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Lighting Up Modesto 

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The Chamber’s annual gala is one that always reminds locals how bright Modesto can be.

The 103rd Annual Gala for the Modesto Chamber of Commerce drew as large a crowd as ever. The Gallo Center for the Arts twinkled with lights and tinkled with the careful music of steel drums—courtesy of “Steelin’ the Beat.” Guests enjoyed the show after dining on barbeque pulled pork from Commonwealth; fresh, chocolate-dipped Rodin Ranch strawberries; and a number of other local treats.

“I’d like to introduce a term I heard recently, that was actually coined by US military leaders two decades ago,” said Marian Kaanon, the master of ceremonies for the evening.

“The military came up with acronym to describe future events, and the term is VUCA. VUCA stands for ‘volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.’ I know all of us have felt, increasingly, that we are entering a VUCA force field when we think about the future. But there is a new type of leadership among all of our sectors in response to this uncertain and complex future, one which sees rapid innovation, incredible growth and increasingly complex challenges.”

To celebrate this new leadership, there were ten 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.

The Vera Girolami Ambassador of the Year went to Carol Solario with American Chevrolet. Solario was a regular volunteer at several Chamber events, Business Before, and After Hours gatherings.

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.

Just as important, and just as passionate about Modesto, is the Welcome Team Member of the Year. Kyle Wolterstorff, with Principal Financial, was this year’s winner and was recognized for attending almost every ribbon cutting last year as well as volunteering at most of the Chamber’s Business After Hours events.

“We knew we could always count on him in a pinch as a fill-in to greet guests or help out,” said Lucy Virgen of Bank of the West.

When it comes to helping out, the Chamber also likes to recognize those who help the environment. The ECO Award recognizes employers that have implemented strategies to assist employees with alternative transportation options such as ridesharing, transit, and bike commuting in order to improve air quality, reduce congestion, and save employees money. This year, Frito Lay was recognized.

“For over ten years, Frito Lay has demonstrated their commitment to do good by investing in sustainability efforts to make a difference to the environment and for their employees,” said Yvette Davis with Commute Connection. “Each year, Frito Lay sponsors Bike to Work Month, provides incentives to encourage employee participation and workshops, and promotes the use of alternative transportation year-round.”

ECO-conscious companies are important beyond measure in a climate like this one. And in a social climate with a VUCA “force field” like our own, nonprofit organizations are just as crucial.

“Nonprofit organizations are unique entities,” said Board Member Patricia Gillum. “They consist of people, mostly volunteers, who are there simply because they believe in the mission of the organization and want to make a difference in the life a child, a family, and their community.”

The winner of the award this year is the Stanislaus Family Justice Center. Since opening in November 2010, the Stanislaus Family Justice Center has served 1760 adults and 5092 children. Of the 5092 children, 1522 of them were interviewed by the CAIRE Center as victims of child abuse.

“The Stanislaus Family Justice Center has developed an art program called Art Restores Kids (ARK) with children who have experienced trauma to provide an activity that helps release their creative spirit and let some of their hurts out,” said last year’s winner, Judy Kindle of Sierra Vista Child and Family Services. “Some of the themes of this restoration process are Heart Stories, Monster In Me, Screaming Bags, Masks and other workshops using A Window Between Worlds (AWBW) curriculum. Each workshop is designed to give the children a safe place to share their lives in the presence of a non-judgmental adult.”

The Family Justice Center is just one local organization that’s made a profound impact on our city. 65 percent of the Chamber’s membership is made of small businesses—the cornerstones of our community. Honored this year was “Wilson Lincoln Mercury,” known better these days as “Burnside Body Shop.”

“It was the body shop for the original Wilson Lincoln Mercury dealership. It’s been a locally owned/independent body shop for decades,” said James Bates, representing the winner of the 2015 Small Business Awards, Datapath. “The Burnsides soon determined that in order to sustain its competitive edge they had to market themselves as an independent body shop and so enlisted the help of friend David Boring of Never Boring Associates. Not long after that, the name changed and Burnside had a permanent stake in their community.”

The collision repair and paint facility has been recognized for many accomplishments. It’s won the Modesto Bee Reader’s Choice Awards multiple years running, has the MJC Technical Vocational & Education Partnership Program, and obtained Gold Class I-Car status: the industry’s standard when it comes to training. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The Burnsides are amazing leaders—and joining them in impeccable leadership is graduate of Leadership Modesto, Jason Pink.

“He represents all we could hope for from a LeMo Grad,” said Elliot Begoun, last year’s Leadership Modesto Graduate of the Year. “He was engaged in his time with the class and then stuck around after graduation. Now he co-facilitates the Leadership Modesto Retreat and sits on the Steering Committee. A Modesto Leader for sure.”

And in terms of leadership in education, the The Excellence in Education Award went, deservedly, to Stanislaus Partners In Education (SPIE).

“SPIE was created to partner business/industry with schools to work in the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect to develop productive members of the workforce and responsible citizens,” said George Boodrookas, Dean of Advancement and Executive Director at Modesto Junior College Foundation.

“SPIE’s Educator Internship Program has trained 312 teachers, grades 7-14, in business and industry. These teachers incorporate what they learn interning in business and industry into their lesson plans, reaching hundreds of students a year. SPIE maintains a comprehensive list of career presenters on its website. And that is just in the last ten years.”

In fact, so much has changed in Modesto in the last decade. Especially with the help of Craig Lewis, Paul Van Konyenburg, and Vito Chiesa, the Distinguished Service award recipients who worked cohesively for over 20 years to accomplish a voluntary one-half cent sales tax measure to help finance our crumbling transportation infrastructure.

And who is always there to cover positive news like this? Only the Chamber Member of the Year, Chris Murphy of ModestoView and Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group. Not only has he started the Modesto Area Music Association with Chris Ricci, but he also created the Modesto Historic Cruise Route to celebrate the classic car, American Graffiti, and early rock’n’roll of Modesto.

And there’s no better evidence of a city with so much positivity than the Robert J. Cardoza Citizen of the Year, Bob Piccinini and his work done with The Save Mart Companies.

“When Bob passed in the spring of 2015, he left a legacy of investment in making the Central Valley, making it a better place to live and thrive,” said Cecil Russell, Chamber CEO. “Bob is legendary in the local community for his service and charitable work. He touched our community in so many ways. His leadership and example have blessed Modesto, its citizens and its businesses.”

If the Gala has lit a spark of inspiration in you to make Modesto the best that it can be, visit www.modchamber.org for more information on joining your chamber, local action committees, and more.

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