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Groups mix with cheer
Chamber hosts annual Holiday Mixer
Wes Stamper
At Fridays Chamber Holiday Mixer, Wes Stamper, the new chairman of the Ceres Relay for Life, explains the groups activities leading up to the April event. - 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, including Ceres Rotarians, Soroptimist International of Ceres, Ceres Garden Club, Ceres Lions Club, Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children. Other groups which had tables at the mixer included the Ceres Relay for Life, 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 Warner Norleen, was an added feature to this year's event. The event also featured a free buffet of food.

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

Howard Training Center's Senior Meals program was represented. The program provides over 20,000 meals per month countywide to shut-ins and seniors at congregate sites and provides social time to seniors to help battle depression and feelings of isolation.

Wes Stamper, the new chairman for the Ceres Relay for Life 2016, spoke about the upcoming event at Ceres High School. The American Cancer Society fundraiser will be held during a 24-hour period starting Saturday, April 30 to Sunday, May 1. Stamper invited people to sign up as individuals or teams with the next planning meeting set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 12 at the Ceres High School cafeteria. The public is invited. Information will also be provided on preventing cancers, types of cancers as well as assistance offered to cancer patients.

Dustin Pack spoke about Project YES, a youth employment program that provides opportunities for youth to "find employment and really find their way in life." The program is based at Walt Hanline Elementary School campus near Central Valley High School but provides services to those aged 17 to 24 in the entire county. Life skills are taught to help get youth are engaged in the community. Pack said youth have given over 5,500 hours to the community in volunteer service.

Howard Training Center also had a table about its transportation department. Dennis Pinaire said the department delivers meals to shut-ins' homes and sites and places over 20,000 miles on its vehicles per month. The department also transports developmentally disabled adults to and from programs and work sites. Keeping the fleet running is a constant chore. He said the public can help out by saving and donating plastic grocery bags to the center, which is located at 1424 Stonum Road. HTC also needs volunteers to help deliver meals as an assis tant to a driver. Pinaire said his department also offers CPR and first aid and food safety classes to the public.

Steve Beaver explained that the Ceres Community Foundation was established in 1996 by Homer Jorgsensen. An independent 501(c)3 organization, the group's objective is to work with service clubs to "help make Ceres a better place to live, whether it be artistic or historic or recreational." Projects have included funding for the Let Freedom Ring presidential grove of trees at Smyrna Park, the memorial brick project at the Ceres Community Center, the Howard Stevenson Memorial at the Ceres River Bluff Regional Park, preservation of the Clinton Whitmore Mansion, the National Night Out event and soccer field improvements.

Ceres Rotary Club's activities were explained by President Dave Hosmer. He said Ceres joined the international organization with a chapter in 1977. Members include civic leaders and business professionals. Projects include the Rotary Grove in Smyrna Park, Costa Fields work, support of the Red Shield Center in south Modesto, sponsorship of eight scholarships, five Interact clubs, speech contests, and portfolio and interview program that drew 120 students. The Ceres club also contributes to the international club's chief program to eradicate the world of polio. At the outset of the program in 1985 there were 350,000 cases of polio in the world and has now dwindled to 89 cases. Other organizations are also credited with that goal nearly being reached.

Hosmer also noted that Rotarians support a wheelchair rehabilitation program and distribution in Latin America. He invited anyone to check out lunch meetings every Friday at the Ceres Community Center, 2701 Fourth Street.

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 celebrated their 94th year in Ceres. He said the group is active with two teams in the Ceres Relay for Life event, tree planting at elementary schools, conducting essay contests with scholarship prizes and recently conducted a cornerstone ceremony at the new classroom wing at the Howard Training Center. The group's biggest single push is for its child ID program at the Stanislaus County Fair.

"You see us all around all the time," said Galbraith.

Alyssa Long, a Ceres product, spoke on behalf of her boss, state Senator Anthony Cannella. She explained that the Ceres office at 2561 Third Street (opposite the Ceres Library) assists constituents with issues involving state agencies and legislation.

Jim Becker, HTC's site supervisor, spoke about developmentally disabled clients who provide janitorial services and maintain the landscaping at four county roadside rests owned by Caltrans. The crew invests 114 hours a day to maintain the two rest stops on Highway 99 south of Turlock and two in Westley.

"People will come up to us, travelers, and compliment us on how nice it is to have a place where they can stop that's clean and safe," said Becker. "A lot of people mistake us for Caltrans employees. They don't look at our people and say these are people with developmental disabilities who are doing this. They look at this as a normal work crew and that's kind of what we are striving for."

