the realm was right down to about 12,000. The shell of a faculty had been slated for demolition a decade in the past, however the metropolis lacked the $1.2 million essential to tear it down.

Minutes later, Black’s automotive pulled to a cease in entrance of the Stockton girl’s dwelling, which was boarded up and lacking most of its roof. Weeds had been rising within the lavatory sink. All of which led Black to ask the query that he had been pondering for weeks: “How does somebody in Boston or Salt Lake Metropolis or Los Angeles find yourself shopping for a house in Peoria that they’ve by no means even seen?”

A room in the home Malkebu Moore bought for round $5,000. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Submit) Chairs and a grill sit outdoors Benny Cook dinner’s dwelling, one of many final liveable homes within the 1900 block of West Lincoln Avenue in Peoria. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Submit) A paper fan Moore discovered on the ground of the home he purchased. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Submit)

There have been so some ways to reply that query on West Lincoln Avenue.

For a Boeing employee from Tacoma who received a layoff warning discover final yr, 2102 West Lincoln was his “emergency plan” in case the economic system cratered, he misplaced his job and he couldn’t pay his mortgage.

For a laid-off union consultant from Los Angeles, the choice to spend $5,300 on 1915 West Lincoln got here down purely to cost. “Once I noticed one thing that low-cost, I made a decision to spend on it,” she stated as she rushed off to a job interview in June.

For Culver, the reply to the query may start in Littlerock, Calif., a threadbare desert city outdoors Los Angeles the place he was raised by his grandmother, who owned just a few rental models that she had bought when Culver was nonetheless a toddler. “Once I was a child, it appeared like all of the previous of us owned property,” he stated. “I didn’t need that to die with me.”

Or it may start in Salt Lake Metropolis, the place he labored as a barber and had scraped collectively sufficient money to finance a 2016 Porsche SUV and purchase a 1988 Chevy Caprice that he jacked up on 30-inch rims and drove with the home windows down so he may hear screamed compliments from the sidewalk. To Culver, property was the “most final factor you would personal,” and the one large factor that had all the time appeared past his means, till a day in March when he was scrolling by way of his Instagram feed. Up popped a video of a 19-year-old who was speaking about shopping for and promoting houses with little to no cash. “If he can do it, I can do it,” Culver recalled pondering.

He started Googling and after just a few clicks landed on, the place a lot of America appeared to be inside his grasp. Empty tons in Arkansas and New Mexico had been going for $800 and run-down homes in West Virginia and Pennsylvania had been promoting for just a few thousand. Even a neo-Gothic church in Illinois was up for grabs.

“It was overwhelming,” stated Culver of the push he felt as he took within the potentialities, and shortly he had bid on greater than a dozen properties. Many of the auctions ran for per week, with bids beginning at $1 and rising in $50 or $100 increments. Culver’s first win was a plot of land in Arkansas he snagged for $800. On his laptop display the property was only a sq. of grass and weeds subsequent to a slender ribbon of blacktop in a city he’d by no means heard of known as Blytheville. It was the primary piece of property he had ever owned, and to Culver it felt like the start of one thing large. “I’ll by no means promote it,” he advised a good friend who was watching over his shoulder because the public sale closed. They purchased a bottle of champagne to have a good time.

Quickly, Culver was setting alarms on his telephone so he may be sure he was in entrance of his laptop computer and never chopping hair in the course of the last frenzied minutes of an public sale, when it appeared like everybody was placing in bids. In whole, he spent about $20,000.

He gained a business constructing in Dallas Metropolis, Sick., for which he was the one bidder, just a few small items of land someplace in New Mexico and an empty lot on West Lincoln Avenue that the Sarasota investor had put up for bid.

The investor supplied to promote him an adjoining home on West Lincoln for $6,500. Culver was however needed to go to Peoria earlier than he purchased there once more. Then the investor reduce the worth by $2,000, and all of a sudden Culver determined he couldn’t afford to attend.

“I’d by no means seen a home for $4,500,” he stated.

