Kevin Valine

Love Modesto spreading to other communities

The streets filled with volunteers in front of the Gallo Center during Love Modesto rally in Modesto on April 18th, 2015.
The streets filled with volunteers in front of the Gallo Center during Love Modesto rally in Modesto on April 18th, 2015.

Love Modesto is expected to draw a record number of volunteers this year, with about 5,000 people fanning out across the city to perform such good deeds as remodeling a youth shelter, collecting food for the hungry and cutting residents’ hair at a senior housing complex.

But Executive Director Jeff Pishney said the April 23 community service day also should set a record for the number of out-of-towners who come here to observe and take what they learn back to their hometowns.

He said residents from about 10 cities, including Carson City, Nev.; Portland, Ore.; St. Louis; Lakewood, Colo.; and Gilbert, Ariz., are expected. He said in the past couple of years about 75 cities in California and about 50 from other states have contacted Love Modesto.

“A lot of the cities have similar challenges and they are seeing something successful going on here,” Pishney said. “They are seeing success and they want to take that back.”

He said those challenges including providing services after years of cuts to city budgets, building community and changing a city’s narrative to something more hopeful and optimistic. What started in Modesto now has spread to more than 60 cities.

Pishney said that success is rooted in community. Love Modesto got its start in 2007 at Big Valley Grace Community Church, where Pishney was the outreach pastor, but it evolved into a citywide effort. “Other cities do volunteer days,” he said. “What makes us unique (is) people from all kinds of backgrounds, beliefs come together. I think a lot of cities are attracted to this because it goes beyond a single church or group. It’s communitywide.”

Love Modesto now is a stand-alone nonprofit (its official name is Love Our Cities) and Pishney is no longer a Big Valley pastor, though the church continues to support the event.

St. Louis police officer Christian Johnson will be among this year’s Love Modesto visitors. He helped start a nonprofit in his city called Serving with the Badge, which has undertaken such projects as handing out coats to children, according to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story.

“I love what they are doing,” Johnson said of Love Modesto. “I love how they are bringing their city together.”

Jay Williams, the pastor for compassion and justice at the First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton in Southern California, said he and his police chief came to Love Modesto in 2014.

“It was awesome,” he said. “It gave us a great visual picture. You can read about it, but it’s another thing to see it.”

Williams said his church had done service days for several years but one summer it teamed up with two other churches and the Fullerton Police Department to paint a women’s transitional living shelter. He said the power of working with others was a turning point and led him to search for a more collaborative way to help his community. He said a friend in Stockton told him about Love Modesto.

Love Fullerton will hold its third annual event this year and has spread to surrounding communities. Working together for the common good is a simple idea. However, Williams said it can be difficult to do because churches and others may focus on protecting their mission or vision and not on being a good partner. But he said the rewards are worth the effort.

“We’re better together,” he said, adding, “Jesus says work together, love together.”

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316