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Meyer cited for extensive volunteerism throughout community
Named 'Citizen of the Year'
Brandy Meyer Citizen of the Year
Brandy Meyer (left) received a plaque from Lisa Mantarro Moore declaring her “Ceres Citizen of the Year” at Friday evening’s Chamber banquet at the Community Center. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Brandy Meyer was named “Ceres Citizen of the Year” at Friday evening’s 55th annual Community Service Awards & Installation Dinner sponsored by the Ceres Chamber of Commerce.

Meyer, who not only is president of the Ceres Chamber of Commerce and active in Soroptimist International of Ceres and serves on a myriad of committees, was chosen by past award recipients.

“Well this is awkward,” said Meyer in receiving the award. “It’s kind of weird to plan an event and be in charge of it and have no idea that’s you’re going to be standing up here accepting an award.”

Meyer was nominated for the “Citizen of the Year” award along with retiring Police Chief Rick Collins and Ceres coach Bret Durossette.

Meyer and her husband of 33 years Keith Meyer co-chaired the “Love Ceres” event in 2023.

She has volunteered for numerous committees, including the Ceres Street Faire Committee, Ceres Hot Air Balloon Festival Committee, Tuolumne River Regional Park Advisory Committee and Ceres Unified School District Stakeholders Committee as well as the ad hoc committee looking into refurbishing the Ceres water tower.

Meyer is a member of the Soroptimist club, and volunteers for Youth for Christ and National Night Out. She is both an elder and youth director at Harvest Presbyterian Church in Ceres.

Other groups she’s help out are the Ceres Relay for Life, the Ceres Centennial Committee, Ceres Beautification Committee, Ceres High School Boosters and Measure H Committee.

In addition to volunteering Meyer owns Meyer’s CPR & First Aid.

Meyer said she volunteers out of love for her community.

“I love Ceres and why not? It’s a great community. We came here back in 1994 when our two boys were little and we immediately became room moms … and we became scout leaders and went on from there.”

The spirit of volunteerism continued and expanded as her children grew up.

“I do love Ceres. I truly do love it. We raised our family here, I have a business here, we live here. Everything about Ceres is on my heart but mostly I join these committees because I make a lot of friends and if you want to make more friends join more committees.”

She then slipped in a thank you to Keith “because he is my rock … supporting me through everything.” 

The Chamber has been holding its annual banquet since 1969 to recognize individuals for service to the community as well as accomplished businesses. Friday’s event saw the Chamber hand out the following awards to citizens and businesses:

• “Distinguished Service award” – Project Yes;

• “Young Citizen of the Year” – Tanveer Kaur;

• “Volunteer of the Year” award – Daniel Martinez;

• “Small Business of the Year” – Exit Realty;

• “Large Business of the Year” – Ceres Partnership for Family Resource Center;

• “Legacy Award” – Stanislaus County Farm Supply.

“Distinguished Service”

The non-profit organization Project Yes was bestowed with the Distinguished Service award after being up against three other nominees – county Supervisor Channce Condit, Ceres Police Lt. Trenton Johnson and Chamber Vice President Irene Ortiz.

For 25 years, Project YES (Youth Employment Services) has served youth overcome obstacles in obtaining employment. The organization serves 500 youth each year at three offices.

“This is really a group award,” said Dustin Pack, who accepted the award. “Some of my staff has been with me a long time so I appreciate that endurance race that you’ve been running with me. I appreciate my wife for obviously tolerating my endless venture with working with very challenging youth and young adults. It’s a passion but I really have to say thank you to my team.”

He credited Jay Simmonds, former assistant superintendent of Ceres Unified School District, for coming up with the vision for Project Yes funded by a $150,000 grant. The district eventually increased financial support and Project YES.

Dustin Pack YES
The “Distinguished Service Award” was presented to Project YES, accepted by program manager Dustin Pack. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Volunteer of the Year

Daniel Martinez who is a member of the Ceres City Council, a Lions Club member and a youth baseball coach, was named “Volunteer of the Year.” Other nominees were Rev. Ryan Guinn the associate pastor at United Pentecostal Church in Ceres since 2013; and code enforcement secretary Lauren Medina.