He texted an image of the brown and white, two-story dwelling to his brother, who questioned if it was a rip-off, and to his Uncle Jay, an actor who appeared within the Nineties in films alongside Mel Gibson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“Koo!” he replied. “What metropolis?”

And he shared it together with his 16-year-old daughter Nikkia, who lived with him in Salt Lake Metropolis and had adorned her room with Bible verses reminding her that God was all the time watching after her.

“Look, child,” he stated.

Her first thought, which she didn’t share, was that her father’s new home was ugly. Then she requested in the event that they had been going to maneuver there.

“No,” stated Culver, who was making an attempt to think about life on West Lincoln Avenue utilizing a web based picture of his new home and what he may glean from the fish-eyed footage on Google Avenue View. He assumed Peoria was poorer than his hometown of Littlerock or Los Angeles’s Compton neighborhood, the place he had household. Even the most cost effective houses in each these locations bought for excess of $4,500.

“To me it’s extra like Nepal,” he stated. “The individuals are in all probability very nice and humble.”

The townhouse complicated the place Jayvon Michael Culver rents a house in Salt Lake Metropolis. The median worth of a single-family dwelling within the metropolis hit $515,000 in the course of the pandemic. Culver, 36, drives downtown in Salt Lake Metropolis in his traditional Chevy Caprice. A view of West Lincoln Avenue in Peoria, the place Culver purchased a home for $4,500 in a web based public sale that he has but to see in particular person. (Pictures by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Submit)

Across the identical time Culver was shopping for 2011 West Lincoln, Cook dinner was strolling by way of his south finish neighborhood and noticed a person fixing up a West Lincoln Avenue duplex that he had bought on the Peoria County tax foreclosures sale for $750. Cook dinner requested him a few job. The person replied that he didn’t have work however hoped to hire out the unit on the second ground.

The surface appeared tough, however to Cook dinner it was a manner out of his grandmother’s condominium and a troublesome childhood that included a three-year stint in foster care, a mom who struggled with drug dependancy, a father who died of most cancers when Cook dinner was 9, and two half brothers who had been murdered close by.

“I fell in love with it,” Cook dinner stated of his new dwelling.

He deliberate to strip the peeling blue paint from the outside and promised his fiancee, NeNe, that she may decide the brand new colour. Inside the 2 tacked posters from their favourite exhibits, “Stranger Issues” and “Rick and Morty,” to the clear, white partitions. NeNe, who graduated from highschool in Might, added her glitter-covered mortarboard bearing the message: “All it took was religion, belief n’ pixie mud.” They hung their highschool commencement tassels from the tv.

After which one sweltering Saturday in June, when the general public swimming swimming pools had been both closed because of a lifeguard scarcity or stuffed to capability, Cook dinner determined that what their new dwelling actually wanted was a pool. Not the little, inflatable type that individuals arrange for splashing, however a giant, aboveground pool of the kind that he had all the time needed as a child. He was unemployed, having give up a $12-an-hour warehouse job that he discovered tense and miserable. However he and NeNe had some cash saved up from stimulus checks, a stint on unemployment and her job working full-time at a fast-food stand.

Benny Cook, 20, and his fiancee rent one of the few livable homes on this block of Peoria's West Lincoln Avenue.
Benny Cook dinner, 20, and his fiancee hire one of many few livable houses on this block of Peoria’s West Lincoln Avenue.
(Ricky Carioti/The Washington Submit)

NeNe discovered a flippantly used pool for $400 on Fb Market, and Cook dinner and his brother drove to choose it up later that afternoon. They stayed up till 5 a.m. Sunday digging out a flat spot within the grass and placing it collectively by moonlight.

The following morning, Cook dinner spent the final of his money on an extra-long backyard hose. His duplex didn’t have an out of doors faucet, so he crossed a muddy, trash-strewn alley to an empty home that had a working spigot. Cook dinner had inspected all of the uninhabited houses on the block within the first days after they moved in and knew which had been frequented by drug addicts and squatters, which had been too far gone for people, and which nonetheless had operating water or lights.

