Last year the Turlock Journal editorial team decided to make an effort to focus on the people behind the news stories and everyday life in our community. These people features were seen throughout the year as Student Spotlights, Know Your Neighbors and amidst our regular news coverage. The response we received from this coverage has been overwhelmingly positive.
As we head into a new year, the Journal editorial team put together another people-focused feature: 15 Movers & Shakers for 2015.
The individuals featured below — in no particular order —include people who have recently been making headlines, such as Turlock's new mayor and city council member, to leaders of the town's hospital and university. The list also includes a few names that may be new to our readers, like Stanislaus Military Academy student Itzel Villalobos.
Although the people highlighted in this story are worth knowing better, they are by no means an all-inclusive list of local 'movers and shakers.' I can think of at least a dozen more actively involved residents who make a difference in our community on a daily basis. The people listed below are just a small sample of local people who make Turlock such a prosperous place to live, work and visit.
1. Gary Soiseth
Gary Soiseth has fielded a lot of inquiries in recent months during his successful campaign for Mayor of Turlock, including quite possibly the most popular question: “Why mayor?”
At 30 years old and having returned to Turlock for less than a year before announcing his candidacy, Soiseth was eager to participate in local politics. Optimistic and energetic about the direction of Turlock, Soiseth’s desire to serve as mayor dates back to a passion for leadership he expressed as a founder of the Teen Advisory Council in high school. During that time the current mayor, Curt Andre, came to speak to the organization and Soiseth said he was sold.
“I saw in him someone that was a mayor’s mayor,” said Soiseth. “I just grew up with a very healthy respect for the mayorship.”
Several years later and he is in the same shoes as his mentor, but with a very different set of issues laid before him.
As a farmer and water and energy regulatory analyst for Modesto Irrigation District, Soiseth is well versed in the tricky subject of water, an issue that has been exacerbated by the role of the ongoing statewide drought. Presently focused on communicating with the Turlock Irrigation District to outline an understanding regarding the use of tertiary water, in the same beat Soiseth is representing the Turlock City Council on the Stanislaus Council of Governments in an effort to establish quality roads in the town.
“I’m going to try to become the infrastructure mayor. I want to be focusing on reliable water, dependable roads and sound sewage systems. That’s what I want to focus on,” said Soiseth. “I’m very hands on. I want to get into the weeds of issues.”
Soiseth has also enjoyed familiarizing himself with issues in other aspects of life in Turlock, like public safety. With a key card that gives him access to any City of Turlock facilities, Soiseth has toured fire houses and police stations as well as ridden along fire trucks this holiday season.
“I don’t plan to do pop-ins all the time to scare people,” laughed Soiseth. “But, my style is definitely hands-on to understand. I can’t just read about things, I need to see them.”
True to his word, Soiseth has established a set of workshops to “understand the ins and outs of Turlock.” The workshops will be open to the public that include a cursory budget review as well as discussions on water issues, roads, public safety and will conclude with a “line by line budget analysis.”
“We’re going to be sitting around a table talking in a very informal way rather than with consent items and scheduled matters,” said Soiseth, noting that the workshops will be recorded and available on CD for interested citizens. “It’s what you need to do because you’re a public entity.”
While Soiseth has been eagerly collaborating with City of Turlock staff and community members, he is cognizant of the fact that campaigning for mayor and serving as mayor are two very different things.
“There’s a lot of pressure on me to earn the trust and respect of the staff and the citizens who haven’t seen me in an official role,” said Soiseth.
And what about misperceptions individuals may have?
“People are always going to look at the city and say ‘Oh, that’s the city with the kid mayor who is from Afghanistan who farms.’ They’re going to pigeonhole me, but I am more than that,” said Soiseth, indicating to the four years he spent deployed in Afghanistan training farmers.
