Advocating for Social and Environmental Justice in Stanislaus County
On Friday, March 23rd 2018 Valley Improvement Projects (VIP), a grassroots organization that builds community on social and environmental issues based in Modesto, hosted the first annual Community Empowerment Dinner where they presented the “Emiliano Amor Mataka Award,” named in honor of a VIP co-founder who lost his life in a car accident in 2015. Emiliano, the son of longtime community activists from Grayson – John and Rosenda Mataka, was integral to forming the area’s first “CopWatch” group as well as the fight for environmental justice throughout the Central Valley. To honor Emiliano’s hard work and selfless dedication to the community, VIP recognized five individuals and one organization from the Northern San Joaquin Valley who have greatly impacted its work from 2009, when the group first began, through officially becoming a non-profit in 2013, and up to the present day. The awards were presented to Helena Melo-Flowers, Lilia Lomeli-Gil, Luis Magana, Miguel Donoso, Edgar Garibay and the Modesto Peace/Life Center.
Lilia was instrumental in establishing the non-profit status for the United Community Center in Grayson. She currently works for PAL, an after school program at the Center, has volunteered for ESL, GED and citizenship classes, and coordinates soccer tournaments, National Night Out, and end of the year celebrations.
Helena is a 5 year volunteer and a major part of the United Community Center’s success. She is involved in Young at Heart, literacy programs for toddlers and parents, Bailoterapia classes, and assists with student school registration. She also distributes food for the Salvation Army and “Green Bag” – a food program for seniors.
Miguel is a longtime community organizer fighting to improve the lives of Latinos and the poor involving issues of affordable housing, mental health, youth activities, and drug services for Spanish speakers. He was also instrumental in the closing of the Modesto Tallow Company and continues to fight against police abuse in Patterson.
Luis is a founder of El Centro de la Cultura Campesina in Stockton where he documents the experiences of the migrant workers, helping them locate resources, and staying at the forefront of issues that affect such communities. He has recently started a neighborhood “ICE Watch” project.
Edgar is currently the Director of Tuolumne River Trust, is active in the Stanislaus Sustainable Communities Coalition, and sits as the environmental justice advocate as part of the Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG). He keeps himself informed about local issues that affect the social and environmental rights of vulnerable communities.
The Modesto Peace/Life Center was founded in 1970, the Center promotes non-violence in the spirit of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., peace, justice and a sustainable environment through its activities such as vigils for peace, the Peace Essay Contest, Peace Camp for youth, the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration event, Pancake Breakfast, and through its publication, “Stanislaus Connections.” Recently they have begun to develop a local, community-focused radio station.
The dinner was hosted at the United Community Center in Grayson and was attended by over 60 local community members. VIP congratulates these individuals and looks forward to the 2nd Annual Empowerment Dinner where new honorees will receive this special acknowledgement to honor Emiliano.