Quickly, water was speeding out of the backyard hose. Cook dinner leaned over the pool’s railing and dipped his hand within the cool, crisp stream. “It’s getting up there,” he stated, pondering of the pool social gathering he was planning that night for household and buddies. “Fairly quickly we’re going to have a pool.”

Round him, life on West Lincoln Avenue continued as regular. At one finish of the block, a half-dozen aged drunks gathered beneath a shade tree sipping vodka. Generally, once they had been feeling fortunate, they might cease by Smith’s Nook Market to purchase lotto scratchers or cigarettes. “These guys are the forgotten souls of Peoria,” stated Aaron Smith, the shop proprietor, from behind a pane of cracked bulletproof glass. “They’re simply ready on a casket.” They had been additionally, Smith stated, his finest prospects.

Throughout the road, the congregation of the New Beginnings Worship Middle of the Apostolic Religion gathered to hope for one another and their metropolis. The plain white constructing had been vacant for a number of years earlier than the congregation purchased it in 2017 for $25,000. “After we first began, the mould was so unhealthy that I couldn’t stand it in right here,” stated Luwanda Ogilvie, 58, the church secretary and music minister.

4 years later, the church nonetheless couldn’t afford to repair the air conditioner, so large followers blew stale air over the small flock, which on this Sunday numbered a few dozen folks. Ogilvie shook her tambourine and led the congregation in tune. “The blood of Jesus will heal your physique!” she cried. The youth minister delivered the sermon. “The rationale we noticed one other dawn just isn’t due to our may and power,” he preached. “It’s due to the Lord’s mercy and charm.”

That night, a bit of after 9 p.m., about two dozen household and buddies gathered round Cook dinner’s new pool. It was the first-ever social gathering at a spot he may name all his personal and most certainly the block’s first housewarming in a long time. The water was now solely knee-deep, however Cook dinner’s nieces and nephews, who had been splashing and shrieking, appeared to not care. “You so little you’ll be able to actually go swimming in there,” Cook dinner teased one in every of his nephews as he climbed into the pool.

Cook dinner constructed a fireplace for s’mores after which disappeared upstairs to seize a twin-size air mattress that the youngsters used as a makeshift pool float. “That’s some ghetto s—,” somebody joked.

The neighborhood grew darkish, and ultimately the youngsters went inside to play video video games in Cook dinner’s front room. Outdoors, Cook dinner and his buddies had been sitting by the pool when Cook dinner seen smoke within the distance after which an orange glow coming from just a few blocks away. Quickly he was bounding up the steps.

“Large-a– home hearth!” he yelled excitedly.

Everybody gathered once more by the pool, the place they watched white smoke from the blaze drift throughout the cloudless, black sky and listened to the emergency radio visitors on a cellphone app.

“That’s one in every of my greatest fears,” Cook dinner stated, “coming dwelling to a fireplace,”

“My greatest concern is that you simply’re asleep in the home,” one in every of his nephews replied.

By 1 a.m. the social gathering had ended, Cook dinner’s household had gone dwelling, and all was quiet however for the excitement of the occasional automotive on West Lincoln Avenue and the sound of water trickling from the backyard hose into Cook dinner’s half-full pool.

Benny Cook dinner cleans the pool he purchased for $400 on Fb Market and put in outdoors his home. Cook dinner walks by way of a abandoned home throughout the alley from his dwelling. Cook dinner checks his mailbox. (Pictures by Joshua Lott/The Washington Submit)

Slowly over the course of the summer time, the distant patrons made their method to Peoria to test on their houses. Malkebu Moore, a long-haul trucker from Philadelphia, pushed open the unlocked door to his home on West Millman Avenue and stepped over piles of rotting meals, used condoms and feces smeared throughout the ground and partitions. Minutes later, he was again on the sidewalk catching his breath when a prostitute propositioned him.

“How are you?” Moore requested.

