A recent San Francisco Chronicle article rehashed many of the problems facing Merced County.
What was missing is all the progress that's being made here. Some real estate folks say the market is looking up because foreclosures have slowed and demand for good properties is on the rise.
While unemployment remains unacceptably high, those numbers have improved in recent months. The city and county are addressing fees and streamlining some processes to try to make Merced more business friendly. A couple of new employers announced recently they would be coming to the area.
As for education, UC Merced continues to provide promise and opportunity for students who thought a university education was beyond their reach, and the indication this week that the regents will continue to support the growth of the campus will only broaden those opportunities.
And Merced College's work with the area's high schools to provide college-level courses not only gives students a taste of what's required, but helps them realize academic success isn't beyond their ability. Recent improvements in test scores and recognition of programs designed to improve the academic success of Latino students signal undeniable progress.
The war on crime, gangs, drugs continues. Law enforcement is pushed to the limit with tight budgets and issues like prison realignment. It will require creative approaches and community engagement, much like what Livingston police did to curtail burglaries there, to make significant headway.
In the end, it's the people who will define the community. Those who are out there every day working to make Merced a better place shouldn't be overlooked or underappreciated.
They get their kids to school on time; they teach the academic skills needed for success; they provide medical care to those who are ailing; they feed, clothe and shelter the needy; they deliver basic services; they put out fires; they arrest the bad guys; they pay their bills; and they serve their country (or have).
Taco Bell store manager Russell Sanchez is one of them. He and his crew at the Martin Luther King Jr. Way restaurant recently went above and beyond the call of fast-food duty to return to a customer the yellow purse she had left behind after stopping there briefly to get something to eat before continuing her journey.
Returning the purse to its rightful owners with all its contents might not seem like a big deal, but it was to Jennifer Peterson, the owner of the purse. And it speaks volumes about the character and quality of Sanchez as well as those he works with.
In Merced, people like Sanchez aren't the exception, they're the rule. They work hard, value family, set good examples and do the right thing. That's the real story of Merced, and it's something to be proud of.