“That may be my bio but what I am is the infrastructure mayor. I’m the mayor who cares about our police and fire forces so I go out there and walk the same patrols with them. I’m the mayor that is going to put off a youthful, energetic vibe to attract businesses to our community. So yes, I might be that kid from Afghanistan who grew up on a farm here in Turlock, but I am a lot more than that and I am going to try to prove them wrong.”
2. Tim Guerino
When Tim Guerino took over as executive director for the Turlock Gospel Mission in 2012, the organization had some lofty goals and in 2015, Guerino looks to make those goals a reality.
In 2014, the organization broke ground on a year-round shelter on S. Broadway and in 2015, Guerino expects to fund raise all the money needed to complete the first phase, which will include the dormitories, showers, a laundry room, and a commercial kitchen and dining area.
The Turlock Gospel Mission moved its day center to a new location at 408 S. First St. In the new year, Guerino hopes to find a permanent home near the year-round shelter.
“We really want to establish a base in that neighborhood and provide full services to the homeless and hurting in Turlock,” Guerino said.
Included in the full services TGM hopes to offer or expand in 2015 are more job training programs, growing the downtown clean-up crew and developing corporate sponsors.
“We would like to become a ministry that helps the homeless, but also those that are vulnerable of becoming homeless,” Guerino said. “Right now we are at the bottom of the cliff helping the people who have fallen, but we want to be the net that saves people from hitting bottom.”
3. Sue Micheletti
In 2014, Emanuel Medical Center was purchased by Tenet Healthcare Corporation, ushering in a new era for the community hospital. With the change in ownership, came new leadership with Sue Micheletti becoming the hospital’s first woman to serve as the chief executive officer.
The transition for EMC came with little changes to the day-to-day operations, but 2015 looks to be a budding year for the hospital, one that will include a physical expansion and additional medical services being offered, according to Micheletti.
“Emanuel Medical Center enters 2015 poised for growth,” Micheletti said. “The previous ownership of EMC established an excellent foundation for the hospital’s future, by maintaining the physical plant and bringing important healthcare services to Turlock, such as cancer treatment and cardiac care, filling important service gaps.
“Beginning in 2015, we will build upon that foundation. We’ve already begun to develop a comprehensive master plan for the hospital and will begin the regulatory approval process for physical plant expansion and improvements that will take us many years into the future. We will recruit family medicine and specialist physicians to Turlock to meet community needs and expand the care available in Turlock. We will develop contracts with insurers and payers that will allow patients to receive care in Turlock. We will identify needs in the community and services that aren’t currently available, and partner with providers to bring those services to Turlock,” Micheletti said.
“By expanding access to primary and specialty care, filling unmet medical needs and continuously improving our hospital’s physical plant, personnel and procedures, Emanuel Medical Center will help make Turlock a better place to live, raise a family and open a business,” Micheletti said. “And, as a business ourselves, Emanuel will pay approximately $1.7 million in new property taxes, as well as city, state, and federal taxes every year. These contributions will help government agencies fund vital community services. Our goal for 2015 is simple: Make Emanuel Medical Center the hospital of choice for patients, physicians and the area’s talented and committed healthcare workers.”
4. Sam David
Sam David is often called the man of change.
Since becoming president of the Assyrian American Civic Club one year ago, David has advocated for greater community involvement, the revival of children's athletic programs and the addition of a lounge to the club that he's been a part of his entire life.
"Part of my goal was to come in as president and open up the club to the culture at large...bring back some programs for the kids and adults, and programs for families with young kids," said David.
The club started out 2015 with one change that the whole world was able to share. For the first time ever, the club's New Year's Eve party was broadcast live from its own television station, ANB.
Later in January, the club will invite the community at large to come and celebrate the over 20 years of public service of former mayor John Lazar.
"John's been a good mayor Turlock," said David.
David is also very excited about a new collaboration between the club and the county's Behavioral Health Services.
When news broke last June that Rodney Bowman, who also went by the name Radni Babakhan, had stabbed his parents, Sarkis and Rozmary Babakhan to death, and then started a fire which claimed his life along with his brother's, Robert Babakhan, it hit the local Assyrian community hard.
