In the last 14 years, I have been fortunate to meet many individuals in Merced County who do community work with youth or adults because they have a genuine interest in helping make their community a better place to live.
They have had a positive impact on the lives of those who are the fabric of the community but fall under the radar of the media or the community at large. They have the vision to see the good in a community, the needs of the community and the overall picture of the community – they get it.
One individual who comes to mind is someone I saw the day before Mother’s Day. His name is Ben Esquivel.
It was about 2:45 p.m. May 9, and I was helping my husband pick up trash on the grounds of Houlihan Park in Planada as the 2014 Planada Community Day celebration came to an end.
My husband and I were running out of gas. We let Ben, the committee chairman, know we were tired and just couldn’t do any more. Instead of asking us to stay just a little longer or help with just one more thing, without hesitation he simply said it was OK and not to worry about it.
But I’ll never forget the look on his face, seeing him limp with one of his legs bandaged and perspiring from the work he was doing. It gave us a clear understanding that he was hurting, too, and that he was just as tired as we were, if not more so, but that things had to get done.
There were others helping as well, but as chairman he was fulfilling the responsibility of his position. He knew he had to be the last one to leave that day after making sure that everything was clean, put away and in order.
What makes this individual stand out from all the rest is that he can be counted on to get things done. He doesn’t concern himself with gossip about himself or others.
He tells it like it is, plays fair, is inclusive and welcomes anyone who is willing to work for the sake of the community. This individual stands tall for a reason – he’s done the work.
He knows what can be accomplished by sticking to the game plan of hard work and giving back to a community. He is a father, a husband, a grandfather, a son, a brother and a product of the community of Planada who’s now living in Le Grand.
Ben and his brothers own Margarita’s Tortillas, one of the older businesses in Planada. This business was left to them by their father and they have survived economic ups and downs throughout the years.
As chairman of Planada Community Day for the past couple of years, Ben has assisted in keeping an old tradition alive – a celebration of a community that is proud to showcase the people who live here. His commitment to this event demonstrates the passion he has for the community and the leadership skills required to lead the committee year after year.
He ensures there is adequate funding of the event’s $6,000 budget and always considers buying locally before making any purchases from outside sources.
Another of Ben’s successful community ventures has been the development of the Tri-City Football organization.
The community-based football organization has been in existence for more than 15 years and operates with a budget of $70,000 annually. The organization provides a skills development football program for local youth.
The organization has definitely provided opportunities for youth from the communities of Planada, Le Grand and Plainsburg. It also provides structure that enables youth to develop in positive ways both physically and mentally.
Ben and the organization’s board of directors understood it would be a challenge to fund such a program because there are many low-income families in the community and they are seemingly invisible to the county.
But the organization has succeeded and has had a great impact on the future of some local high school students as well as on the community. And the community has embraced the organization because it has seen the benefits for local youth.
Anyone in this country can succeed if given the opportunity. That’s exactly what Ben Esquivel with the Tri-City Football organization is giving the local youth – an opportunity for young people and their families to be part of something exciting, something positive, something educational, something life-changing.
It’s this kind of commitment to community that makes him a humble giant of a man – someone who can be counted on.
Irene De La Cruz is a resident of Planada and has been involved with a number of community events and projects throughout Merced County. She owns her own business. She attended Merced College and Sacramento State University. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.