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Enchanted Evening: 102nd Annual Gala Member’s Choice Awards 


“Enchanted” was the perfect word to capture the spirit of a gala that honored those who make Modesto great.

The 102nd Annual Gala for the Modesto Chamber of Commerce drew an impressive crowd this year. The Gallo Center for the Arts glittered with glamor and simmered with conversation. Guests were treated to smoked Do Good Distillery whiskey; fresh, chocolate-dipped Rodin Ranch strawberries; and a number of local delicacies.

“Modesto is one of California’s greatest cities and I am so proud to tell people that I’ve been born and raised [here],”said Valley’s Got Talent’s own Aaron Raby, the master of ceremonies for the evening. “Tonight is our chance to celebrate what makes this city great— you and the businesses of this community are the very reason that we’re here.”

There were ten esteemed awards, each of them presented to those pillars of the community who make our city what it is. Across the board, recipients were honored— and they all shared a unique appreciation for Modesto.

“It was truly an honor,” said the Vera Girolami Ambassador of the Year, Brian McDermott. “I had no idea that you get a certificate from so many officials. The gala was on the same day as my Dad’s celebration of life ceremony, so it was an interesting day for me, but all in all ended on a great note and the Chamber saved an empty seat for my Dad—which was really classy of them to do. Certainly one of the proudest moments in my life.”

Vera Girolami Ambassadors are typically chosen for their exceptional dedication to furthering the mission of the chamber in terms of member outreach and education, volunteerism at Chamber events, and going above and beyond expectations as a member of the Ambassador Team. The love for Modesto seems to go hand-in-hand.

“The food is amazing and now with the widened and expanding bicycle paths it’s a great place to get out and explore,” said McDermott. “We also love Dry Creek Regional Park for disc golf and other things like walking and biking. And the local farmer’s market during its season is one of the best in California.”

The Welcome Team Member of the Year—Jay Harvey from Solid Networks, Inc.—shares in the local pride.

“I enjoy seeing the community come together,” said Harvey. “I grew up in Manteca, so it is great to see the valley continue to grow and to see how proud people are of this area. People in the community should be recognized for their involvement, and these types of events allow this to happen. I believe it helps people see what businesses are involved in the community and this, in turn, helps businesses with growth and promotes the community.”

This focus on introducing people to area businesses isn’t surprising, seeing as Welcome Team Members of the Year are chosen based on exceptional dedication in furthering the Chamber’s mission and welcoming new members to the Chamber.

“It feels great to be recognized by such a great community,” said Harvey. “Receiving this recognition brings me great joy because the membership of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce is what allows me to attend ribbon cuttings and support their decision in opening their business here in Modesto.”

In fact, countless businesses and individuals alike were recognized at the ceremony. The Leadership Modesto Graduate of the Year— awarded to Elliot Begoun—demonstrated promising leadership potential and a strong desire to make an impact in Modesto.

And the Chamber Member of the Year—awarded to Rank Investigation & Protection, Inc.—showed a continued commitment to promoting the community’s growth through the donation of time, resources, and personnel. Rank Investigation fits that bill perfectly: They patrol TID canals and large neighborhoods, provide camera surveillance for large corporations, and perform background checks for a number of public agencies.

In terms of donating time, the Nonprofit of the Year went to Sierra Vista Child & Family Services. It’s the largest, most comprehensive private nonprofit community mental health-based agency in the central valley, and their programs have created a stable wealth of child and family services that are accessible and tailored to a broad range of needs.

“We were very honored to be selected as The Nonprofit of the Year,” said Judy Kindle, Executive Director at Sierra Vista Child & Family Services. “Everyone at Sierra Vista works extremely hard to support and improve the lives of children and families.”

Sierra Vista Child & Family Services has worked 18 months to receive accreditation through The Joint Commission—also known as the National Accrediting Organization for Hospitals, Medical Centers, and Behavioral (Mental) Health Services. Through teamwork, Sierra Vista achieved this goal; and they’re only one of a handful of nonprofit organizations in California to have reached it.

They aren’t the only organization to innovate in business practice, however— Datapath, Inc., winner of Small Business of the Year, has ensured that customers are on the cutting edge of technology solutions. They offer skilled job positions, provide world-class technology services, stimulating innovation, and are right here in Modesto.

“Receiving any award is always humbling, especially to be recognized by the city that raised me,” said David Darmstandler, CEO and Co-Founder of Datapath. “James and I grew up here in Modesto, and spent more time getting in trouble as kids than doing good – but our city never gave up on us. We had drive and when we were ready to start Datapath we had an entire city of great

people cheering us on. We see this award as something the entire community has received, because without them we wouldn’t have made it.”

But it’s not just our technology that’s forward-looking— the recipient of the Excellence in Education award is expected to be, too. Not only that, but they must demonstrate advancement of the community’s economic well-being by preparing the future workforce. This is a job that Tom Changnon, Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools, does all too well.

“I accepted the award on behalf of all the dedicated educators in Stanislaus County,” Changnon said humbly. “I’m proud to live in a county where we have so many amazing educators who do great things for students every day! More than anything, the event gave everyone a sense of pride for their community just knowing so many people care about the well-being of others.”

Of all the stalwart community members looking out for the city’s well being, there is one that might immediately jump to mind. Steve Madison, the Executive Director of Stanislaus County Affordable Housing Corporation, is a veritable Renaissance man. Madison, who was given the Distinguished Service Award, is a board member of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, was the Chairman of the Chamber’s Government Relations Council for five years, and also serves on the advisory board of the Salvation Army and chairs the Emergency and Disaster Services Committee.

“I was humbled to be recognized for coordinating the efforts against Measure I,” said Madison. “The defeat of Measure I was really a team effort and I was honored to coordinate the efforts of a what began as a small contingent of motivated people and grew into a collaborative effort amongst business, labor, agriculture and public safety workers.”

Madison then praised the Chamber for acting as the nexus between the business community and the local government, as well as a clearinghouse for information regarding legislation and regulations. The Gala, to Madison, highlights the Chamber’s activities through stories of accomplishment.

“Modesto still has a small town charm to it,” said Madison. “The charitable giving by businesses and residents is impressive and it warms the heart to see how generous the community is.”

And there’s no better evidence of that than the Robert J. Cardoza Citizens of the Year, Bob and Marie Gallo. Both first-class citizens, business people, and community leaders, “Gallo” is a household name in the area and for good reason. They practice utmost civic service and quality of life for the entire region.

The Gallos’ speech acted as a testament to their profound love for the community, echoing the sentiment of Modesto as a home.

“I’d say the most important thing you’d have to know about us is that we love all of you,” said Marie Gallo. “We love Modesto, this is our home, and we couldn’t be more thankful to God to be here in

this community.”

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