This incident brought to light the need for mental health services for Assyrians newly arrived to the country, and for those who were hesitant to seek help due to cultural barriers, said David. In 2015, the club will launch the Assyrian Wellness Collaboration and bring mental health education to its members.
The biggest change coming to the club in 2015, however, is one close to David's heart. The club is planning to begin construction on a new sports complex, complete with basketball and volleyball courts and a soccer field.
A former quarterback for the Turlock High Bulldogs ('84 and '85 seasons), David is looking forward to getting not just youth and adults from the club involved in recreational sports leagues, but the entire community.
"I grew up in athletics; it helps keeps kids off the streets," he said.
Along with the sports complex, plans are in the works for a new lounge to be built in the entrance of the club's dining hall. This is where David envisions parents hanging out and socializing while their children are practicing at the sports complex.
Even with all of the new ventures planned for the Assyrian American Civic Club, there is still something much bigger happening in David's life in 2015, as he will be married in April.
"It's going to be a great year," he said.
5. Joseph Sheley
For California State University, Stanislaus President Joseph Sheley, plans for next year begun in August when he gave his annual address to the campus community.
Of the many topics Sheley chose to discuss, the importance of collaborating with students, faculty and staff to establish a new campus logo, as well as a short, consistent name for the university was a top priority.
“Our campus has spent the first half of the academic year seeing what other CSUs and schools have been doing so as to both avoid the mistakes and take advantage of the strengths that come from their approaches to establishing a successful identity,” reported Sheley.
Sheley reports that he has recently garnered feedback from students, faculty and staff regarding the potential formation of a committee in the spring semester, which will help keep the campus on track towards its goal of establishing both a university logo and name.
“Both will need to be easily recognizable, honorable and call to mind all of the values that people have regarding this particular university,” reported Sheley.
According to Sheley, this collaborative task will not only help the campus get its name out into the community, but also help students, faculty and staff better express pride for the university.
“Our campus has essentially been off folks' radar screens and it isn’t because we don’t have plenty to be proud of, or that we’re not doing a good job—it’s quite the opposite. We are doing a great job and we have plenty to be proud of, but as I have said from my very first day, we have been way too modest,” said Sheley.
Also discussed during the President’s annual address was the campus’ ongoing response to sexual assault. According to Sheley, the university—as well as the entire CSU system—has proactively and aggressively gone after the issue of sexual assault.
“What I’m most proud of us is that we are not passive—this is a campus community where generally people look out for each other,” said Sheley. “We will proactively go after this issue and there will be no such thing as an uninvolved bystander.”
In addition to the role students will play, the campus also has in place a Victim’s Advocate and will shortly implement a Title IX Director. Sheley reports that these mechanisms will make intervening and reporting of sexual assault easy, as well as encourage proactive responsiveness.
6. Lydio Banana
JoLynn DiGrazia has worn many hats throughout the many years she has served as founder and director of Westside Ministries. One new hat in 2015, however, will be that of an advisor to Lydio Banana, who will assume the director position.
Alongside fellow successor Arturo Murillo, Banana will continue WSM’s mission statement of teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to families on the Westside.
“Our main goal is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and give everyone an opportunity to hear the message of Christ,” said Banana in October. “However, we don’t like to just preach the gospel with words, we like to share the love of God by meeting the physical and spiritual needs of the children in the community.”
However, the new director’s goals do not end there. Banana also hopes to raise up future leaders for the ministry, just as he was mentored by DiGrazia.
"Something that's been put on my heart is for me to develop leaders who can take my place now," he said.
Along with developing leaders, Banana hopes to gain a greater prayer base in 2015 and encourage more community members to "catch the vision of Westside Ministries and understand who we are."
He'd also like to see more people get their feet wet with volunteer opportunities and get plugged in to Westside's programs.
Upcoming outreach programs include a large scale food distribution effort, slated for February or March.
