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Wade Heath: Restore Stockton hopes to help heal a struggling city

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Posted: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 12:00 am

As Lodi’s neighbor to the south, Stockton has been through a lot. Plagued by violent crime and still fighting off the stigma of Forbes Magazine’s 2009 and 2011 rulings that it was the “most miserable city” in America, there is little for this city that got hit hard by the Great Recession to feel good about.

When Stockton filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, it had undoubtedly hit an epic low. Mixed with the 15 percent unemployment rate, the community seems downright toxic.

So who wouldn’t just throw up their hands, back away slowly and think, “Psshh, not my problem?”

I’ll tell you who wouldn’t. Her name is Whitney Ramirez.

“My heart just broke for the people of this city,” 28-year-old Ramirez said of the disparaged city she now lives in.

You see, Whitney wasn’t content just allowing Stockton to crumble. She wanted to do her part to make a positive difference.

“You meet the people and you can’t walk away,” she said. “You hear their stories and you can’t but feel compassion and be compelled to want to help them.”

But how to help? Cue Restore Stockton.

According to their website: “We are residents who are living in this city coming together in action to accomplish this work and desiring for community to be restored.”

According to Whitney: “We’re like-minded and like-hearted people.” And their hearts and minds told them that in order to restore Stockton, they need to empower and equip residents through relationships and programs in order to change the city’s direction.

The nonprofit was created by Dave and Raegan Cicileo, a couple who felt compelled to leave their life in Santa Barbara behind and pursue something bigger than themselves with Restore Stockton.

Whitney’s contribution to Restore is as the director of its Get EveryTeen (GET) mentoring program, in which young adults reach out to youths and help them decide what path they wish to take in life.

“To empower (Stockton youths) and to equip them to make the change is what I think will change Stockton for the better,” Whitney told me. “It’s all about relationships.”

Relationships are what have kept Whitney comfortable and safe. She says she isn’t worried about the violent crime rate, because she knows her neighbors and they know that as Restore Stockton, they’re for Stocktonians and supporting them.

“A reason why it’s ‘miserable,’ why people do the things they do, is because they’re not happy; they don’t feel loved and they don’t feel cared about. So bringing that hope really will change things. We’re already seeing a change in the city because of it,” Whitney said.

Restore Stockton feeds those who are hungry, takes care of youths who aren’t always cared for and attempt to instill a sense of pride in a community that is in desperate need of a booster shot.

“They’ve overcome so many struggles and so many adversities in their life at such a young age — most people won’t even have to think about (such adversities) in their life,” Whitney said.

Talking to Whitney, I could hear just how purposeful she was in her statements and in her love for the people of Stockton. So I had to ask: “Do you think you’re changing the world?”

“There’s one less person out there that believes the lie that they’re not loved,” Whitney told me of Restore’s efforts, citing the story of a young man who was involved in gangs. Because of their intervention, inspiration and mentorship, not only has he left the gang, but he has also changed for the better, having just graduated from high school.

“He knows that there is something better,” Whitney said proudly.

With results like that, it’s clear the answer is that she absolutely does think she can change the world. But it’s not about her, she’ll insist. It’s about those who’ve made changes for the better.

“It’s the mom who was struggling with her kids and is now doing well. It’s the little boy who cussed you out three months ago out and now is running to you and giving you a hug and telling you he loves you. It’s the high school senior you’ve known since they were a freshman and they walk across that stage and you can see that they graduated high school and they accomplished something bigger than they even imagined because they were pushed, because they were believed in. It takes one person to make that change,” Whitney shared, adding, “I hear people say ‘I survived Stockton’ and I think, man, it’s not that bad. These people are great.”

To learn more about Restore Stockton or to contribute to their efforts, visit www.restorestockton.com.

To listen to an in-depth interview with Whitney on my radio show, visit www.thewadewire.com.

Columnist Wade Heath is the founder of DoGoodBeGreat.com.

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