VIP Hosts Awards Dinner, Attends Earth Day Events, and Meets Presidential Candidate

VIP had a very busy Spring!

2nd Annual Community Empowerment Dinner

On April 6th we held our 2nd Annual Emiliano Mataka Community Empowerment Awards Dinner. The event is named for, and held in honor of, our founder Emilano Mataka in his hometown of Grayson in West Stanislaus County. In keeping with the same spirit as last year’s Awards Dinner VIP sought recognize local unsung heroes that make a daily impact in the lives of the area’s disadvantaged residents, not for the money, but for the desire to help and the passion to take action.

Recipients of VIP’s Emiliano Mataka Community Empowerment Award

This year’s Awardees were:

  • Jolynn DiGarza: With Westside Minitries Jolynn helps to serve 200 meals a night to families on Turlock’s Westside as well as providing camping retreats, coat drives, dance lessons, counseling and other assistance to vulnerable community members.
  • Debbie B. Hernandez: Founder fo We R La Raza Parents Union, Debbie advocates for students’ rights, holding educators accountable, empowering parents, a safe learning environment, and stopping the school-to-prison-pipeline.
  • Susana Borrayo-Ruiz: As leader of the Girl Scout troop in Patterson Susana has made a positive contribution to the personal growth of the, predominately Latina, girls of the area who will make this world a better place.
  • Rosemary & Ernest Dueñez: After their son Ernest Jr. was unjustly killed by Manteca Police officer John Moody, the Dueñez Family has taken on the fight for justice for not only Ernest but all victims of police violence, traveling accross the state in solidarity with families who have lost loved ones to police violence.
  • Dionne Smith: Dionne also suffered the loss of her son to the hands of police, and has also taken up the fight for justice for victims of police abuse in the name of her son James Rivera Jr. who was shot to death by Stockton Police and San Joaquin County Sheriffs.
  • John X. & Rosenda Mataka: As a special surprise VIP gave an award to these longtime advocates for social and environmental justice in Stanislaus County and the San Joaquin Valley who founded the Grayson Neighborhood Council and whose son, Emiliano, co-founded VIP.

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Modesto Earth Day Festival

On April 20th VIP tabled at Modesto’s Annual Earth Day Festival at Graceada Park for our fourth straight year. VIP has been critical of the event in the past, but city staff has made some of our recommended changes, such as not being sponsored by local trash incinerator Covanta and oil company Boyett Petroleum, banning styrofoam food containers, adding more recycling bins throughout the park, and lowering the number of gas generators used at the event. We still hope that eventually there will be zero gas generators used at Earth Day but are overall pleased with he positive changes.


We also appreciate the city’s promotion and encouragement of recycling by introducing their new “Recycling Mascots” Cali (an aluminum can), Ricki (a plastic bottle), and Vinni (a glass bottle), but VIP still advocates for Modesto “Bringing Back the Blue Bin” #BringBacktheBlueBin!

Currently Modesto is one of the largest, most populated cities in California without a basic curbside recycling service and if the city wants to get serious about doing its part to recycle, that would be a good place to start. Stanislaus County is also 1 of only a few counties in the state without carpet recycling, an issue VIP has also advocated for.


Climate Change Round-table Discussion with Beto O’Rourke

Front Page of the Modesto Bee: Thomas Helme of VIP talks to presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke at Modesto Junior College

On April 29th VIP was invited to participate in a small round-table discussion about climate change and sustainable agricultural practices with former Texas congressman and current presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke at Modesto Junior College. While discussing how unsustainable practices affect already disadvantaged communities VIP co-founder Thomas Helme used an example of how ag waste is often burned at a biomass incinerator like in Stockton or Fresno, adding to the already poor air quality instead of composting it and putting back into the soil, instead synthetic fertilizers are used in soil which over time has polluted the groundwater in many poor communities with nitrates. It should be noted that VIP does not endorse any political candidates but will gladly meet with any who wish to discuss any social or environmental issues that effect our communities. See the report on Beto’s visit in the Modesto Bee.

VIP and other local organizers, educators, ranchers, farmers, and representatives meet with presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke at Modesto Junior College


Patterson Earth and Science Festival


On May 4th VIP also tabled at the Earth and Science Festival in Patterson for the second year in a row. Much like Earth Day, VIP hosted a booth at the festival, engaging in conversation with local residents about air quality, recycling, composting, pesticides, and other issues of local importance. We handed out informational literature on these issues, especially information about the trash incinerator which emits harmful dioxin and other pollution while also burning recyclable and compostable material. It is 1 or only 2 trash incinerators in the state of California and many Patterson residents did not know it was nearby. Patterson also sits next to Interstate Highway 5 and is home to a growing number of distribution centers (Amazon, Restoration Hardware) which brings a large amount of diesel trucks, and with them harmful diesel emissions which add the area’s poor air quality.


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