"The first time we did this it was a huge success because we had a lot of different organizations come and help us. It surprised us," said Banana.
Last year different clubs from Turlock and Pitman high schools, along with fraternity and sorority members from California State University, Stanislaus, helped put donated food together in boxes for distribution to those in need.
"There are still a lot of families out there that need food, not just during Christmas," said Banana.
In the summer, Westside Ministries is looking forward to hosting another session of dance camps, called Power Line.
"It's an opportunity for people in the Central Valley, not just in the Westside or Turlock, to get involved in a dance conference. We bring in top notch instructors from Southern California," said Banana.
Throughout the year, Westside will continue its after-school and children's activities and weekly worship services.
7. Brett Tate
Dust Bowl Brewing Co. has been a smash hit in Turlock, building its brand with a one-two punch of quality beer from its brewery and a strong downtown presence with its taproom.
Owner Brett Tate isn’t satisfied though. He believes Dust Bowl has more to offer and that there is much room for expansion, which is why 2015 has been marked as the year to launch Turlock’s favorite brewing company to the next level, starting with the construction of a brand new brewery on the corner of Fulkerth Road and Dianne Drive.
“Developing that five acres out there, increasing our capacity and then also increasing sales and distribution, those are our focus items of the new year,” Tate said. “You want to keep momentum going and we have momentum. And you want to be able to maximize the possibilities and you want to open yourself up to new possibilities. This will allow us to do that.”
Ground will be broke on the new brewery in March and the construction is expected to last 10 months. When constructions is complete, Dust Bowl’s operation will not only grow in size and efficiency, it will also open up new opportunities in a number of areas such as entertainment, interaction and employment.
“Our work force is looking forward to it, the public is looking forward to it and it just feels right. The whole synergy between the company and how it’s growing, it just needs to happen now. And we’re fortunate that we’re able to do it now,” Tate said. “It’s the ability to involve the public in the process more. Whenever you’re selling a product you want everybody to see how you’re producing that, and we’ll have more of an open atmosphere there and full transparency of the process.”
The evolution of Dust Bowl isn’t limited to a new facility, however, as the company is also expected to begin work on new brews and packaging, among other things.
“We expect, by the end of next year, we will be brewing and dialing in all the recipes that we have chosen to become a part of our product mix,” Tate said. “2015 is a time to get back to work developing recipes and developing brands, and developing the site, then we’ll go from there.”
When the doors open at the new location, the new recipes are put into place and the community gets a chance to share in the new Dust Bowl experience, Tate says his company will continue to evolve instead of being content with the growth. Where else is there to go after increased production capacity? Tate points to places like Ironstone Vineyards with suggestions of a venue for events.
“In the beginning we need to focus on production so that everything else can take place thereafter. So production first, then we’ll focus on creating a venue that will be user friendly and something fun. A social gathering place for all,” Tate said. “It’s going to be a fun, exciting, exploration type of year.”
8. Matthew Jacob
An admitted history buff with a penchant for quotes, Matthew Jacob is well versed in politics and in a short span of time has begun to leave a considerable mark on the local political landscape.
He earned a degree in Political Economy from the University of California, Berkeley, served on the Turlock Mayor’s Economic Development Task Force since its creation, and was appointed to the Stanislaus County Equal Rights Commission.
When he announced his candidacy for Turlock City Council in June at the ripe age of 22 he ran against four contenders, including two incumbents, to occupy one of two positions at the council dais. Six months later –and sworn in as the newest member of the Turlock City Council –Jacob is finally able to put to practice the ideas he expressed on the campaign trail.
“We each have our spheres of influence,” remarked Jacob of the council members’ collective authority. “We have taken roughly 72,000 voices and condensed them down to five individuals. Discourse is expected; it is what will make for a healthy discussion to more accurately represent the electorate. ”
Jacob’s interest in seeing things from all angles is indicative of his nature: he’s collaborative and optimistic.
