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Hobbs makes pitch for federal funds for stadium project
President of the Ripon Athletic Foundation, Stephanie Hobbs, stands near the Capitol in Washington, D.C., where she sought funds last week to complete the $2.8 million renovation project at the Ripon High Athletic Stadium. - photo by Photo Contributed

Stephanie Hobbs spent last week lobbying in Washington, D.C.,  trying to secure federal funds to help with the Ripon High athletic field’s $2.8 million renovation. 

President of the Ripon Athletic Foundation, she realized $1 million in support coming from community donations and $150,000 from the school district was not enough to complete the project with its all-weather track.  She’s asking for $1.6 million in federal help.

For the last 13 years the San Joaquin Council of Governments (COG) had coordinated a delegation of policy makers, government officials and business leaders from San Joaquin County, known as “One Voice,”  to make a unified trek to Washington to call upon leaders in the administration and in Congress to discuss specific funding needs in the region.

“At first I was insecure about spending five days with such a politically high level, high profile group of people, but I quickly realized they all shared the same love of our region as I do and we were truly there as one voice for our friends and families, to help us have the best quality of life possible,” Hobbs said.

Although Congress stopped earmarking funds in 2010, the federal government still distributes hundreds of billions of dollars through formula and discretionary programs.  The One Voice group takes the opportunity to receive counsel from legislators, legislative staff and the administration about the various federal programs teaching how to compete in the grant process.

Hearing this through the San Joaquin County COG, Hobbs signed up as a Ripon representative to join the countywide effort and flew to Washington with such notables as Mick Founts, superintendent of the San Joaquin County Office of Education and Jeff Shields of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District.

Hobbs said she was humbled walking into the halls of government on her first day in the nation’s capital – admittedly a very patriotic woman.

“Every morning started with a briefing from Andy Chesley, executive director of COG, and C.J. Lake, a government relations law firm executive who works with COG setting up appointments,” she said.  “We went over the days’ schedules and emphasized important meeting for as many of the group as possible to attend.

 Hobbs said she was humbled when Chesley encouraged everyone to attend the Ripon stadium project’s most promising session on Tuesday with Health and Human Services (HHS) Intergovernmental Affairs where they discussed Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move Foundation”  and other possibilities that address childhood health and obesity.

HHS does not offer direct funding but they do provide technical assistance towards that end, she said. 

“There could be money through the ‘Let’s Move Active Schools’ program,” Hobbs said.  “However,  it sounded like Ripon schools would need to get involved in the program itself before we can request funding for a capital campaign that enables more physical activity for our community,” she added.

Stockton City Councilman Elbert Holman was one of the most vocal in supporting the Ripon project – touting the regional benefits of the renovation, she said.  Holman took the time at several meetings to talk up the benefits of the project, Hobbs noted.

“I’m sure he knew his voice as an elected official carried much more weight than mine,” she quipped.

The Ripon leader said her first governmental meeting was in Congressman Jeff Denham’s office with his staff – having met Denham the night before at a dinner hosted by COG.  She said the social events planned every night were just as important – if not more so – than the formal daytime sessions where they had the opportunity to speak with Denham and his staff on a more candid level.

Also in Denham’s office was Founts who “really talked up” the Ripon High Stadium project, she noted. 

“He had a great way of tying our project with several of the other projects there with One Voice,” she added.

Hobbs attended a meeting in Congressman Jerry McNerney’s  office about education, and another with the Economic Development Administration, and two meetings with Senator Diane Feinstein’s staff, and one with the senator’s chief of staff; Health and Human Services, the office of Senator Barbara Boxer and the office of the Assistant Secretary for Housing and Human Development, and the Federal Housing Administration including the CDBG, NSP, Choice Neighborhoods Program and Promise Zones.

The last night of the trip both Denham and McNerney hosted a reception for the group where Hobbs voiced her excitement in sharing all the progress Riponites had made on the project with its endless community support.

“Congressman McNerney remembered the Harlem Ambassador Basketball game fundraiser (at Ripon High) as being part of the team at the beginning of our efforts,” she chimed.  “He recommended that we ask Denham to play in any future basketball games – not for his size – but because he is now our representative.”

Adding an element of fun to the Washington trip was a dome tour of the Capitol Dome – only a couple available a week; a tour of the Pentagon, and a “poignant few nighttime hours” at the War Memorials.  Attending a Nationals vs. Cardinals baseball game at field level and in a suite, able to talk to DC staffers was a lot of fun for Hobbs.

“I’m confident that this trip and the endorsement from the City of Ripon and SJCOG have catapulted our project to a much higher level.  Our grant applications will have a lot more impact after this trip,” she said.

Hobbs said she discovered her passion for economic development while on the trip and talking to various people.  She said she has always laughed at herself about contacting In N Out Burger, Jamba Juice and Trader Joe’s on her own, encouraging them to check Ripon out as being the perfect place to have their next location.

Serving as a Ripon Chamber of Commerce ambassador has also been a great way to encourage area businesses to collaborate more and to share resources, she said.

“Of course Ripon Rotary is a hub of business leaders that I’m proud to call my extended family.  I plan on dabbling in some possible economic development research to see if that is a direction I can head in the future,” Hobbs said.

“The local friendships I’ve made on this trip are exciting and I sense this is only the beginning of how God is going to use this trip to help improve our town and our region,” she concluded.