Martinez’s community service has included feeding the homeless during the holidays, delivering coffee and donuts to local firefighters and police on Christmas Eve, coaching Ceres Youth Baseball and Ceres All-Stars, playing the Easter bunny for the Ceres Easter event and playing Santa at the Ceres Christmas Festival and Center for Human Services. He also helped organize an effort with Ceres Police and fire to supply school supplies and gifts to children in need at Christmas time.

Martinez also participated in the “Love Ceres” day of service.

Daniel Martinez volunteer
Daniel Martinez was named “Volunteer of the Year” by the Ceres Chamber. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Young Citizen of the Year

Two girls were nominated for the “Young Citizen of the Year” honor which is designated for youth between the ages of 11 and 18 who reside within CUSD boundaries. Tanveer Kaur was selected over nominee Karyme Garcia.

A Central Valley High School student, Kaur has been a member of SHSS, a campus club that encourages student engagement in school activities; and also the STEM Club, the Health and Medicine Club, Leadership Club, WOWE (Women Empowerment) Club and AP Spanish Lit Club. She also volunteers at the UC Davis Medical Center where she donates care packages to babies and families. Three years ago she also organized an event for special education students. With her Sikh Temple Kaur organized a food drive for the homeless and families in need, teaches martial arts and helped the church plant trees in the park. Kaur has also volunteered at the Modesto Gospel Mission youth center, spent time at a Ceres convalescent hospital and babysat children while their parents attended college workshops at CVHS.

Tanveer Kaur
Central Valley High School student Tanveer Kaur was honored as the “Young Citizen of the Year” by the Ceres Chamber. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Small Business of the Year

Exit Realty was selected for honors as “Small Business of the Year.”

Other businesses nominated were Autotal Insurance Services, California Landscape Supply, Gateway Car Wash & Detailing, George’s Gas & Grill, La Cascada Mexican Restaurant and Luxury Limousine Service.

Exit Realty Consultants, which opened its office in Ceres in 2012, was cited for giving back to the community, including the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Families by sponsoring children and teens during the Christmas holiday. The business has also had a Christmas giving tree which has provided gifts for approximately 1,000 kids from needy families over the past decade.

In June Exit Realty sponsored a food and funds drive for the Second Harvest Food Bank, which provided 1,575 meals for the community.

The business also works with Jessica House in Turlock.

In 2021, Exit Realty donated $10,000 to the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Foundation to benefit foster children.

Broker Kris Klair cited the community support and Renee Ledbetter for his company growing from a small operation of three offices and 30-40 agents to nine offices and 300 agents.

“She made our name look good in Ceres, she made me look good in Ceres and she made our team look good in Ceres,” said Klair of Ledbetter. He also credited his wife for being “the backbone of everything I’ve been doing and made us where we’re at as well.”

“We’ll keep on giving back as much as we possibly can,” said Klair. 

Kris Klair 2024
Kris Klair of Exit Realty Consultants picks up the “Small Business of the Year” award.

Large Business of the Year

The Ceres Partnership for Family Resource Center (FRC) was named the “Large Business of the Year.” Walmart Supercenter was the other nominee.

Originally found in 1994 as the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children, the grassroots community group has advocated for children and family services. The FRC has grown to serve the communities of Ceres and Keyes by providing high quality programs. It also provides food, clothing, utility payment assistance, parent education programs, parent cafes, student readiness and literacy groups as well as access to educational resources, healthcare and job training.

The FRC served approximately 2,000 Ceres residents in the last fiscal year.

Cindy Duenas, executive director of the Center for Human Resources which runs the FRC, said she’s proud of and grateful for the work to strengthen Ceres families.

“It truly takes a village to do this kind of work,” said Duenas while Lori Schumacher, director of the family strengthening programs held the award.

Ceres Partnership 2024
Cindy Duenas, executive director of the Center for Human Resources (right) which runs the FRC, said she’s proud of and grateful for the work to strengthen Ceres families. Lori Schumacher, director of the family strengthening programs held the award. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Legacy Award

Two businesses were nominated for the “Legacy Award,” designated for individuals or businesses that have contributed to the Ceres community through service, support or volunteer efforts for more than 40 years. The award went to Stanislaus Farm Supply while the other nominee was Security Public Storage.

