By MARC LUTZ
Business Journal Editor
STOCKTON – “What weeds have you grown from?” T. Denise Manning asked the gathered audience of a few hundred.
Manning was the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s 15th Annual Power of One luncheon held at the Hilton Hotel. She spoke about her life journey and the lasting effect of positive emotional support.
The event, sponsored by the United Way of San Joaquin, promotes women in the community who make a difference.
This year, Gina Valadez, founder of Bread of Life ministries was honored with the Community Star Award for her work in providing supplemental groceries for families in need. The ministry has grown to help the communities of Stockton, Manteca, Lodi and Tracy.
“I started Bread of Life seven years ago. I just wanted to help people. I still do,” Valadez said. “Sometimes just a smile or a kind word make the difference of life or death for somebody.”
Valadez started the service during the economic downturn when people were being forced from their homes. Bread of Life has helped thousands throughout San Joaquin County to date, all from one person’s desire to make a difference.
Manning, a forensic expert in the City of Stockton’s Office of Violence Prevention, focused on the power one person has that can build up or tear down another. She left Stockton 20 years ago when she enlisted in the military, only having returned some 17 months ago.
“It’s one thing to grow in poverty and not having much and coming up rough, but it’s another thing to not have that emotional support,” Manning said referring to her own upbringing. “To emotionally absent from the children you’re supposed to raise causes problems.”
Manning knew plenty of people in the poverty category. “But they were fed emotionally. I didn’t have that,” she said. “I didn’t have that.”
People who aren’t happy inside tend to pass on expectations to those around them, Manning said, oftentimes heaping negative criticism rather than positive support.
It was her 13 years in the military and subsequent experiences working with incarcerated youth that brought her back to Stockton, something Manning said she would never do, with a desire to help others.
“Who would I be if I listened to those that said, ‘what difference are you going to make?’” Manning said. “Who would you be to listen to the naysayers? Who would you be to not grow from the weeds?”