HTC crews also maintain landscaping areas in the city of Ceres.

"One of the reasons I think Ceres is so beautiful is because of the work Howard Training Center does," said Becker.

Production Unlimited clients work at various jobs, including relabeling of wine products, and jobs at Hope Chest.

Becki Nicholes spoke on the "Love Ceres" program which she spearheads with husband and Fire Chief Bryan Nicholes. Love Ceres began out of the successful 2007 Love Modesto event to make a difference in the community. Seven Love Ceres events have been held since its inception with 3,081 volunteers in the 2014 event. Properties have been cleaned, homeless have been fed and the elderly have been befriended.

"More than 12,324 volunteer hours have been donated to our community," said Nicholes. "If just at minimum wage alone, that would be $110,916 in service that we've given to our community."

The date of the 2016 Love Ceres event is set for 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 23.

"We have tons of jobs," said Nicholes.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars presented a $200 donation to the Ceres Chamber at the outset of its talk. VFW chaplain Pasquale Sobotka explained that the VFW offers high school scholarships in addition to color guards for public events.

"We do a lot of honor guards at veterans' funerals," said Sobotka. "We've gotten up to about 60 funerals that we've done in this past year alone."

The Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children now goes by the name of Ceres Partnership and recently moved from the corner of Fourth and North streets to the former Grandview Head Start building at 1317 Grandview Ave. Through the Center for Human Services, the group's mission is to change and build futures through programs that strengthen and support youth and families. The focus of Ceres Partnership is children up to age five and is a one-stop shop for utility payment assistance, food and parent classes. The group just also served over 400 at its third annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner. A Christmas toy giveaway is occurring this week.

An open house is set for the Ceres Partnership at its new digs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan 14.

Jeri Lewis, who will be a new Chamber of Commerce director, spoke about her Howard Training Center, which has been in Ceres for 63 years. She plugged HTC's 22nd annual Crab Feed, which is set for Feb. 5 and 6 at Witmer Hall at Howard Training Center. Tickets are $45 per person.

Lewis also noted that HTC's food service program can cater any event from small to large.

Bernie Hendricks, president of the Ceres Garden Club, talked about her group. Coming up is their spring lunch to benefit its scholarship fund.

"We're just a lot of garden enthusiasts who like to learn, who like to get together and share," said Hendricks.

Any interested person is welcome to attend 11:30 a.m. meetings with guest speakers on the third Thursday of each month held upstairs at the Ceres Community Center. Since 1996 the club does a lot of things to beautify 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.

Lisa Mantarro Moore of the Whitmore Mansion Foundation explained that weddings, bridal showers, retirement parties and other special events are being held at the city-owned facility.

"It's a beautiful ground," said Moore. "It's a jewel of our community. How often do you get to have a structure you get to see that's over 100 years old being protected? The city's been very generous in allowing us the opportunity to try to serve as stewards for the facility and be able to rent it out."

The Soroptimist International of Ceres was represented by Tammy Hurst, its president.

"We are a women's organization that helps women and girls throughout our community and world," said Hurst.

She explained about the SET program which teaches life skills and offers crafts to junior high age girls. Soroptimists also has the Distinguished Young Women scholarship pageant for young women. They also sponsor "S" Clubs at Ceres High School and Central Valley High School.

"Instead of a beauty pageant it's more geared toward scholastics and fitness," she said.

Every year Soroptimists give out a Women's Opportunity Award to help a single mom finish her education and overcome obstacles. They also put on the annual Ice Cream Social at the Daniel Whitmore Home which benefits the Ceres Historical Society.

Ceres Youth Soccer Organization explained that since 1983 it runs a youth soccer program that has attracted nearly 1,400 players per season. Lou Toste said the community has thrown "tremendous support" behind the program and CYSO enjoys beautiful facilities at Ceres River Bluff Regional Park.

"Our league supports a lot in this community," said Toste, ranging from competitive travel teams to high school scholarships to the disabled child soccer play through the TOT program.

The final group discussed was the Chamber of Commerce itself.

"We keep hearing that we're making great strides and we hope that's apparent," said President Renee Ledbetter.

She said volunteers are being sought for several committees and working toward new goals that will be discussed at the upcoming Chamber Installation Banquet. Nominations are open until the end of the year for Citizen of the Year, Volunteer of the Year, Distinguished Service Award and Young Citizen of the Year.