“I plan to do my due diligence to make sure all possible options are evaluated before I take a stance or cast a vote,” said Jacob. “If I vote ‘no’ on something there will be thoughtful reasoning behind it.”
Jacob’s intentionality is perhaps best seen in his take on Measure B, the half-cent citywide road tax that failed to garner the necessary two-thirds vote to pass by just six percent.
“The outcome on B reveals that roads are important to 6 out of 10 Turlockers, the remaining 40% may also be equally concerned with our road conditions without agreeing to a tax increase,” said Jacob, noting that he is presently researching the potential countywide tax that could be placed before voters in 2016. “As a council member, it is very important for me to be aware of where the voters are coming from and what they want.”
While Jacob is mindful of voters’ concerns, he is also cognizant of how Turlock appears to outsiders, specifically businesses considering laying roots down in the community.
“Perception is reality when it comes to economic development,” said Jacob. “We need to ensure that we are not only moving forward, but that our city’s image is accurate.”
While Jacob recognizes that with growth comes growing pains, he feels he is in good company with which to address the host of issues that are bound to come before the council in the next four years.
“Collectively, we need to produce solutions that will hold up to our city’s needs,” said Jacob. “When we think critically, it can only serve to increase the quality of our output.”
Still connected to the voters that elected him to his present position, Jacob is eager to continue to not only hear what citizens care about but to see how that can shape Turlock’s future.
“We are public servants at the end of the day. If a member of the public has a great idea that we can get behind, I believe it can actually come to fruition. It is what makes local one of the best forms of government,” said Jacob. “Collaboration is key.”
9. Itzel Villalobos
“The West Side is where I started on the bad path, but it’s also where I found the good path.”
This comment, steeped in equal parts somberness and determination, exemplifies Itzel Villalobos.
Upon meeting Villalobos one notices her smile first thing. Her face is sweet, contrasting strongly with her military uniform, a requirement at the Stanislaus Military Academy which she attends. All of the students wear the same outfit: camouflage pants, jacket, and cap with military issued boots. Despite the structured conditions Villalobos is identifiable by her poise and smile that beams from beneath her military hat -- her grin can charm even the most severe of instructors.
“They know me as the girl that smiles a lot,” she laughed. “I guess I have a joyful spirit.”
Don’t be fooled though – this girl packs a mean punch.
Four days a week Villalobos takes the bus to Modesto to spar at a mixed martial arts gym. With the longtime closure of the boxing facility at Colombia Park and a need to express herself physically, Villalobos used to pray for a place where she could box. Little did she know a fellow SMA student would introduce her to the gym in Modesto where SMA Cadet Trainer Victor Moreno spearheads a youth wellness program targeted at developing the youths’ mind, body, and spirit. Having spent time with her in the classroom and at the gym where she is now sponsored, Moreno synthesized Villalobos’ personality into one word:
“Resilience,” he said. “She is resilient and she is always pushing forward.”
“She really exemplifies our core values. It’s everything that she is about, she lives and breathes it,” added SMA Principal Daniel Vannest.
However, this was not always the case for Villalobos.
Prior to attending SMA she was troubled. Villalobos was enrolled in a continuation high school and up to no good on the streets of the Westside leaving her with a deep sense of dissatisfaction.
“It was a miserable time in my life,” she recalls, appearing almost as a different person without her natural smile.
However, it was right around this time that Villalobos attended a local youth group with her sister and found herself wanting more out of life. She kept returning to the youth group, week after week, eventually shedding her bad girl image in the same place that she created it. Amidst her troubled times though, Villalobos recalls that people would often see leadership qualities within her and beg her to nurture them, which she has been able to do at the military academy.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” said Villalobos of her time at SMA. “I’m more fit, more disciplined and I’ve gained more courage and confidence too.”
Villalobos was selected as one of two students to lead her peers at a NAVY Seal Challenge Day in October and upon the completion was promoted to staff sergeant at SMA, a rank that leaves just two students higher than her. She also received recognition from the office of Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) for assisting veterans of the Korean War at California State University, Stanislaus’ memorial ceremony that same month. The Master Chief at SMA also recently bestowed upon her a coin that was given to him when he was in the service.
