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Ceres service clubs celebrated
Ceres Chamber of Commerce holds annual Holiday Mixer
Denise Wickham
Denise Wickham, president of the Soroptimist International of Ceres, talks about her clubs activities at the Holiday Mixer with members Arlene Vilas, Jill Hunt, Helen Condit, Paula Phipps and Sharon Caruso listening on. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

A collection of community organizations was spotlighted in a Ceres Chamber of Commerce mixer of good company, ample food and holiday cheer on Friday evening.

Held at the Ceres Community Center from 6 to 8 p.m., the annual Holiday Mixer highlighted the contributions made to Ceres by groups that included Soroptimist International of Ceres, Rotarians, Garden Club, Lions Club and Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children. Other groups which had tables at the mixer included Project YES, the Ceres Chamber, VFW, Love Ceres, ARC Catering and Smyrna Lodge #532 of Free and Accepted Masons.

Although admission was free to the public, the Chamber called for a donation of a new blanket on behalf of the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children. The blankets collected will be distributed to those in need for the winter season.

Santa Claus, played by a jovial Eric Ingwerson, and Mrs. Claus played by Carol Ingwerson, were an added feature to this year's event. The event also played host to a "Taste of Ceres" - a free buffet of food from local restaurants and caterers.

Each club had a chance to display promotional materials at tables and talk briefly on the microphone about their groups.

Dustin Pack explained about Project YES, which was formed to give youths - primarily at-risk young people aged 17 to 21 year olds - job opportunities. The group's goal is to find 5,500 community service hours for youth so they can get job experience.

"We assist them with getting jobs, helping them with academics, goals, getting to college, overcoming any academic obstacles they've had," said Pack.

Pack extends an invitation to local businesses to receive free labor in exchange for job training and experiences.

Kathy Grieve, president of the Ceres Garden Club, explained that since 1996 the club "does a lot of things to beautify the city of Ceres." The club maintains all plants in the Ceres Community Center and recently put up the Christmas tree under the Whitmore Park gazebo. Years ago the club planted 44 trees in the "Let Freedom Ring" grove honoring presidents in Smyrna Park.

The group meets September through May upstairs at the Ceres Community Center with speakers with helpful hints on successful gardening.

The American Red Cross had a representative present who said the agency is available at the drop of a hat for anyone facing disasters like residential fires and other natural disasters. The Red Cross also offers CPR and first aid training.

James Coverick, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Ceres Post #10293 was also on hand with Senior Vice Commander Steve McCoy and chaplain Pasquale Sobotka and decorated World War II veteran Tom Dimperio.

"We do a lot of outreach to anybody who has needs with Veteran Affairs," explained Coverick.

The VFW also offers support of youth sports and the honor guard does approximately 100 funerals a year.

The VFW chapter will be hosting its second annual Fallen Comrades Steak Dinner or Crab Feed at 6 p.m. on March 14 at the Ceres American Legion Memorial Building. Tickets are by a $40 donation.

After Coverick spoke, Ceres Chamber of Commerce president Renee Ledbetter noted that the Chamber will start its Hometown Heroes program after Jan. 1. Banners will feature honored local military personnel.

"You're going to be seeing some Hometown Heroes banners in 2015 through Ceres," said Ledbetter.

Becki Nicholes spoke on "Love Ceres," which she spearheads with husband Bryan Nicholes, also the acting Fire Chief. Love Ceres began out of Love Modesto.

"Modesto was on the top 10 worst cities to live," said Nicholes, "and our church said, ‘what would happen if all the churches would suddenly disappear from the Modesto area?' ‘Would anyone even notice?' So with a lot of dreaming and planning they had the first Love Modesto March 7, 2009 when 1,200 people to love Modesto in practical ways. They've done this about 15 times since then and we've added 40 regional cities with Love Ceres being one of those. We were one of the first five new cities that started back in 2011."

Saturday, April 18 is the date for the next Love Ceres. Anyone of any age may sign up for tasks to improve lives in Ceres, she said.

Bud Runyan talked about the Ceres Lions Club, which strives to serve the community and its children.

The club will host its Scholarship Breakfast on Saturday Jan. 31 at 7 a.m. Its Crab Feed is scheduled after that before work starts on the Ceres Street Faire.

The Lions Club also raises funds by parking vehicles at the Stanislaus County Fair as well as the Ceres Street Faire tri-tip barbecue booth. A huge Lions effort is educating third-graders about the American flag, its history and its care.

"We just work to give to the kids," said Runyan.

Ceres Lions meets the second and fourth Wednesday at the Ceres American Legion Memorial Building.

The Soroptimist International of Ceres, which is 42 years old with a membership of about 75 members, focuses on serving the women of the community.

"These women do incredible things," said Denise Wickham, president of the club, "for the women and children of Ceres and for women all over the county."

Last week the club held a "Goody Auction" with baked goods made by the women which raised over $1,600.

Scholarships are provided to students in Ceres schools and the club helps mentor and support women. The group also donates clothes to Project YES, and recently started a new Distinguished Young Women scholarship pageant for young women with 16 girls participating. In January and February the girls practice two days a week for the March 7 program. The winner will receive a major scholarship.

