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‘Bridging the Gap’ event draws small audience
• Advocate of cannabis, key boxer speak at annual event
2024 Bridging
The 4th annual “Bridging the Gap” event to help small businesses in Ceres drew a dismal crowd of about 12 persons Thursday at the Ceres Community Center. Last year about 150 turned out for the event.

A disappointing showing of about 12 audience persons turned out for the 4th annual “Bridging the Gap” event held Thursday at the Ceres Community Center designed to impart advice to local business owners and connect them to resources.

The attendance was a far cry from the approximately 150 who attended last year’s event. The difference may have been that the Valley Sierra Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the Ceres Chamber of Commerce were not involved as co-sponsors. This year’s event was organized and promoted by Irene Ortiz’s Ground-Up Productions, Mayor Javier Lopez and the city of Ceres.

Ortiz, who is also vice president of the Ceres Chamber of Commerce, explained that the event was mostly targeted for those starting new businesses.

Lopez noted that he and Ortiz started the event at the Ceres flea market following the COVID pandemic.

The event opened with Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez interviewing Daniel Martinez to get his perspective on serving on the Ceres City Council. The mayor led into the talk speaking about how he and Martinez pushed for investing $200,000 in ARPA funds to improve Costa Fields to benefit the Ceres Youth Baseball program. Those improvements included new gates, updating the fields and irrigation systems, adding new concrete areas, bathroom fixes and internet upgrades.

Martinez was asked about his vision for his Council District 4.

Daniel Martinez interviewed
Ceres Councilman Daniel Martinez (left) answers posed by Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez on stage. - photo by Jeff Benziger

“I think the biggest thing for me moving forward I would love to see Fifth Street (improved),” said Martinez. “It’s half concrete, half asphalt and it’s been that way for years. That needs to be renovated.”

Mayor Lopez emphasized how he and the city have established stronger connections to county, state and national leaders in an effort to obtain more grants and other funding.

Lopez runs his own fitness business in Ceres which he started in 2015.

In his dialogue with Martinez, the mayor talked about the many hours required of being a member of the City Council, which he termed a “thankless job.” He segued into the difficulties in running a business, saying “if it was easy everybody would be do it and we’d all be walking around with $1.5 million in our bank and it just doesn’t work out that way.”

Martinez said family support is essential to running a business as well as being able to consult with people who have been successful in business.

“Obviously the hardest part is trial and error,” said Martinez.

Lopez also interviewed professional featherweight boxer Nate “El Morenito” Rodriguez who traveled all the way from Los Angeles for the event.

Nate the boxer
Mayor Javier Lopez (right) interviewed professional featherweight boxer Nate “El Morenito” Rodriguez who traveled all the way from Los Angeles for the “Bridging the Gap” event held Thursday. - photo by Jeff Benziger

“It definitely took a lot of hard work and discipline to be able to be able to accomplish what I’ve accomplished,” said Rodriguez, whose passion switched from baseball to boxing seven years ago. He said the adrenaline rush of boxing is what made him fall in love with the support.

His fitness regimen consists of workouts, strength conditioning, sparring, training and runs ranging for five to 10 miles.

Accompanying his son was Marvin Rodriguez, who owns MarvNation Promotions to promote young boxing talents.

The mayor also interviewed Jason David, the force behind Jaden’s Journey cannabis dispensary in Modesto. He formerly operated a dispensary in Ceres until it closed.

David recounted how he turned to cannabis products to give relief to his son Jaden who has a rare form of epilepsy.

“Jaden was dying the first five years of his life, he having 1,000 myoclonic (seizures) a day, grand mals for an hour and a half,” said David. “We were living in hospitals. He just suffered a lot and I’ve been so blessed that God has shown me a different path than using pharmaceuticals … I had to find my own tools.”

Jaden’s condition was vastly improved by cannabis products.

“God doesn’t make mistakes. This plant has been here for 5,000 years and no one’s ever died from it. The side effects are eating, sleeping and being happy and the medications I was giving my son kills two million people a year … we actually have a crisis right now of pharmaceuticals out on the streets, especially here locally as you can see.”

He said prescription drugs can take away the soul of a person. 

Jason David
Jason David explained how his son’s rare form of epilepsy caused him to get into the medicinal cannabis business. - photo by Jeff Benziger

In April 2011 David had nearly given up any hope but was told by his mother to remain strong and persevere. He happened to watch TV and saw a kid who had smoked marijuana and found relief from Tourette’s Syndrome. That prompted his quest to research how the CBD could lessen epileptic seizures and learned about Patent 6630507 and about the “miracle” of cannabinoids.

“I gave it to Jaden. The first day I gave it to him was the first day he went seizure free in five years. It’s been a battle weening him off the pills, down from 22 pills down to one. I got him to start walking, chewing, comprehending. His life is not perfect … but it’s better than it’s ever been. We had him in an ambulance 42 times before cannabis to zero in the last 11 to 12 years.”

David said he’s busy educating others about the value of cannabis and growing acceptance of its use for medicinal purposes without the high.

He shared that he had to close the Ceres store to focus on the one in Modesto due to issues with county over-regulation and taxes.

David recounted how a 92-year-old veteran came into the store after resisting trying cannabis as an “evil.” He tried products to relieve him of aches and pains instead of the 20 plus pills taken daily.

The gentleman told David: “At 84 I was ready to die. At 92 I’m ready to live. These last eight years have been the best years I’ve had in a long time. I wish I’d known about this 50 years ago because my life could have been a lot better. I’ve been suffering all these years.”

He explained that “Jaden’s juice” CBD has one milligram of THC but it’s a low dose that doesn’t give a euphoria.

“This plant – a lot of people think is half-evil and half-good. It’s not true. It works; you just have to figure out how to use it.”

He said he got into the business to develop products that were about helping others like his son rather than peddle “the snake oil” he saw being sold.

Workshops were offered for restaurant and food vendor entrepreneurs in dealing with Stanislaus County Environmental Resources. Another was conducted by Ceres city officials in how to navigate through city requirements, regulations, zoning and permits; and financial literacy for business plans offered by South Modesto Business United.

Other speakers included Arjun Dhingra, the mortgage banker from the Bay Area who was twice tae kwon-do world champion (2007) and (2014), renowned for his expertise in real estate & mortgage social media content and marketing.

Standing by were representatives of Sierra Dental Care, Stanislaus Equity Partners, Stanislaus Latino Chamber of Commerce and the Plus Group.

Kayla Martinez, who is also the elected city treasurer, works for the Plus Group and explained how her company can help with the administration of beginning business owners and mom and pop store operators. The firm helps with staffing and administrative duties, payroll, taxes, human resources and building policy books.

“We’re co-employers is what we like to call it,” said Martinez.