We all know the Mary K. Shells, the Kevin McCarthys and Merle Haggards of Bakersfield. They're the well-established names in our community who have represented us brilliantly for years.
But there are also countless others in Bakersfield who may one day be on the same list as these people. Bakersfield Life, starting this year, is highlighting the younger people in our area, those between 18 and 40 years old, who are achieving great things in their careers and making Bakersfield a better place along the way.
More than 150 shining stars were nominated in this inaugural feature. In the end, Bakersfield Life's selection committee selected 20 of them who are making their mark locally in various, diverse ways. They aren't necessarily the most successful in Bakersfield, though many are, but instead are 20 young adults who make us proud to call Bakersfield home.
Meet them now.
Ken Beurmann, chief executive officer of TERRIO Physical Therapy & Fitness, Inc., has achieved a tremendous amount of success at a young age.
Beurmann, a standout from Liberty High, graduated with a political science degree in three years from Cal State Bakersfield, where he served as the CSUB student body president. At 21, he was the youngest ever to graduate from University of Southern California’s Annenberg School with a master’s degree in 2008.
As manager of TERRIO’s Research and Development Department, Beurmann helped the company open its first location outside of Kern County. He accepted a job at Goodwill Industries of South Central California and helped expand to four locations outside of Kern, and another retail store locally.
In Beurmann’s time with Goodwill, he oversaw 230 employees and a budget of $10 million. He was instrumental in helping the division become just the seventh nonprofit in the country to be accredited an “affirmative business enterprise model.”
A results-oriented, anti-wasteful spending mindset has served him well. Earlier this year, he returned to TERRIO as CEO. His peers say his drive, business acumen and commitment to his community are unmatched. Well-liked, the 27-year-old juggles family life and work with love for his hometown.
He is the chairman of the CSUB Council of 100, a Leadership Bakersfield graduate and loves spending time with his wife, Gianna, and three children, twins Matthew and Lizzy and daughter Abby.
— Lisa Kimble
Jenifer Pitcher, community and government liaison for Kern Citizens for Sustainable Government, is a woman on a mission to beautify Bakersfield.
“This community has helped shape the person I am today, so I take a lot of pride in my community, and I want others to see what I see: a beautiful place that people can be proud of,” she said.
With Kern Citizens, a new issue advocacy group, and as its only employee, Pitcher is a dynamic, one woman band of spunk, the “face” of the government watchdog organization who is no shrinking violet. But she moves with grace and ease as she advocates for the community, especially when her opinion may not be the most popular in the room.
Pitcher, 27, graduated from Centennial High in 2004 before going to California Lutheran University, becoming the first in her family to attend college. She completed her bachelor’s degree at Cal State Bakersfield in 2008 and her master’s degree in 2011. For her thesis, she analyzed gender stereotypes and their effect on political candidates, completing an analysis of Kern County political candidates, 24 in all.
Over the course of the project, she brokered relationships that emboldened her as she grew into the political advocacy sphere. She is now an adjunct lecturer of political science at Taft College.
As vice chair of the Keep Bakersfield Beautiful Committee, she is involved in community clean-ups and spearheaded the cigarette receptacle project downtown.
— Lisa Kimble
It’s Jeremy Adams’ goal to inspire hundreds of local students to be knowledgeable citizens of our country, become involved, and reach higher in life. And as a 15-year Bakersfield High School teacher, he’s among the most decorated educators we have in Kern County, if not the state.
Among awards, Adams, 37, was a Kern County Teacher of the Year in 2012, won the Beautiful Bakersfield Award in education in 2012, and was a California State Teacher of the Year Award semifinalist earlier this year.
He is credited for starting the Advanced Placement government program at BHS and created the annual Earl Warren Cup, a entertaining civics trivia contest for top students.
He is a frequent speaker at education-focused events, and was featured in one of the nation’s largest teacher magazines, California Educator. He recently authored the book “Full Classrooms, Empty Selves.”
“His charismatic leadership inspires hundreds of students to reach higher,” said nominator and Cal State Bakersfield emeritus professor Victor Lasseter.
Adams, teaches civics at his alma mater, where his father also taught. He met his wife Jennifer, a local attorney, at the school, and they have two daughters and a son.
He returned to Bakersfield after graduating from Washington and Lee University in Virginia, and earned his master’s degree from Cal State Bakersfield, where he has taught in the Political Science Department for seven years and sits on the alumni association board.
— Jorge Barrientos
In September 2011, Alexandra Batey pulled into the driveway of her grandparent’s home in Bakersfield. She had embarked on a journey that led her from Virginia to a place she now calls home.