Every year Soroptimists give out a Women's Opportunity Award to help a single mom finish her education and overcome obstacles.

The club also puts on workshops for junior high girls to teach them enrichment activities, such as being safe on the internet, decorate cookies and how to do an RVSP.

"Soroptimist is a great group. The ladies are eager beavers. Their heart is always for the best."

Howard Training Center had five tables, representing its various outreaches.

Carla Strong, the new executive director of HTC, said clients are involved in preparing and delivering meals for 1,200 senior citizens in the county through congregate sites and in-home deliveries.

HTC also has a Home At Last program which matches developmentally disabled persons to participant homes for an in-home living circumstance.

"It's so much better than saying ‘you're going to a facility,'" said Strong.

She also advertised HTC's upcoming Jan. 6-7 Crab Feed.

Melissa Burgess spoke about Community Training program, a part of HTC but located on Stratos Way. Golden Opportunities program is offered for seniors and medically fragile to hang out and do projects if they wish. The Community Integration Program teaches some 66 adults independent living skills like riding the bus, making purchases or get along in a social setting and has openings.

Howard Training Center has about 109 employees and 225 clients serviced every day, said Strong.

Production Unlimited on Empire Avenue does everything from sort clothing on hangers for Hope Chest to labeling boxes for Gallo Winery shipments.

"We do all kinds of piece work," said Strong, "and, of course, the biggest thing is we're teaching people to soar, we're giving them an opportunity to have some pride in what they do and what abilities they have."

Jim Becker, HTC's site supervisor, spoke about clients who provide janitorial services and maintain the landscaping at four county roadside rests owned by Caltrans. The crew maintains two rest stops on Highway 99 south of Turlock and two in Westley.

"What we're doing is real work," said Becker. "If our clients weren't doing it, someone would have to do it, which to me makes it real work. It really matters because those rest stops are important to everybody's that a traveler. They get real pay for what they do. They take a lot of pride in what they do because they've earned every penny they get."
Al Galbraith of the Smyrna Lodge #532 of the Free and Accepted Masons spoke about his group and the three associated groups - the Eastern Star, Job's Daughters and Demolay. The Masons recently conducted a cornerstone ceremony at the Kay Beaver Elementary School with one coming up for a ceremony for a new HTC classroom.

The Masons annually conduct student essay contests and also helps raise $10,000 for scholarships.

"We're active in the community," said Galbraith. "Our big thing is the schools. We've been in Ceres since 1922."

The Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children, said program coordinator Jennifer Rangel, offers a "one-stop shop" Family Resource Center on Fourth Street. Classes are offered to mostly low-income parents on nutrition, healthy pregnancies and school readiness. A breast cancer support group is offered as well as a crocheting class and morning coffee for parents. The CPHC assists parents in applying for health insurances and job readiness skills.

The group recently put on the popular Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

"We truly believe in partnership," said Rangel. "It's all about strengthening the families."

Representatives of high school clubs Interact, Ceres High School ASB Leadership spoke. ASB President Kyndal Chapman detailed how Leadership students take on student activities such as the Fall Formal, Homecoming, Club Rush Week and Anti-Bullying Week. Students also recently put on the Perfect Turkey Dinner, collecting 911 cans of canned foods to donate to church food banks. ASB also conducted Operation Gratitude to collect seven boxes to veterans.

Ramon Mendez spoke about two groups he is a part of - Latino Community Roundtable and Ceres Rotary Club. LCR, he said, offers him social and political networking.

Mendez said he likes how the Rotary Club honors students who do well in school. John Curtis added that Rotarians helped rejuvenate the Rotary grove at Smyrna Park, help out with soccer fields, give dictionaries to all Ceres third-graders and fulfill needs at the Salvation Army Red Shield Center.

A government table featured representatives of state Senator Anthony Cannella and state Assemblyman Adam Gray.

Helen Condit announced at the mixer that Cannella will be opening an office in Ceres on Feb. 1 on Third Street across from the Ceres Library. The office will be able to assist local residents with matters with state agencies. She also invited people to submit ideas for legislation in Cannella's "There Ought to Be A Law Contest."

Lisa Mantarro Moore and Channce Condit were on hand to represent Gray.

"There are so many wonderful service clubs in this community," commented Moore. "I'm sure we have more per capita than other communities in the area. We have a great place to live in Ceres."

Moore said Gray has an office in downtown Modesto and mobile office hours in Ceres once per month.

The Chamber also spoke about its Adopt A Highway clean-up program and the need for volunteers. Ledbetter stressed the local Shop Local campaign, asking Ceres residents to shift at least 10 percent of all shopping to Ceres merchants.

"By shifting 10 percent of your spending, we can generate an extra $400,000 in revenue for our community, which would fund a couple of police officers, a couple of firefighters and help improve our roads."

Ledbetter invited those in attendance to submit names of persons deserving to be considered for the 2013 Citizen of the Year. Next month, the Chamber will also be giving out a Business of the Year award, Downtown Business of the Year, Volunteer of the Year, Distinguished Service Award and a Young Citizen of the Year. Nominations are accepted until Dec. 31 through the website.

Applications are also being accepted for a "Service Club of the Year" award. Last year the Ceres Lions Club won the award.