“All about getting everyone involved,” event coordinator Brian Pekari said. “All about giving back.”
The idea for Peraki’s organization, dubbed Tracy United To Make A Difference, originated with Pekari’s campout outside Freebirds World Burrito in mid-August to win a year’s supply of free burritos.
He stayed outside the 11th Street business for three days in hopes of winning food to donate to the McHenry Tracy House Family Shelter and the Tracy Boys and Girls Clubs. He succeeded, donating his free burritos as well as an additional year’s supply of burritos given by Freebirds for his effort.
Tracy United is designed to be a place where various organizations all over Tracy can talk about their independent projects and possibly coordinate with one another.
Pekari said there are 60 different groups in town — ranging from schools, service organizations, non-profits and businesses — eager to be a part of the city-wide project.
“Anytime we’re reaching outside of ourselves, and not asking for anything in return helps out the community,” Pekari said. “Snowball effect.”
An idea takes root
The idea to get the community involved with Make a Difference Day started with an early September meeting between Pekari and June Yasemsky, a Hirsch Elementary School student council coordinator.
Yasemsky and her students were some of the first people to jump onto the Make a Difference bandwagon.
Pekari said Yasemsky was inspired by the Freebirds project and told him that her students were collecting items for the Tracy Animal Shelter.
“We always pick these pet projects the kids want to do,” Yasemsky said. “We’re making a difference, but I always felt we could make a bigger difference with more people on board.”
Working with co-council coordinator Therese Ayala, Yasemsky said collection efforts began Sept. 20, with volunteers rounding up a variety of items that includes pet food and toys, rugs, towels and blankets every Friday throughout the school. So far, the group has two large cardboard boxes filled to the brim with donations.
Yasemsky said the goal is to show students they can take care of their community and keep that momentum going when they get older.
The effort continues to gain steam.
On Tuesday, Oct. 2, Yasemsky said she was recently contacted by Boys and Girls Clubs of Tracy Director Robert Pane.
He said he was interested in setting up animal shelter collection boxes at each of the six local clubs, and students at Kimball High School said they, too, would pitch in.
“That’s what we were talking about,” she said. “We are making an impact, and it’s not just one little school. (We’re) now going to have bins everywhere. Everything we’re talking about makes total sense. Can’t argue it. This is how I envisioned it.”
Spreading community spirit
Since that first meeting with Yasemsky, Tracy United has had two meetings at the Tracy Transit Station to coordinate community projects with a bevy of other people and organizations.
The most recent, on Oct. 1, included Pekari, Yasemsky and Pane, along with more than 30 people representing various community service outfits, nonprofits and youth groups.
There are plans for another meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 15 at the building off the Sixth Street Plaza to prepare for Make a Difference Day.
It has been an ongoing event for 22 years, Pekari said, and is considered the largest community service “give-back day” in the nation.
He said although the national day is recognized Oct. 27, events around Tracy will be take place before, during and after that date, which falls on a Saturday.
During the roundtable discussion Oct. 1, Laura Johnston of the Tracy Youth Advisory Commission said her group plans to organize a plastic bottle collection at the West Valley Mall on Naglee Road from Oct. 20 through 27 in the food court area.
“YAC usually takes on a couple of different community service projects, and I mentioned Make a Difference Day and they all supported it,” she said. “All came up with the idea to collect water bottles. We’re calling it the ‘Recycle and Redeem’ project.”
She said the goal is to collect 4,000 bottles for recycling and donate them to local nonprofit Tracy Interfaith Ministries, which uses the bottles for soap and detergent for distribution to needy families.
To get the collection ball rolling, Johnston laid down a challenge to the four local high schools to see which could collect the most bottles.
“Community supports everything we’ve done before,” Johnston said. “Great way to get people involved in the community and give back.”
National recognition possible
Pekari said his group will organize park and road cleanups across the city Oct. 27, which was officially proclaimed Make a Difference Day by the City Council at its Oct. 2 meeting.
Pekari said Tracy Unified members hope to turn Make a Difference Day into an annual event that’s accompanied by year-round activities.
“We have so many people who do things behind the scenes, and they are making a difference,” Pekari said.
In addition to improving the local community, Pekari told those at the Oct. 1 meeting Tracy has a chance to win $10,000 for local charities if the local effort receives national recognition by Make a Difference Day organizers. He said San Jose won in 2011.
“Individually, we can all make a difference — collectively, we can create lasting change,” he said.
Pekari plans to create a graphically designed tree with branches to represent each of the organizations and their causes so that people can more easily see and understand the various organizations linked to Tracy United.
He hopes to erect the tree at City Hall or the West Valley Mall, he said.
At a glance
• Anyone interested in signing up with Tracy United To Make A Difference can contact coordinators at firstname.lastname@example.org.