Stanislaus Farm Supply was formed in 1949 after a steel workers’ labor strike led to a shrinking supply of bailing wire needed by Valley farmers and what was available was exorbitantly prices. The need for less expensive wire drove Stanislaus County farmers to form a committee and pool financial resources to secure a railcar of wire. One of those farmers, Joe Sousa, offered to the Farm Supply Committee, headed by Maurice McDonald, to manage the company for six months without pay. He also offered free use of his pickup and a large truck. If directors were satisfied with the operation at the end of six months, he agreed to continue for six more months; if not, he pledged to resign with no compensation. Fred Thiemann, another local farmer, matched Sousa’s proposal by offering office space and clerical staff at no charge, and in 1949, Stanislaus Farm Supply was born.

Stanislaus Farm Supply was originally located at H and Washington streets in Modesto, but is located on E. Service Road in southwest Ceres. Today the coop supplies 2,500 farmer members and general customers with fertilizer, seed, feed, herbicides and pesticides and general farm supplies such as farm animal health products. Besides lower costs, Stanislaus Farm Supply offers service and advice to farmers.

The coop gives back to the community through junior livestock events and scholarships for students pursuing agricultural degrees.

In 2015, Nick Biscay was named president and CEO of the company after the retirement of Sam Bettencourt.

Stanislaus Farm Supply operates three locations in California and two in Nevada totally 130 employees.

“While other grower-owned companies and ag suppliers have gone out of business in the past 75 years, Farm Supply has been able to survive and thrive by adapting to change,” said Renee Ledbetter in introducing the company.

“We keep going,” noted Farm Supply’s Marketing Manager Joey Gonsalves. “There’s not a lot of coops in California. You know the Midwest and the southeast they do have a lot of cooperatives. Just California didn’t have that and we’re one of the few that are out there still fighting with the big boys, we fight along with a lot of big ag conglomerates, foreign owned conglomerates and national companies so we’ve staked our claim trying to focus on growers. Obviously we gotta make a profit to stay in business but really the focus is helping farmers and our membership succeed and grow food for all of us. That really makes the work special when you do that.”

Gonsalves singled out long-time employee Mike Machado who has been with the company for 48 years who grew up in the company with both parents working there.

Joey Gonsalves Stanislaus Farm Supply
Joey Gonsalves accepts the “Legacy Award” for his company, Stanislaus Farm Supply as one of its managers. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Installation of officers

The banquet also saw the swearing-in of Chamber officials for the new year.

Meyer stays on as president and Irene Ortiz still serves as vice president. Rahil Chadha remains as treasurer and Paul Huckaba continues as parliamentarian.

Returning board directors are Herman Bhatti, Kelly Cerny, Jason Chapman, Ryan Guinn, Renee Ledbetter, Vick Sekhon, Eileen Stokman and Chad Suydam. Ambassadors are Deborah Boris, Sara Ivey, Ramon Mendez and Puja Verma.

Meyer gave a short talk about the Chamber titled, “Ceres on the Move.” She focused specifically on transportation, citing Ceres’ accessibility, the nearby airport, local businesses engaged in transportation and the forthcoming ACE train station.

She also cited the new businesses that have popped up along Mitchell and Hatch roads.

“Whether it be by transportation or new developments, Ceres is on the move and there’s no slowing us down now,” said Meyer. “The Chamber is ready to move right along with the city. The goal is to double our membership in 2024 and to continue to support our growing businesses.”

She gave a PowerPoint presentation on what the Chamber does, including the special events throughout the year, including ribbon cuttings and mixers.

Oath Chamber
Taking oath as continuing Chamber board members are Irene Ortiz, Paul Huckaba, Ryan Guinn, Sara Ivey, Chad Suydam, Puja Verma and Deborah Boris and Renee Ledbetter. - photo by Jeff Benziger

The event featured a short talk by State Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil, (D-District 4) on community service.

“We know the call for community service can start at any age,” said the senator. “There’s no right way to do it or any wrong way to do it but it really just comes from the heart and it comes from loving your community and from a call to purpose.”

Alvarado-Gil reflected on when she was in the second grade and began distributing popcorn to her fellow classmates. She went onto become an educator and in turn encouraged to serve others.

Alvarado-Gil also urged the community to support local businesses. “Give them that love in the form of celebrating them on social media, buying locally and making sure that we connect in that really giving way.”

Marie Alvarado-Gil points
State Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil spoke about community service and how it began for her in grade school. - photo by Jeff Benziger