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October 22, 2013

West Modesto breaks ground on Helen White Memorial Trail

Ground was broken Tuesday for the Helen White Memorial Trail, a half-mile walking path in west Modesto. The $1 million project will serve students walking to and from school, along with other users.

West Modesto schoolchildren talked Tuesday about how they will soon enjoy a half-mile trail named for a woman who walked even farther to get an education.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Helen White Memorial Trail drew more than 200 people, including donors to the $1 million project and people just looking forward to a pleasant stroll next year. “Thank you for building this trail,” Burbank Elementary students Araceli Rodriguez and Moncerrat Montes said in unison at the podium. “It will keep the families safe.”

The planners expect to complete the trail by late spring on an abandoned canal bank between Maze Boulevard and California Avenue. It will have landscaping, lighting, call boxes and other security features.

White, who died in 2008, was a leader in many west Modesto causes and also helped people in need in her 30-plus years working for the Stanislaus County Housing Authority.

Longtime friend Odessa Johnson recalled how White, originally from Georgia, came to Modesto in the early 1960s, determined to make a good life for her children. She walked more than a mile to Modesto Junior College, rain or shine, for classes she needed to advance in her career. “As we walk this trail, we must remember that we are walking in the footprints of one who had courage, determination, perseverance and a sense of service to her community,” said Johnson, whose own service has included a dean’s post at MJC and the boards of the University of California and Modesto city schools.

The trail could be especially handy for students walking or bicycling to Franklin School, Mark Twain Junior High School and Modesto High School.

The organizers are about $73,000 from their fundraising goal, said Carole Collins, program manager for the Stanislaus Multi-Cultural Community Health Coalition and the West Modesto/King Kennedy Neighborhood Collaborative. The donations range from $830 in pennies collected by Franklin students to a $200,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente, which is involved in several health efforts with the west Modesto groups.

“This is another step in the journey for Kaiser Permanente to invest in our community, and we are proud to be part of west Modesto,” said Corwin Harper, senior vice president and area manager.

Donations of $10,000 or more came from Save Mart CARES, the Cardoza Foundation, the Modesto Teachers Association, Sutter Health Central Valley Region, the Modesto Rotary Club, E.&J. Gallo Winery, Stanislaus County and the city of Modesto.

The ceremony drew local government officials, civic and religious leaders, and other people glad to see this investment in a largely low-income part of town. It also was a reunion of sorts for people who attended Modesto High and other schools in the neighborhood years ago.

Among them was Marie Gallo, part of the family that owns the winery and has supported many Modesto-area causes. “I think it’s a blessing for all of us to remember what one woman’s life has accomplished,” she said of White.

Marshall School student David Cutchall said the trail “will be something that everyone in the Modesto area can take pride in and enjoy every day.”

To contribute to the Helen White Memorial Trail, contact Carole Collins at (209) 522-6902.

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