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BROKEN COMMANDMENT -- Like any community, Modesto has its share of caring, giving and civic-minded people who work tirelessly to make the city a better place.
But it also has its dregs, society's bottom feeders who will steal anything that isn't nailed down, and even some that is, usually to support their drug habits. They don't care who they hurt.
Children at Small World Pre-School & Christian Elementary School in downtown Modesto arrived at campus on Sixth and K streets Wednesday morning to discover that someone had stolen the slide and canopy from their play structure.
Last year, the children sold tickets for a spaghetti feed fund-raiser that generated $1,800, enough to buy the entire structure. A couple of parents installed it in July. Now, the slide, the kids' favorite part of the structure, is gone.
"The kids worked so hard to get the equipment," school administrator Judy Minson said.
Showing a tremendous faith in humanity -- and the forgiveness befitting Christians -- the children made a sign that read "Please Bring Our Slide Back" and mounted it on the play structure. After all, hope springs eternal, no questions asked.
Over the weekend, someone stole the sign, too.
One of the teachers called a recycling center to see if anyone had sold the slide for its plastic. No such luck. Consequently, when the school holds another spaghetti fund-raiser April 18, at least some of the money will go toward replacing what was stolen instead of adding new playground gear.
It's not the first time vandals hit the school. Within the past year, thieves broke into the air conditioning, shattered windows and tagged one of the buildings with graffiti.
"There's never a problem when we're here," first-grade teacher Gina McGlade said. "It's always after hours."
With a $1,000 insurance deductible, replacing broken windows and equipment and painting over graffiti threatens the school's future at a time when other private schools are closing their doors, Minson said. Small World, whose students range from preschool to fourth grade, is affiliated with Centre Pointe Christian Center church.
"We're trying to keep the school open," she said. "Lots of us have been here over
30 years. We've never had a problem (with vandalism) like this. Before it was sporadic, not as heavy as it is now."
The children don't understand why anyone would take their slide, break their windows and desecrate their school.
"I felt very bad," said Kody Fonseca, 7. "I hope they give it back."
Therein lies the difference between a child's innocence and an adult's skepticism. Does he really think some heartless thug is suddenly going to get a soul and return the play piece?
"I think so," Kody said.
"I think they'll give it back after they see our sign," said Marina Martinez, 7, who was unaware someone stole their first sign, too.
The older kids, however, demanded penance.
"I was just outraged," said Remmie Felix, 9. "The slide was the funnest part of the playground."
Because if the police find the culprit(s) ...
"I want to get a lawyer and sue 'em," 9-year-old Aaron Spears said.
UNDERAGE DRINKING -- Methamphetamine gets most of the media attention these days, but alcohol is still the substance most abused by teenagers. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, alcohol kills more teens than all other drugs combined.
The Center for Human Services and Stanislaus County Office of Education will co-host a community forum April 16 at the Martin G. Petersen Events Center in downtown Modesto.
"Our target population is parents," said the center's Kate Trompetter. "But what we're really hoping to do is to open a dialogue in the community."
The program, which begins at 6:30 p.m., will include a presentation by members of a teen alcohol prevention group who met at the center in March, talking with roughly 80 other teens about alcohol use.
"There were no adults in the room," Trompetter said. "They were able to talk openly about underage drinking."
Discussions at the forum will include social host ordinances, the Police Department's party patrol and physiological effects of alcohol.
WORTH A GANDER -- The strangest things happen on the way back from yoga class. As Merileigh Moen bicycled her way home Monday afternoon, she saw a large goose waddling along Orangeburg Avenue.
"I was in such a great state (from yoga), I thought I was imagining things," said Moen, a 23-year-old who just returned from a trip to India.
Cars stopped to let the goose cross over to her side of the street, so she got off of her bike and walked alongside it.
"A guy in a truck made a signal like, 'Hey, you ... get the goose,' " she said.
They walked side by side, Moen along the road and the goose on the lawns, for a
couple of blocks until they reached her home near the corner of Sycamore and Mensinger streets.
Her mother, Marianne, opened the gate and Merileigh herded the goose into their back yard.
"We called Fish and Wildlife," she said. "They said they can't pick it up and to put it in a pond with other geese."
How do you pick up a strange goose?
"They said it's no problem. You just wrap it in a blanket," Merileigh said.
Maybe later. Some people in the neighborhood have chickens or geese, and she wants to check with them first. Until then, the goose is enjoying the family's backyard pond, the bread they're feeding it and the company of the family cat.
"It loves it here," she said.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2383.