“He told me to take good care of it,” she said.
While Villalobos has excelled at SMA, she has also utilized her natural leadership skills and newfound confidence to spearhead efforts in the community starting with taking a petition around to Westside residents for the implementation of rest rooms at Colombia Park.
“People seemed so happy to see someone doing something for our side of town,” said Villalobos of the successful campaign. “Afterwards I thought what else can I do?”
In an effort to offer youth the same positive outlet and endorphins that she has experienced from boxing, Villalobos has championed bringing back the Columbia Park boxing facility, something she says is ideal for kids on the Westside.
“I want to bring it back for the youth. There are not a lot of things they accept or want to join, but the kids are always running around the streets. They want something to do,” she said. “And this would be right there at the park where they like to hang out.”
Likening her friends and teachers at the boxing gym in Modesto to a family, Villalobos hopes to offer Turlock youth the same experience – minus the bus ride.
While the City of Turlock is not presently taking steps to restore the facility, Villalobos is working with Lakneshia Diaz of the Turlock Parks, Arts, and Recreation Commission and representatives of Equip Church on the Westside to spearhead a return of the boxing gym. While a licensed boxing coach will be necessary to open the gym as well as donations and equipment, Villalobos intends to remain in the area after her graduation from SMA in June to see the project through.
“There are still other things I want to do, especially here in my town. I want to stay here. I love it,” she said, smiling. “Maybe it’s the pride I have, but I know it’s a long road ahead of me where there will be more struggles and rewards, but I refuse to let anything bring me down. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter.”
10. Russell Holeman
Russell Holeman has been a member of the Turlock Police Department for 15 years, moving through the ranks up to sergeant. In 2013 he took over the helm of the Turlock Associated Police Officers and under his leadership the union filed suit against the city over wages and for the first time endorsed political candidates for Turlock mayor and city council. Holeman expects to keep the advocacy going in 2015 and make sure TAPO’s voice is heard in the community, especially when it comes to staffing levels at the Turlock Police Department.
“TAPO saw the need to make the citizens of Turlock more aware of who we are and what we are doing,” Holeman said. “If community members are not aware of what is happening in regards to staffing, crime rates, and with their local government, they may assume that everything is o.k. We feel that the community deserves better, but the citizens need to be advocates alongside us. Knowledge is power and we want to inform and educate the public about what is going on at the police department and the City of Turlock.”
“In 2015, my hope is that you will see TAPO take a more active and visible role in the community,” Holman said. “We recently conducted a survey of residents and found that they were unaware of what TAPO does. Often times they confused us with the police department. While all members work for the police department, we do a lot more than just police work. TAPO has always had scholarships for local high school graduates since well before I was on the Board. In addition, we have made contributions towards community events like the 4th of July celebration, sponsoring youth soccer teams, and Turlock community charities where children are taken to Wal-Mart during the Christmas season to purchase warm winter clothing. Because of the nature of our work, we often are unable to participate in these events while on duty which can be difficult to get participation. I hope to see more of our members volunteering their time during the year towards these events.”
11. Mike Matoso
When Mike Matoso became the athletic director at California State University, Stanislaus in 2012, he walked onto campus with five focus points to elevate the Warriors: academics, athletics, branding, communication and community.
Since his arrival in Turlock, Matoso has worked hard to further his initiatives, with his focus on engaging the community taking the lead.
“It’s one of my goals to try and let people know that really good Division II sports is just as good as mid-level Division I sports. So why don’t you come out and support it?” Matoso said. “For us, it’s continuing to get people out there to see how good we are.”