“Drunk,” she stated. “What are you promoting?”

“I’m not promoting,” Moore replied. “I’m shopping for. I purchased that home. I’m going to repair it up.” However, by that time, Moore knew the construction wasn’t value rehabilitating. A number of days later, metropolis officers discovered a useless physique inside.

Two blocks south, the West Lincoln Avenue patrons weren’t faring any higher. “It’s a goner,” stated the Boeing employee from Tacoma of his new home. “I’m now taking a look at plan B, no matter which may be.” The proprietor of 1915 West Lincoln, the previous union consultant from Los Angeles, stated she needed to “punch somebody within the face” after seeing her dwelling in particular person. She tried calling contractors. “Due to the neighborhood, no person desires to work there,” she stated.

Culver had exhausted his financial savings to purchase his properties, and by mid-July was nonetheless brief the cash to make the journey to Peoria and see them. “I do know I actually need to go,” he stated.

In footage on-line, he had seen a crack that ran the size of his home the place the siding met the inspiration, and he had begun researching alternate options in case the construction was too rotted to restore.

His cousin had seen one thing known as a Boxabl accent dwelling unit on Instagram and talked about that celebrities had been shopping for the $50,000 micro-homes and placing them of their backyards for his or her youngsters. “Full proper out of the field,” the advert promised. “Setup in simply in the future.” Culver questioned if a tiny dwelling normal out of previous delivery containers could be even cheaper and extra sensible. He had seen them on-line, they usually didn’t look too unhealthy.

Despite the fact that Culver knew that he in all probability wouldn’t have the cash to construct Boxabls or a lot else on his property any time quickly, he held quick to his desires. He began subscribing to actual property newsletters that promised to show him methods to make “$5,000 an hour” flipping homes. And he pitched his daughter, who was about to start out her senior yr of highschool, on becoming a member of him in the actual property enterprise if she didn’t go to varsity.

For motivation, Culver preferred to go for drives by way of a few of Salt Lake Metropolis’s most upscale neighborhoods, the place houses bought for greater than $1 million. He became a neighborhood simply down the highway from the elementary college the place his daughter labored as a part-time custodian. “Take a look at this one,” Culver stated as a sprawling two-story compound emerged by way of a niche in nine-foot hedges. “It wraps across the complete block.”

When Culver first ventured into these neighborhoods, he had anticipated he would see largely BMWs, Mercedes and possibly just a few Ferraris. As a substitute, he noticed plenty of Hondas, Toyotas and Chevrolets. “I really like how humble they’re,” he stated.

Generally Culver took his daughter with him on these drives, however normally he went alone. His favourite homes had been the fashionable ones with Asian-inspired statuary, manicured gardens and artfully positioned boulders. He steered down one other a quiet, tree-lined avenue with a burbling creek and peaked roof strains that mirrored the mountains on the outskirts of town. There he noticed a gaggle of teenagers strolling down the sidewalk. “So, these are wealthy youngsters … actually, actually privileged,” he stated. “It’s such a blessing to have your youngsters be privileged. They’re very well taken care of.”

As a result of Culver was a cell barber and reduce folks’s hair of their houses, fairly than in a salon, his enterprise hadn’t taken an enormous hit in the course of the pandemic. He sometimes made $75 to $100 a haircut with tip. He preferred the best way the precise haircut may restore an individual’s self-confidence and the best way his finest prospects handled him as an previous good friend.

These days, although, that didn’t appear adequate. Culver thought of his credit score rating, which was “poor,” and about Jeff Bezos, whose web value had one way or the other grown by $70 billion in 2020, regardless of a recession and international pandemic. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Submit.)

He thought in regards to the film “The Founder,” which chronicles the rise of Ray Kroc and McDonald’s. In a pivotal scene, Kroc realizes that the actual cash in his enterprise doesn’t come from promoting meals, however fairly from land the corporate leases to franchisees. “You’re not within the burger enterprise,” Kroc’s chief monetary officer tells him. “You’re in the actual property enterprise.”

