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Chamber honors groups at holiday mixer
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David Sawyer and Pasquale Sobotka represented the Ceres VFW chapter at the Ceres Chamber of Commerce holiday mixer at the Ceres Community Center. - 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 Thursday evening.

Held at the Ceres Community Center from 6 to 8 p.m., the annual holiday mixer highlighted the contributions made to Ceres by a number of groups, including Soroptimist International of Ceres, Ceres Garden Club, Lions Club, Children's Crisis Center as well as Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children. Other groups which had tables at the mixer included Project YES, the Ceres Chamber, VFW, ARC Catering, Pajama Project, Smyrna Lodge #532 of Free and Accepted Masons and Boots & Saddles.

"We just want to honor them for all the service they do throughout the year," explained Chamber of Commerce chairman Dustin Pack. "The mixer also gives them a chance to highlight their programs."

Each club had a chance to display promotional materials at tables and talk briefly about their groups.
Ceres Youth Soccer Organization president Brian Hayes noted his group is celebrating its 30th anniversary and offers rec, competitive and now TOP soccer teams for children with disabilities. Approximately 1,200 players are in the league.

Stan Sinclear talked about the Ceres Lions Club, which meets the second and fourth Wednesday at the Ceres American Legion Memorial Building. The club has 92 members, which is "the most we've ever had," said President Sinclear.

"Sometimes people might think we're the Ceres Barbecue Club," said Sinclear. "We do quite a bit of barbecuing in the community."

The club's major fundraisers include the annual omelette breakfast, which is set for Jan. 25 with all proceeds going to four high school scholarships.

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.

Lisa Harding and Pardeep Kaur, representatives of the Central California Child Development Services, located at 2020 Euclid Ave., Hughson, were present to explain what they offer. Established in 1984, CCCDS offers educational services throughout Stanislaus and Merced counties, and serves children aged six weeks of age to five years old. Services include migrant children education, Head Start and other state funded programs.

Project YES 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're not only doing good things for our clients but also giving back to the community," said Dustin Pack.
Through a grant, Project YES is working with large local manufacturers to certify 50 young adults.

Pack extends an invitation to local businesses to receive free labor in exchange for job training and experiences.
The Children's Crisis Center had a chance to explain that it has established a facility in Ceres.

Case manager Annie Ortega said the center opened on Whitmore Avenue about a month ago, offering intervention and respite care services for families and children in crisis. The program takes in babies through 17-year-olds.

Kathy Grieve, the new president of the Ceres Garden Club, explained that since 1996 the club has been beautifying the community. The club maintains all plants in the Ceres Community Center and recently planted 44 trees in the "Let Freedom Ring" grove honoring presidents in Smyrna Park.

Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Ceres Post #10293 was also on hand in president Dave Sawyer and chaplain Pasquale Sobotka.

"We do a lot," explained Sawyer. "Our main mission is veterans, helping veterans and we do a lot for the community. We support youth sports. Our honor guard does approximately 100 funerals a year."

The VFW recently won a national organization award, one of 15 awards offered to 7,500 posts.

Geri Lewis, the events manager for Howard Training Center, told the crowd that her agency trains developmentally disabled adults to be productive members of the community. Ten programs are offered to approximately 300 participants based on ability through 158 employees. She plugged the March 7-8 Crab Fest that brings in over $100,000 for HTC.

The Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children, said 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. The CPHC assists parents in applying for health insurances and job readiness skills.
Rangel invited the crowd to check out the giving tree at Exit Realty in Ceres to help give a poor child a nicer Christmas.

Pack noted that the "Partnership" was instrumental in pulling off the feeding of 295 persons for a Thanksgiving Dinner held last month. Over 50 volunteers assisted.

Zenia Zuniga explained Pajama Program, a non-profit organization that she organized to come to Stanislaus County. The organization collects and distributes PJs to children who are in need, whether a child in the foster care system, in a shelter or awaiting adoption. The organization also collects books to nurture children. The organization's website,, notes that the youngsters targeted "do not know the comforts of a mother or father to tuck them into a cozy bed and read them a bedtime story. Many have been abandoned or abused, most deprived of any love at all."

She explained that pajamas are being collected locally at Supermom's Frozen Yogurt in the Richland Shopping Center. Her goal is to open a "reading center" in Ceres which would also serve as a PJ collection center.

"We just had a pajama packing/sorting party last Saturday at my home and we had volunteers come out," said Zuniga. "Keep in mind they're strangers, they just come out word-of-mouth and so I really hope we can reach our goal to gain a reading center in less than five years so we don't have so many strangers at my house."

Representatives of elected officials sat at one table. Each explained how the representative can be contacted for assistance with government agencies. Senator Anthony Cannella was represented by Helen Condit of Ceres, state Assemblyman Adam Gray represented by her son, Channce Condit, and Dana Ferreira representing Rep. Jeff Denham.

Michelle Norleen of Boots & Saddles explained how her group offers therapy horse riding for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other military related issues. The group offers riding at the Diamond Bar Arena in rural Ceres.

Carol Nelson Staley, president of Soroptimist International of Ceres, explained that the club is 41 years old with 73 members.

"We're mostly a women's organization although men can join but most of you choose not too," said Staley. "But we are known as a fun club."

The group 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 1 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.

Members also are assembling emergency kits for women and children who might need to walk away from a bad domestic experience or survive fires.

"If we can make life better for women and girls, men and boys' lives are going to improve," said Staley.

Members of the Ceres Masonic family - Eastern Star, Job's Daughters and the Free & Accepted Masons - took turns telling about their groups. In Ceres for over 80 years the goal is to help the community. The Masons help raise $10,000 last year for scholarships. The Masons also conduct cornerstone ceremonies at the various public buildings and schools.

Masons purchased and donate books for school libraries, offer free fingerprinting for child IDs at the park and participated in the Relay for Life.

Renee Ledbetter, who will be president of the Chamber of Commerce next month, invited those in attendance to submit names of persons deserving to be considered for the 2012 Citizen of the Year. 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.