In a town that prides itself on being not just livable but lovable, a dedicated band of people hopes to make Lodi a lot more tolerant.
The Breakthrough Project was formed eight years ago after someone burned crosses in the grass at Tokay High School. Since that hateful incident, the Breakthrough Project's "crisis response team" has gone out to help and reassure victims of certain crimes that they have support within the community.
Its new president, Judy Alva, a Clements resident, has been an educator for 31 years. Alva, 53, served as vice president for the past two years and was chosen by the 11-member board earlier this month. She takes the position Jan. 1.
She is currently vice principal at Borchardt Elementary School.
"We're working to promote understanding and caring and making Lodi an even more wonderful place to live," she said.
David Hill, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church, served as the group's president for the past five years. "It's time to turn the handles to someone else. New people bring new ideas," he said.
Hill plans to continue his work on the crisis response team and serve on the board.
"Lodi is a changing community, and it's hard for people to understand that Lodi isn't the same place it was 30 years ago, even 10 years ago," Hill said. "All we can do is keep it in the face of the people and respond to that as best we can."
Alva also said the group is not without its challenges. Those are mainly setting aside time to meet new members and volunteers, and seeking money to pay for educational materials.
"In order to change attitudes you need to educate, and in order to educate you need the time, the manpower and funds," she said.
She is hopeful that more people will learn about the Breakthrough Project in the coming year and as members continue educational and community programs.
The group is looking into placing a billboard in Lodi to let everyone know about their mission. They will sponsor an essay competition for middle school students. Jan. 15 is the annual "Celebration of Unity" event commemorating slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Judy Alva at a glance
Occupation: Borchardt Elementary school vice principal.
Family: Married to Jose Alva, superior court judge, for 33 years. Two daughters: Sabrina, who works with the San Diego County office of Education, and Alisa, who teaches English at the University of Guanajuato in central Mexico.
• Has worked for Lodi Unified School District for 21
• Taught at schools in Stockton, Tracy and Lodi.
• Enjoys reading, traveling and visiting art museums.
• Owns two cats, Mimi and Nala (Nala is named after the "Lion King" character).
- News-Sentinel staff
Linking up with the Lodi Police Department, churches and businesses has helped broaden their base, Alva said.
In past years, volunteers have talked with people involved in arguments dealing with racist comments and bigoted conversations. They've responded to racially motivated arguments, graffiti on school property, buildings used for religious worship and street signs. If property needs to be fixed or replaced, volunteers try to get the work done.
"I think Lodi has improved immensely over the years, but there is still considerable hostility toward minorities," said Art Raab, a retired Lodi High teacher and the Breakthrough Project board member who three years ago tapped Alva to get involved.
Alva, with 31 years of experience in teaching, said education is is key to combating intolerance.
"Intolerance is mostly because people don't understand. They haven't taken the time or haven't had the opportunity to learn about differences," she said.
The Breakthough Project's next meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 8 at United Congregational Christian Church.
First published: Thursday, December 28, 2006