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BRAIN REPLENISHMENT -- Educators and business types here often bemoan the so-called brain drain, which occurs when the best and brightest young people from a valley community go off to college elsewhere and never return.
So it's always good to see one come home. Jeeni Phillips, a 1997 Davis High and 2000 Modesto Junior College grad, finished her undergraduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley in 2003, and her law degree from the University of San Francisco earlier this month.
She has spent the previous two summers interning for Stanislaus County Superior Court and also at Curtis & Arata law firm in Modesto, where she'll be hired on after taking the bar exam this summer.
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In February, while working for the nonprofit Human Rights Advocates, she addressed the 52nd United Nations' Commission on the Status of Women. Her group was among the 10 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) chosen to address the commission, and she spoke about the need to prevent and combat the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation.
"Trafficking for sexual exploitation is considered the largest distinct subcategory of transnational modern-day slavery and is a gross violation of international human rights," she told the 500 people who attended the session in the U.N. building in New York.
Slavery is a $28 billion industry, she said, that affects an estimated 2.4 million people worldwide.
Speaking before the commission represented an incredible opportunity, Phillips said. Only 10 NGOs are allowed to present at the annual
event. Hers was chosen, and she got the chance to make its presentation.
"I was really excited," she said. "Fortunately, the program I went through did extensive practice in front of my classmates and professors. We're the only law school in the nation that goes to the U.N. to lobby for human rights."
From Modesto to the United Nations is quite a leap.
"I wasn't entirely nervous," she said, presenting third among the 10 organizations. "My biggest concern was that they'd listen to me."
Welcome back home, Jeeni.
CRAZY LIKE A FOX -- One day last week, Turlock's Diane Jones did a double-take as she did her dishes. She looked out the window to see a small red fox in her back yard. She went out into the yard, where her husband, Fred, was gardening.
"It jumped into our neighbor's yard, and I thought that was the last we'd see of it," Jones said.
A day later, neighbor Judi Fujita called. The fox, it seems, has taken up residence in a bush near her swimming pool.
"We knew he was back there, but he was always taking off right away," Fujita said. "Everybody I've told about the fox thinks I'm crazy. They thought my husband (Dennis) and I were crazy until our friend Diane saw it, too. The neighborhood cats have been avoiding our yard for several weeks, and they used to have the run of it."
Whenever there's a UFO -- undetermined furry object -- sighting, you've got to at least get a photo. She grabbed a camera and snapped some pictures, including one of the critter atop the fence.
In recent weeks, the Jones and Fujita yards have been home to an opossum, two hawks -- one of which swooped right past Jones on its way to snagging prey -- wild ducks that use the Fujitas' pool and and now the fox.
Country living, right? Hardly. They live in an area that's been developed for about a decade, right behind Monte Vista Chapel.
CITIZENS BRIGADE -- As the temperature climbed to higher than 100 degrees one recent Saturday, Chris Perez finished weeding the garden at his mom's Riverbank home, loaded the family into their car and headed back home to Modesto.
When they got to Claus and Claribel roads, they noticed what appeared to be steam coming out of a ditch at one corner.
"It was like water boiling," Perez said. "Thick steam or smoke."
Across Claus, he noticed, it was even more pronounced, though not clouding anyone's vision.
"It wasn't like a big fire," said Perez, a 36-year-old English and creative writing teacher at Oakdale High School. "Just a couple of little flames."
Still, a breeze was blowing the smoke toward a field of dry grass on the Riverbank Army Ammunition Plant property.
So Perez pulled over and ran across the street armed with a 32-ounce cup filled with that great fire extinguisher, Sprite. He threw it on the flames. It wasn't enough. He threw his wife's soda on the fire, too.
Motorists passing by began stopping. One called 911. Others -- maybe four or five of them -- handed him bottles of water.
It took only a few minutes for two fire crews to arrive. No need. Perez had the fire out.
"You feel stupid, running around making a spectacle of yourself," he said. "But if the field had caught fire, it runs right up to the ammo plant."
Firefighters laughed at the makeshift bottle brigade, Perez said. They hosed down the area and went on their way.
As for Perez, he was impressed that other folks stopped to help.
"You'd think there was no way they'd give up their water on a 100-degree day," Perez said. "But that was pretty decent of them."
TAPS -- Modesto lost one of its former police chiefs when James C. Neel, 93, died last week at his home in Modesto. Neel ran the Modesto Police Department from October 1952 until July 1957, before leaving to become PG&E's director of investigations in San Francisco. Modesto had hired him away from Napa and his starting salary here was a whopping $584 a month.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.