To strengthen the bond between the Turlock community and Warriors athletics, Matoso has not only emphasized bringing better talent to Stanislaus to increase the school’s competitive level, he’s also tried to improve the overall game day experience, for both the fans and players, with multiple renovations. Top-of-the-line locker rooms for the Men’s and Women’s basketball teams and the addition of lights for the baseball and softball fields were the start for Matoso — the lights alone helped Stanislaus triple its attendance — and the improvement are expected to continue in 2015.
“I think this is a community that likes sports, so we feel really strongly that if we have nice facilities and create more opportunities for people to come out, like in the evenings and the weekends, that more people will come to the games,” Matoso said.
The jewel of 2015 for Warriors athletics will be the unveiling of the newly renovated baseball stadium, complete with an added indoor batting facility for the players, a larger press box for the media and updated stadium seating behind home plate for ticket holders.
“It was one of the reasons I took this job. We have a good foundation for all of our facilities, some of them just kind of need a little updating, and baseball was one of them,” Matoso said. “I want all of our kids to feel like they’re getting treated like Division I student athletes. And I think it’s really important for us to recruit the top kids in this conference and to compete on a national level.”
For Matoso, the formula is simple. Renovated and improved facilities will draw better talent and, in turn, the better talent will draw more fans from the community.
Combine the already renovated facilities with future renovation plans for 2015 — brand new scoreboards for both baseball and softball and a new short-game golf facility — as well as improved performances from Stanislaus’ teams, and Matoso has a recipe for success.
“People want to be associated with winners,” Matoso said. “We’re going to continue to try and improve what we’re doing to get this to be people’s entertainment in town.”
12. Michael Everett
Through his founding role with the Turlock Film Commission and his endeavors at his business The Creation Lab, Michael Everett has been a key figure in Turlock’s art scene. He was an integral part in having “Christian Mingle: The Movie” filmed here in Turlock, as well as the world premiere. The exposure is helping establish Turlock as a friendly and willing community for film locales, and Everett looks to build on it.
“We will be working on bringing another film to Turlock in 2015 and more well known recording artists to record here,” Everett said.
Through his work at his state of the art audio and video Creation Lab, Everett has brought in some up-and-coming stars in the music scene and 2015 looks to continue that tradition.
“I am very excited about the new county music artist, Mitchell Tenpenny that Matt Swanson and I signed to our record label, Creation Lab Records. His first single is out on iTunes called "Black Crow" and is on 40 plus radio stations at this time with the music video being released in January.”
13. Brean Bettencourt
Brean Bettencourt has a favorite quote by Mother Teresa:
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
This quote has served as a guiding principal for Bettencourt in her personal and professional endeavors over the years and bearing this in mind, she has actually been able to accomplish great things with great love. Like serving as the international leader of a worldwide catholic organization, for example.
Bettencourt is the International Responsible for Youth Teams of our Lady, a worldwide catholic organization with the mission of young adults sharing their faith with their peers and in turn spreading the gospel together.
“The movement is for young adults, by young adults,” explained Bettencourt.
Modeled after the Teams of our Lady organization which is oriented for married couples, the first YTOL chapter was established in Turlock in 2001. Noting a lack of fellowship for the young adults in the community, a local couple serendipitously stumbled upon an international YTOL meeting during their trip to Portugal in turn heading up the first United States chapter right here in Turlock.
“We’re kind of the baby of the movement,” said Bettencourt.
Although the United States’ chapter may be the newest, it also wields enormous influence with Bettencourt at the helm. She is responsible for not only organizing international meetings, but remaining connected to her global YTOL peer leaders, in turn playing an integral role in shaping and spreading the movement. However, it was just six years ago that Bettencourt joined the cause after witnessing her friends’ participation in the organization.
“This is the time in your life when you’re figuring out God’s path for yourself and it seemed that they were celebrating their faith appropriately for their age,” recalled Bettencourt. “There was something special about it and I wanted to be a part.”
Bettencourt joined and in 2009 attended her first international meeting, similar to the one the Turlock couple first witnessed in Portugal, but this time it was held in Italy. Feeling a desire to not only participate but take on a leadership position in YTOL, Bettencourt became the National Responsible of the United States movement.
