Story by Helena Getahun-Hawkins, an intern at Bay City News through Stanford’s Rebele Fellowship. 

As a celebration of their work to help combat graffiti and beautify Stockton, the Graffiti Abatement Society recently hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony and were presented with a certificate of appreciation from the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce.

The ceremony, which took place July 7 at the corner of Weber Avenue and San Joaquin Street in front of the Zeiter Eye Medical Group, brought together community leaders, local businesses, volunteers, and supporters crucial to the organization’s success.

During the event, community members gave speeches and volunteers were invited to get started on one of the society’s projects: touching up the paint outside of the eye doctor building which had already had graffiti covered but needed some perfecting.

Dennis Cochran, director of the Graffiti Abatement Society, cuts the ribbon outside Zeiter Eye Medical Group in Stockton on July 7, 2023. The ceremony was held to signify the society’s commitment to improving the quality of life for Stockton residents. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

“Youngsters like to do it,” said Dennis Cochran, director of the Graffiti Abatement Society, speaking of the work his nonprofit does. “It’s a fun thing. Actually, when they do the work, these kids would come and say, ‘Well, you know, I don’t like doing graffiti anymore.’”

Cochran first started the society 20 years ago after his career selling chemicals to the government came to an end, he said. When the Postal Service stopped purchasing his graffiti removal chemicals, he decided to sell his services instead. It was through these first few contracts painting mailboxes that he learned how to match colors, and he was soon making graffiti disappear from bricks, trees, and sidewalks.

Now he leads a team of three paid staff members and volunteers in tackling graffiti-related issues around Stockton — he estimates that he has provided services to anywhere from 300-400 different locations.

Graffiti Abatement Society director Dennis Cochran offers brown paint to volunteer Edith Villapudua to paint the wall outside Zeiter Eye Medical Center in Stockton. Cochran, who once made a living selling graffiti removal products to the U.S. government, has learned through experience how to match colors to repair existing paint. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Among those in attendance at the Friday morning ceremony were members of the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club of Stockton, the Grandfather’s Club, and representatives from Assemblyman Carlos Villapudua and Congressman Josh Harder’s offices. State Senate candidate Edith Villapudua was also in attendance.

For Cochran, having the Chamber of Commerce attend the ceremony was a “big deal.” “When you have the Chamber of Commerce, all of a sudden, you have a whole huge system of backing, and it makes a lot of difference,” Cochran said.

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