State

Weed and Seed to sprout new life, continue to help Modesto neighborhood

A program designed to improve an impoverished and crime-plagued west Modesto neighborhood will lose its federal funding next year, but its supporters are working to sustain it for years to come.

Officials plan to keep the Weed and Seed program alive when they transform the government-supported effort into a nonprofit organization called the Modesto Community Development Corp.

Weed and Seed is a program backed with a $1 million five-year grant from the U.S. Justice Department. Its purpose is to weed out crime and "seed" much-needed services, including prevention, intervention, treatment and neighborhood restoration.

"We want to continue the efforts that the Weed and Seed program has started," said Ana Rocha, the executive director for the nonprofit.

The volunteers and officials working for the Weed and Seed program will continue their efforts separately from those establishing the nonprofit.

Rocha said they have submitted an application for nonprofit status and hope to get an answer by February. She said they hope to start applying for grants for the nonprofit by March.

They plan to have the Modesto Community Development Corp. up and running before the government-funded program ends in 2011, Rocha said.

The goal of the nonprofit will be to increase the number of resources to west Modesto residents through government grants and help from other nonprofit organizations such as the United Way, said Rocha, who is also president of the Latino Community Roundtable.

With more and more families suffering in these tough economic times, she said, the need for guidance is stronger than ever.

"We want to provide these resources for people to know where to go when they need help," Rocha said. "People who have never asked for help before are now asking for help."

Cleanup events to tax help

Modesto's Weed and Seed area — dubbed Paradise South, Gateway to Change — includes areas in city and county jurisdictions. That's why city and county agencies formed a partnership in operating the Weed and Seed program.

The program provided several cleanup events where residents dropped off junk and trash such as tires, microwaves, VCRs, TVs and other items that can't be disposed of easily.

The program also hosted neighborhood block parties that offered free food, drinks, music, children's games and prizes, while community and local government agencies told residents about the resources available to them.

Weed and Seed also produced some community outreach projects, such as the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.

The Internal Revenue Service informed Weed and Seed officials the area wasn't claiming about $2.5 million in Earned Income Tax Credit. The credit goes to low-income families filing tax returns.

For one night a week over three months, the tax assistance project provided trained volunteers to help low- to moderate-income families and the elderly file their taxes.

Rocha said such events and projects will not go away once the nonprofit takes on the challenge of helping residents in the Weed and Seed area. She said a modest budget of $5,000 will get the nonprofit off the ground. They hope to increase the operating budget.

Modesto District 2 City Councilman Dave Geer represents the Weed and Seed area and said he plans to work with faith-based and other community groups in raising money for the nonprofit.

Elected to office in November, Geer said he doesn't how bad the financial outlook will be for the city. But it's clear to him that private funding will be needed to sustain community programs.

"I don't think there will be a lot of discretionary funding to make community improvements throughout the city, let alone the second district," Geer said.

Local law enforcement leaders pledged to continue their support of the program by providing the weeding — operations such as gang sweeps and probation searches — as long their budgets allow them to.

Other enforcement operations in the area sought to enhance traffic safety and raise seat belt and child safety seat compliance. Code enforcement operations addressed abandoned vehicles, blight and animal control.

"There's still a lot of work to do," said acting Modesto Police Chief Mike Harden. "You can't lose that momentum."

Harden said he hopes the nonprofit can gather enough money to fund special enforcement operations in the area. The ultimate goal is for the area to become self-sustaining, without the need for crime suppression efforts.

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said he expects to see the Weed and Seed efforts make a seamless transition into those of the nonprofit organization.

He said community leaders knew the federal funding would end in five years, so they planned for this transition from the start.

"Our commitment to the progress and what we've achieved won't change," Christianson said. "We've achieved too much to abandon our program."

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.

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