At the time, Batey was a recent graduate of College of William and Mary, where she earned a degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing. Growing up, she bounced throughout the country with her mother, a Bakersfield native, and her father, a commander in the U.S. Navy. A star student, she chose Bakersfield as a place to start her career.
Here, she began her first job as the executive assistant of J.P. Lake, vice president of marketing at Rain for Rent. Within months of arrival, she began volunteering.
In 2012, she joined the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra board, making her among youngest member ever elected. This year, she was elected to the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Club of Kern County.
She is also a member of Bakersfield Masterworks Chorale, occasionally helps at The Guild House, and volunteers for Kern Citizens for Sustainable Government.
Friends and family say she is an example of what is needed more in Bakersfield — she is creative and has a passion for helping others and bringing new ideas to Bakersfield.
In January, she married Justin Batey (maiden name is Hart). You can find her doing yoga around town, or making wine with her family.
— Breanna Fields
The path of contribution for the community’s rising stars like 37-year-old Juan Avila — community and client services director for Garden Pathways — can be traced back to grassroots projects in which people like Avila roll up their sleeves, dig in and don’t mind getting dirty to better the lives of others.
Well-known and respected in the local nonprofit orbit, Avila became the first in his family to attend college, and to receive a master’s degree. In 2003, Avila worked with Clinica Sierra Vista. Three years later, he became executive director of Parent Institute for Quality Education, educating parents on how to help their children succeed in school. The program’s model is now a staple in local education and has been replicated across the state.
Many parents mentored by Avila are now community leaders themselves.
Avila has also served as director of nonprofit outreach for the Kern Community Foundation, worked as a field representative for former Kern County Supervisor Karen Goh, and as a board member for the Youth 2 Leaders Education Foundation, where he was instrumental in securing more than a $1 million in scholarships in the past five years.
Tireless in his efforts to help make a difference — whether it is with the Greenfield and Lamont communities and park clean-ups, or volunteering for East Bakersfield United for Peace — Avila is at the forefront of projects effecting change.
— Lisa Kimble
Fiona Kelly Lytle
If you want to make an impact, Fiona Kelly Lytle says, you should first look in your own backyard. As one of the newest members of the Kern Economic Development Corporation, Fiona is doing just that.
At age 26, Lytle is helping recruit and retain businesses to support Kern County’s local economy. Her vision has been to inspire and motivate our community to live a purposeful life that is beneficial to society by spreading the importance of sustainability and engaged citizenry.
Before returning to Bakersfield, Lytle attended the University of the Pacific in Stockton, where she earned her bachelor’s in biological and physical sciences, and master’s in administration and leadership. There she mentored high-risk students in outdoor learning, and taught them the importance of agriculture and leadership. She was vital in raising $100,000 for sustainability education on campus through building a community garden. She represented the university at a Clinton Global Initiative University meeting, where she worked with world leaders in international development.
Lytle worked in Washington D.C. for the nonprofit International Action, where she researched and reported on humanitarian work for Haiti earthquake survivors.
When she returned to Bakersfield in 2011, Lytle worked as a college instructor and program coordinator. In her current position, she researches and markets industry sectors in Kern.
Outside the office, she mentors students in Independence High’s Energy and Utility Academy, and joined the Kern Green Awards committee and Kern’s Human Relations Commission.
Colleagues tout her professionalism, energy and enthusiasm, organization, attention to detail, and sense of humor.
When she’s not working, you can find Lytle playing tennis with her husband Jeremy, or relaxing with family and friends.
— Jorge Barrientos
Growing up in Tehachapi, Alex Balfour learned about hard work early on. As a boy, he helped tend a small ranch while also helping his father with the family air conditioning company.
The work ethic and seemingly endless energy continued after he moved to Bakersfield as a teenager and through his adult years — working with Cushman & Wakefield, Pacific Commercial Realty Advisors, Inc., and in charity work in our community.
Eight years in, he has broken sales records for Central California within his company that has a network of more than 6,000 employees. He has been a top five producer within Central California twice, ranking among peers with 25-plus years of experience — and the first person under 30 years old in the company to ever do this.
Outside of work, Balfour, 30, is a board member for the Bakersfield Active 20-30 Club. The group has raised millions for local children charities since its creation in 1928, and close to $400,000 since 2006, when he joined. They’ve provided back to school clothes, Christmas gifts and supplies to more than 1,500 local children.
At his alma mater, CSUB, he has served as a board member for its Alumni Association since 2007. He’s a charter board member for the Friends of Mercy Foundation’s Legacy Circle.
Coworkers and friends say he has a kind heart and gets along with everyone he meets. He lives in northwest Bakersfield with wife Kathyrine Balfour, and dogs Chuck and Daisy.
