Our core, our backbone

STOCKTON – The answers came fast and easy for Phelps Street resident Mary Sanut. The questions tumbled from volunteers Virginia Gorman and Yesenia Rios.

» The quality of safety in your community: “I feel safe. Everybody helps everybody else out.”

» The job opportunities in your community: “There are none. There’s no work in the city; not just here. Employment is really bad for young people.”

» Your neighborhood as a place to live: “I’ve lived here 50 years. What does that tell you? People die here. They don’t move out.”

Sanut didn’t quite know it as she patiently answered the questions, but she was part of a survey known as the 2014 Community Strength Index. Two docile mixed pit bulls lolled in the dirt at her feet and behind a fence.

More than 155 volunteers fanned across the south side Saturday morning as part of the Reinvent South Stockton initiative.

Gorman and Rios were a two-person team assigned to canvass the streets between Ralph Avenue and Carpenter Road, just east of Airport Way.

Sanut, whose husband of 51 years died in May, made it clear she loves where she lives.

“A van comes by every week with bread; sometimes I go to the Kennedy Center and get food,” said Sanut (“I’m Mexican, my husband was Filipino”). “I don’t want to leave. I am very comfortable. This is the best neighborhood.”

She signed up for a follow-up survey.

By 1 p.m. Saturday, with the temperature in triple digits, volunteers trickled back to their starting point at the Dorothy L. Jones Family Resource Center on Fair Street. It is operated by Community Partnership for Families.

“People were excited to talk with folks,” project coordinator Hector Lara said. “The people surveyed were very happy to live here. It gave the volunteers energy as they came back.”

The volunteers came from across Stockton and beyond. They rallied inside the Jones center gymnasium before going door to door with their clipboards and forms. They completed 255 surveys.

Saturday was the first day of a monthlong push to assess the feelings and opinions of 1,000 south Stockton residents. On the final day, Aug. 23, organizers plan to celebrate with a block party.

The findings are leading to a community summit in October. “We can’t do the work without community input,” Lara said.

Gorman is a member of the community activist group known as STAND (Stocktonians Taking Action to Neutralize Drugs). And she is a longtime friend of City Councilman Michael Tubbs, who came up with the Reinvent South Stockton concept.

“I asked him some time ago to do this,” she said. “He kept his word. This is much bigger than I anticipated, and I am thrilled. With his help and knowledge, I have no doubt this is going to be successful.”

Rios, a part of the Coalition United for Families at the Jones center, worked from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday – first in her job as an AB109 re-entry coordinator and then as a volunteer.

“I am glad this is all coming together,” she said.

She and Gorman made a natural team, starting out on Carpenter Road. While they knocked on doors on one side of the street, Lodi resident Kevin Rooney, a deputy district attorney for San Joaquin County, and Tama Brisbane, executive director of Stockton-based With Our Words Inc., worked homes on the other side.

Elsewhere, newly elected county District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar and Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, were going door to door in different groups.

Each team started slow in the rising heat. Fences and dogs were a frequent impediment.

During the earlier rally, Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones spoke. “It is so refreshing to see so many different groups,” he said. “This is how you take our community back. If we can build a sense of community, all the other things will fall into place.”

Verber Salazar also spoke.

“I was born on the south side,” she said. “This is our core, our backbone.” She then led a cheer that audience members repeated: “I am so Stockton, so south Stockton!”

As she walked off, Verber Salazar said, “If I was wearing a T-shirt, here’s what it would say on the back: ‘Bet you wish you were too.’ ”

— Contact reporter Kevin Parrish at (209) 546-8264 or Follow him on Twitter @KLPRecord.

Help Us Grow Our Campaign.