- - Thursday, June 4, 2015

Life growing up in Modesto, California in the 1950’s and 1960’s was almost as good as we remember it to have been. With only 32,000 people in 1960, it was a place much more like a Midwest farm town than big city California. I remember milk being delivered to the front door and bike rides with my friends all over town by the age of ten, without a parent along to protect us.

The sexual revolution and drug culture of the 1970’s hit Modesto pretty hard as did unbridled growth as people tried to escape the real estate prices of the San Francisco area for the less expensive Central Valley.

By the 1990’s, we were a full-grown city with a growing list of big city problems. By the turn of the millennium, you could hardly recognize our little town anymore. We had massive methamphetamine problems and open gang warfare. We had become one of the car-theft capitals of the country, and unemployment was at times twice the national average. The homeless were everywhere; and in the crash of the real estate market, we became the foreclosure capital of the nation.

We made it to the very bottom of most of the prominent list of rankings of places to live in the country. We actually were nicknamed the “Appalachia of the West Coast.” What ignominy had befallen my little home town. We made a local sport out of bashing our town and complaining about how awful it was. Our best and brightest would go away to college and never return. We in Modesto could not believe how far we had fallen. It was certainly not the sort of place I wanted for my grandkids.

One man, Jeff Pishney, an Iowa transplanted youth and missions pastor of a local church, finally got to the place that he could not stand where we were headed anymore and decided to do something.

Jeff started Love Modesto (www.lovemodesto.com) back in 2007 with two questions: Why is our city on lists of the “worst cities in America”? If our churches were to suddenly disappear from the Modesto area, would anyone even care or notice?

With a lot of dreaming and planning came our first Love Modesto on March 7, 2009. More than 1,200 people showed up to love our city in practical ways. We have done this 12 more times since, added over 60 cities and over 70,500 people have been involved—young, old, abled, disabled; people from a church or no church at all. Around 250,000 volunteer hours have been donated. This is over $6.5 million dollars in service (independentsector.org) that we’ve given to our communities! At these community-wide volunteer days, people engage in a variety of projects, including offering food to the hungry, visiting convalescent homes, donating blood, building a house with Habitat for Humanity, and working in city parks and schools, among other opportunities.

In 2015, Jeff spread his wings in faith and launched a brand new 501(c)3 called “Love Our Cities.” Over 14,000 people turned out in the Spring of 2015 to love their cities across the State of California, including more than 4,000 people in Modesto alone. They were involved in over 90 projects and donated more than 14,000 volunteer hours, representing $368,760 worth of volunteer time donated.

Volunteers represented more than 60 churches and 30 schools. They removed 420 illegally posted signs throughout the city; they completed 6 apartment/home makeovers. They cleaned up 80 parks, along with trails, creeks and rivers, with 33 non-profits benefitting from these service. Eleven projects benefitted adults and families in need. Five projects focused on our area youth, and 10 retirement/convalescent homes were loved. In every way imaginable, volunteers showed others in our city that they were loved.

One participant had this to say,

You just keep making it better and better year after year! Thank you so much for all that you do. It’s a ton of work with the organizing of thousands of people. You’ve made it fun; you’ve made it easy; and you’ve made a real difference!!!

We all know that the world has changed in fifty years, and we know that the town we had in 1960 can never be returned. But Modesto has become in the last several years a much better place to live largely through Love Modesto which Jeff has led. Jeff has shown us how to have that again. Jeff is my hero!!

Chuck Bryant is the National Board Chairman of Pinnacle Forum.

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