— Jorge Barrientos
Melanie Cruz’s sister’s baby didn’t have much hair. Using a headband, Cruz attached pigtails that made the baby look like she had just enough.
Soon, her cute idea turned into the patented Bebe Doos Perfect Ponies, featured on the Today Show, on TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The product is available for purchase in hundreds of stores throughout the world.
Today, the business keeps growing, with Bebe Doos getting licensed through Revlon. The 31-year-old entrepreneur also co-owns a product development firm, Dream Innovators, with her family.
But Cruz says her biggest achievements have been personal. She and her husband raise two daughters — Arabella, 4 and Londyn, 1, who was born with gastroschisis, a birth defect in which an infant’s intestines stick out of the body. Her family lived in the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House while Londyn underwent surgeries. Full of enthusiasm and positivity, Cruz kept cool throughout the ordeal. Londyn is now a healthy toddler, calling Bakersfield home.
The ordeal made Melanie want to help others, fundraising for several children with the same ailment. Locally, she’s an advocate for animal rights in Kern County, donating to local causes, fostering strays, and bottle feeding baby kittens found in a dumpster.
Bebe Doos talks are continuing with Target and Toys R Us retailers showing interest. More information: bebedoos.com.
— Jorge Barrientos
Daniel H. Chang
Daniel H. Chang has his sight set on giving Bakersfield better vision.
The board-certified ophthalmologist has helped give patients a better quality of life with better sight through Empire Eye and Laser Center, and the nonprofit, Advanced Center for Eyecare.
Daniel Chang graduated with honors from the California Institute of Technology. He received his medical and ophthalmology training from Duke University and Emory University, where he earned the title of chief resident in ophthalmology. After, he joined a prestigious cornea and refractive surgery fellowship at Minnesota Eye Consultants.
He’s authored numerous articles and publications in his field, performs cutting-edge clinical research (including FDA-clinical investigations), and speaks at seminars in the United States, including for the Kern Leadership Alliance, and across the globe.
He accepted his brother Joe Chang’s invitation to join him in Bakersfield in 2008 at Empire, where the two are now respected leaders in and out of the office.
The cofounders of Advanced Center for Eyecare have helped provide medical and surgical eyecare to local uninsured and underinsured people of Kern County, including hundreds of schoolchildren.
“Bakersfield has been a great place to raise my own family, to grow professionally, and to give back to the community.”
He is a member at The Bridge Bible Church where he volunteers. He lives in Bakersfield with wife Lisa, and daughters Sarah, 6, and Abigail, 3. He turned 40 in May.
— Jorge Barrientos
Andrae Gonzales, 31, could likely have been placed on a local “people to watch” list in middle school.
He was, after all, junior high class president at Compton Junior High and president of his class all four years at East High School. He left Bakersfield to study political science at UC Berkeley, but when he finished, he came back home to give back.
Gonzales started Faith in Action, a faith-based nonprofit aimed to bring churches and communities together when he was 26. Today, he remains committed to serving our community. He’s the executive director of Stewards, Inc., which manages budgets for the mentally disabled and elderly. He founded the Children First Campaign, aimed at helping local children succeed and remain safe and healthy. He’s also a board member with the Bakersfield City School District, where he’s touted by parents, teachers and community members for bringing about positive changes to our local schools.
Recently, his name floated around as someone who should compete for an open State Senate seat; he refused to run to fulfill his BCSD board term.
Colleagues have said Gonzales speaks to the community and listens. And with the praise and notoriety, Gonzales has remained humble to Bakersfield.
“I would not be where I am today if not for the teachers, counselors, friends, family, and mentors who took time to help me along,” Gonzales said. “I simply feel a duty to pay it forward and help create opportunities for more young people to succeed.”
— Jorge Barrientos
Effective coaches and managers share similar leadership qualities — both motivate their teams to accomplish goals, and come out on top. Vance Elmore, 22, excels in both worlds as the head coach of the Roadrunner Aquatics Club and a master’s student at Cal State Bakersfield.
His love of swimming and leadership began at Centennial High School, where he was class president his last two years.
After graduating in 2008, Elmore attended University of Hawaii for one year; however, he returned to Bakersfield and earned his bachelor’s in business at CSUB. He joined the swim team, becoming one of the team’s top freestyle swimmers, and a team captain. The highlight, he said, was the team’s first Division I conference championship.
His leadership extended as vice president of the student-athlete advisory committee at CSUB, where he served as a liaison for all student-athletes. His peers honored him as 2012 Roadrunner of the Year.
Today, Elmore is still involved with the CSUB swim team, serving as a graduate assistant coach. He also manages the 280-member youth swim club, Roadrunner Aquatics, as head coach. Elmore has helped lead the youth club to be recognized among the top 200 in the country.