Culver additionally thought of his ancestors, freed slaves who had been promised, however by no means given, 40 acres and a mule as reparations. How may his life be completely different if that promise had been stored?

“If you must work for each greenback that you simply make, then you definately’re not making it,” he stated. “If I’ve to bodily stand up and go to work for my subsequent meal, then I get by, however I’m not dwelling.”

The townhouse complex where Jayvon Michael Culver lives in Salt Lake City.
The townhouse complicated the place Jayvon Michael Culver lives in Salt Lake Metropolis. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Submit)

There have been many visions of how the summer time land rush may finish on West Lincoln Avenue. Peoria officers had been certain that it could end up badly for everybody.

A number of the new householders would flip their properties and maybe extract a bit of bit extra money from an already damaged place. Those that couldn’t discover a purchaser would turn into overwhelmed by the quantity of labor required to repair their houses and cease paying taxes, triggering yet one more tax foreclosures in three years. The homes would return to public sale in barely worse form — a course of that may repeat itself till the constructions had been past any hope of restore. “It’s very irritating,” stated Black, the Peoria growth official. “Each month these properties take a step nearer to demolition and a step farther from somebody with the ability to renovate them.”

In the meantime, a brand new crop of greater than 650 properties — together with seven homes and empty tons on the identical block the place Culver’s home sat and the place Cook dinner was dwelling — had been headed to the tax foreclosures public sale scheduled for Aug. 27. It was by far the most important public sale Black may bear in mind in 29 years of working for town, and he fearful that the majority patrons would as soon as once more snap up many of the properties.

Cook dinner had a special imaginative and prescient for the duplex the place he was dwelling and his block on West Lincoln. Two days after his yard social gathering, his pool was lastly full. He hiked himself up on the air mattress and dipped his toes within the water.

“First rate,” he stated as one other summer time day stretched out in entrance of him.

He had been making an attempt to get a job and had utilized for positions as an exterminator, a forklift operator and in laying concrete. He briefly toyed with the concept of turning into a online game streamer. “Why not attempt to become profitable doing one thing you’re keen on?” he requested. However he dropped that plan when he realized how exhausting it was to draw a giant on-line viewers. Finally, he landed a job with a metal firm, working on the rail yard.

For now, although, he was floating in his pool imagining what life will need to have been like when all the homes on the block had been filled with manufacturing unit staff and their kids. “Take a look at all of the stuff again right here,” Cook dinner stated, pointing to the towering shade bushes and yard garages crammed filled with decades-old junk. “Why was this the block to surrender on? This is without doubt one of the essential blocks. Who would need to depart this?”

He gazed up on the rotting, deserted home in entrance of his duplex. Paint hung in strips from its siding, revealing wooden the colour of weathered bone. One other winter and some large snowstorms, he guessed, may trigger it to break down. Metropolis officers would then have to come back out and cart away the particles, abandoning an empty lot the place Cook dinner hoped that his and NeNe’s future little one may play. He deliberate so as to add a lined patio by the pool and possibly a small kennel for household canines. “We are able to plant some grass again right here and fence this all in,” he stated, imagining how it could sometime be.

After which there was Culver. Deep down, he sensed he won’t become profitable on any of his properties within the subsequent few years, and even a long time. However he had larger causes for getting his land and his home on West Lincoln. For a lot of his life, Culver’s mom struggled to maintain a job. He barely knew his father. “I’m the stereotype of the Black male who grew up and not using a dad,” he stated.

Now Culver had discovered a path to achievement and offering for his household that appeared achievable. Land can be his legacy; it could break the sample that he had inherited from his mother and father.

“I don’t need my struggles to roll off on my youngsters,” he stated.

Benny Cook's pool, with an air mattress as a makeshift pool float.
Benny Cook dinner’s pool, with an air mattress as a makeshift pool float. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Submit)

Employees researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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Picture modifying by Karly Domb Sadof; design and growth by Garland Potts; copy modifying by Vanessa Larson.

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