In 2012 under Bettencourt’s purview more than 200 YTOL Catholics from across the globe gathered in Turlock for the international meeting which was held at California State University, Stanislaus. Now as the International Responsible Bettencourt is working on the upcoming International Secretariat meeting, where all of the national responsibles gather, which will take place in July 2015. At this meeting the International Secretariat will discuss worldwide matters, especially as it pertains to Catholicism, and prepare for the 2016 international meeting in Madrid.
Bettencourt’s work in recent months has been particularly poignant in the midst of the ongoing religious persecution in the Middle East where YTOL has several teams.
“It’s really eye opening when you realize that your peers that are part of the same movement and share the same faith have such a different reality than you do,” said Bettencourt who communicates as best she can with leaders from Syria where members often fear leaving their homes to attend mass. “Their faith is tested in a completely different way.”
Bettencourt stays in touch with her “brothers and sisters abroad” noting the importance that communication, no matter how infrequent, is vital in keeping the organization moving forward.
“The biggest thing in jeopardy is their hope. That’s why I’ve tried to make my mission on those words of Mother Teresa because it is so important that, even if I cannot be there in person, we still stay in touch and lift each other up as much as we can,” said Bettencourt.
14. Ali Cox
If there is one thing Ali Cox is looking forward to accomplishing in 2015, it is continuing the hard work she has already devoted to Ali Cox & Company Marketing.
As founder of the company that specializes in digital marketing, social media, branding and event production, Cox has encountered nothing but success helping build brands of local businesses, including that of the Carnegie Arts Center.
“At any given time, our clients include a variety of agricultural, professional services businesses and restaurants,” said Cox. “We create websites, branding, develop new content generation, newsletters, social media management—just business marketing in general.”
For the new year, Cox also reports that she will be kick-starting a new positivity campaign, which will bring together strong, female leaders from the Turlock and Modesto areas to brainstorm ways to digitally market and positively benefit the area.
“I just want to continue help build the economic development in Turlock. It’s truly a privilege to help the Central Valley position itself as well as possible,” said Cox. “Ali Cox & Company Marketing provides a professional service that we think is unrivaled in the area. We bring a lot of experience to this area that I've gained by working in New York and San Francisco.”
The experience that Cox has under her belt comes from her time living in New York City, where she worked at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Emanate Public Relations, IMG Worldwide, and a tech startup named Aereo.
“I think having moved away for 15 years helped me appreciate Turlock more, I see nothing but positives happening here locally,” reported Cox. “It’s wonderful to be able to apply what I’ve learned in New York, San Francisco and Austin here locally, because our goal first and foremost is to help our local business clients continue to thrive.”
15. Noel Dickey
While California was being hit with the worst drought in its history in 2014, Noel Dickey braved the heat in Turlock and passed out water to the homeless and others in need as part of a personal mission to serve. Footing the bill for water bottles and gas, Dickey visited parks and scanned the streets on her one-woman mission to help the thirsty. After Dickey’s story was featured in the Journal, Turlock’s “Water Woman” experienced a swell of support from readers that transformed her personal mission into a full-blown community project dubbed Water on Wheels.
“It was exciting. I didn’t think people would be so interested in it,” Dickey said. “I was really surprised.”
Dickey began receiving emails and Facebook messages from those willing to donate or volunteer their time almost immediately. She received cases of water and new ice chests for her deliveries, was given advice on how to further her work and even received a letter of recognition from Congressman Jeff Denham.
The support has Dickey excited for 2015.
“More water, more locations, a bigger vehicle and more volunteers,” Dickey said of her plans for the new year. “The goal is to turn Water on Wheels into a non-profit in 2015 and try and serve outside of Turlock and Modesto, too.”
— Journal reporters Alysson Aredas, Elizabeth Arakelian, Frankie Tovar, Kristina Hacker and Sabra Stafford contributed to this report.