Do you love Modesto?
Not as in, do you love living here? Nor as in, do you love things about the city, such as the farmers markets, MoBand concerts, the Gallo Center or the mall? Nor as in, do you love your home, your neighborhood and the things you do with friends?
Rather, do you love Modesto? As in, does your heart break for people going through the trials and tragedies of life? Or as in, are you deeply troubled by gang violence, rundown neighborhoods and unkempt parks and people living on the streets? Or as in, do you yearn to make this a better place by giving help and hope wherever, however and to whomever it's needed?
Do you love Modesto?
Some 1,200 men and women, boys and girls said "yes" in a loud and loving way a week ago, coming together for a Saturday filled with everything from sprucing up neighborhoods to assembling relief kits for Haiti to holding a food and toy drive to conducting a soccer clinic in the Airport area to helping elderly and disabled residents to putting on a block party to visiting refugee families new to the city to assisting a number of nonprofits.
In all, the annual Love Modesto event offered 21 different service opportunities.
"God loves Modesto, and we should, too," event organizer Jeff Pishney told me several days after the event. "If we really love Modesto, we'll reach out to others."
"The needs here are so great, and so obvious," said Pishney, a staff pastor at Big Valley Grace Community Church. "There are practical, tangible, visible ways that people can meet those needs. It will take all of us working together to make this community all it can be."
He's already planning two Love Modesto events for next year, and hopes to add similar ones in other area communities.
Pishney and the others who joined him aren't alone in showing what it means to love Modesto.
Each week thousands of people make a difference by giving of their time, talents and treasures. Working in schools, churches, hospitals, nonprofits and other public and private agencies, they're improving the lives of individuals and the community. Add to that other special communitywide events, like this spring's inaugural Bette Belle Smith Day of Service.
And yet, it's not enough, especially in these turbulent and tough economic times.
"Giving of our time to help others is no longer a luxury to make ourselves feel good about us ... it's now required of us for the survival some of our neighbors," says Michael Douglas, president and CEO of Advancing Vibrant Communities, a nonprofit that has seen a marked increase in requests for help.
As a result, he stresses, "serving others can no longer be scheduled at our convenience, but must be a daily response to the needs as they present themselves."
Francine DiCiano, who heads the United Way of Stanislaus, agrees that the needs today are greater than ever.
The bad economy not only has hurt individuals and families, but the agencies that exist to serve them, she says. With their funding having declined, the nonprofits themselves need help.
"Volunteers are crucial for agencies to maintain the same level of services with staff and program cutbacks," she says.
We'll hear more about volunteering from DiCiano and others in next week's column.
Until then, do you love Modesto?
If so, how can you show it in a practical, tangible, visible way?
Vasché can be contacted at 578-2356 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.