It’s as Easy as 1, 2, 3, A, B, C, D

If you could change one thing in your community, what would it be? That’s a question the ABCD Initiative is asking residents of Lodi’s Heritage District. We all want to help. It’s a basic human instinct to want to help others. But research is showing there might be a better way for us to help others. This approach starts with someone’s assets, instead of someone’s disadvantages. “Help what’s strong, not what’s wrong.” ABCD stands for Asset Based Community Development. The idea behind ABCD is that we can improve our communities by investing in our communities’ greatest assets, the people. The ABCD program is a global movement and has been in Lodi for three years now. If you haven’t heard of the program itself, you’ve heard of some of the success stories. The Little Free Library in he Heritage Distract, Bike Lodi’s family ride night, and that beautiful mural on the building across the street from Mojica’s Batting cages are three examples of these projects. Through the ABCD initiative, residents of the Heritage District decide what their community needs, then ABCD committee helps them obtain the tools and training to bring about those changes. Once the program ends, the good keeps coming.

In Lodi, ABCD Initiative is volunteer led and supported by the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, and City of Lodi. Sheri Aguilar, a volunteer, leads the program. It works like this: The ABCD Leadership Committee asks a question to residents in the Heritage District: “If you could change one thing in your community, what would it be?” Residents who have an answer are invited to a grant writing workshop. They learn grant writing basics then apply for a grant from the ABCD Initiative. This year, four winners will be selected. To receive the grant, winners commit to going to monthly leadership training and get partnered with a mentor who helps guide them through the steps of making their idea a reality. Then they get to work on making their dream a reality. Participants leave the program with a completed project, leadership training, the practical knowledge of the steps of how to get things done in our city, and, most importantly, an extra vote of confidence, that they are valuable and can be agents for the change they wish to see. The belief behind this program is that the Heritage District, formally referred to as the East Side, will only improve when the residents themselves improve it. Not when an outsider comes in and does the change to them. Change from outsiders isn’t sustainable. Change from within is sustainable. “Residents in areas where there is low income, high crime, high truancy, high illiteracy rates, all of that stuff, often feel powerless,” explains Sheri. “Having someone who is from that community have their mindset changed so that they see themselves as an asset is big. I mean, to me, that’s where my  heart is. That’s where you have sustainable change in an individual. Which then grows out to the area. I want find how we can help the residents to see themselves as the biggest asset in their community.”

Here’s the cool part: it doesn’t stop once the projects have ended. “Once you know something, you can’t unknow it,” explains Sheri. “That’s what we’re helping people to understand. You can keep learning and they can’t take that away from you, ever.” Those leadership skills and that knowledge of how to make change happen, the program recipients now have that in their tool belt. The pride you feel when you see that you can make a difference doesn’t end when the program ends. Almost thirty people have gone through the ABCD program, and off the top of her head, Sheri could think of one individual from the Heritage District who has since opened his own business and three other individuals who have started their own nonprofits 501(c)(3)’s Translation: 501(c)(3) means the organization is considered a public charity and has received a tax exempt status from the federal government. As with anything with the federal government and IRS, it’s a complicated procedure to complete this paperwork.  “I think of this quote, and it gives me the chills: It just takes one degree for water to boil,” says Sheri. “One degree. And that’s what I think about with the residents of the Heritage District. It doesn’t have to be grandiose. It’s one degree, one degree difference, and that’s what I think we did in these individuals’ lives.” Sheri is referring to a quote from S.L. Parker’s business motivational book, “212 The Extra Degree.” The premise is that people tend to underestimate themselves and with that slight extra push, a world of success and opportunity is waiting on the other side. The full quote reads, “At 211 degrees, water is hot. At 212 degrees, water boils. And with boiling water, comes steam. And with steam, you can power a train.”

It’s no wonder Sheri and others involved are so excited about this project. Being able to help someone unwrap their full potential and change their lives is a true gift. I can’t imagine anything more gratifying than being with someone when they realize their biggest asset is themselves. That’s where sustainable change comes. When people feel liberated and empowered, that’s when big things happen. The 4th cycle of the ABCD Initiative is underway now, and Lodi Live will continue to cover these projects throughout the year. If you want to learn more about how you can support the ABCD project, contact Sheri Aguilar at or check out the Lodi Live website for social media contacts and more information on specific projects.