“He juggles a lot while being an excellent role model for the children,” said Chris Hansen, CSUB director of swimming and Roadrunner Aquatics owner.
Elmore aims to complete his master’s degree in June 2014. He hopes to work in management marketing for a technology firm.
— Jennifer Burger
A graduate of Arvin High and UCLA, Mayra Garza returned home to Kern County where she has continuously made an impact in local educational programs that focus on marginalized youth.
As a program supervisor with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office, the 35-year-old manages dozens of employees across Southern California, specifically in five communities, as part of AmeriCorps, a federal program that engages adults in intensive community service work. The program cares for hundreds of local at-risk middle and high school students.
The epitome of a servant leader, she also managed several large education initiatives for out-of-school youth and migrant families. Garza herself comes from a farm-working family in Lamont.
When she’s not working, she volunteers in school reading programs and in Arvin High’s We the People constitutional competition, scholarship reading, fundraising for local and national causes, and in church programs and senior work.
She’s received numerous state and national recognitions, while also presenting at national conferences. She’s also a trainer for California School-Age Consortium.
A lifelong learner, she received her master’s degree in public administration from Cal State Bakersfield and is seeking a second master’s in counseling with a credential.
For fun, Mayra loves to travel around the world and has competed in three half-marathons.
— Breanna Fields
James Joseph “Joe” Hay, 34-year-old fifth-generation Californian, is widely considered to be an emerging community leader by those twice his age and with decades of local leadership.
The eldest grandchild of the late Jim Burke, Hay takes his role as descendent of a community legacy seriously.
“When you have been in one place for so long, you really feel that you have a vested interest in its success, which is part of the reason why our company focuses so heavily on supporting education and health care.”
As vice president and Auto Mall general manager for Jim Burke Ford Lincoln Jaguar, Hay oversees a dealership with some 50 employees and $25 million in annual sales.
Activism and leadership come naturally for the Bakersfield High and University of Notre Dame graduate. In college, he led 15 fellow students on a volunteer trip to Appalachia to mentor children.
A graduate of Leadership Bakersfield, Hay also founded N35, a networking group for young professionals. Five years ago, he joined the Bakersfield Museum of Art’s board of directors. As incoming chairman, he is the youngest to serve in that capacity.
This year marks the company’s 100th year in business as a Ford dealer. Hay says he is proud to carry on his family’s work.
“This community has been very supportive of our business over those years, which is why it is important we return the favor and reinvest our time and resources to make this community a better place.”
— Lisa Kimble
For decades, Ward 7 Councilman Russell Johnson has been a champion of local public safety.
While in student government at Bakersfield College, the Stockdale High graduate fought successfully to fix potholes in the school’s parking lot. He moved away and received a bachelor’s degree from UC Santa Barbara in 2001, but returned to his hometown.
His name became known more as a Bakersfield planning commissioner and later as chief of staff for Kern Supervisor Mike Maggard.
When he won a City Council seat in the 2010 election, he told voters he would support local businesses, fight for job creation, protect funding for public safety services, and help Bakersfield weather tough financial times. He has kept his promises. Recently, he decided not to run for an open State Senate seat, despite wide support, to focus instead on the City Council.
Johnson, 33, also serves on the foundation board for Boys and Girls Clubs of Kern County and Center for Kern Political Education. He owns Common Sense Consulting, a local public affairs firm.
His colleagues throughout Bakersfield say Johnson never compromises his integrity to achieve goals. You can find him volunteering throughout the community with his wife Susanne.
— Jorge Barrientos
As attested by her family, friends and colleagues, Denise Castaneda-Ornelas never stops taking on projects to help improve Bakersfield.
Ornelas, 39, was the marketing director at La Bonita Tortilla Co., a 55-year-old, family-owned local business led by her husband, Albert. She is an esthetician who owns Allure Beauty Salon, and a part of Dr. Gordon Mitts team. The chairwoman of the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce recently started a new venture with AAA.
In her personal life, Ornelas is a super mom. Her family includes husband Albert, daughter Jessica, 14, and son Gabriel, 15. She is “team mom” for the Bakersfield High School Drillers. She is deeply involved activities surrounding her deaf teenage daughter, and is the president of the deaf and hard of hearing parent teacher organization.
For her community service and leadership, Ornelas has received a “Latinas Leading The Way” award by Latina Leaders of Kern County and also the Garden Pathways’ “Women with a Heart for Bakersfield”
In her early 30s, she returned to school, received her bachelor’s degree is currently working on her master’s degree.
Nominators describe Denise as a driven businesswoman who is a mentor to many and always willing to lend a helping hand.
— Bakersfield Life Magazine
As a famed musician from the former Yugoslavia, Zoran Maric travels around the United States and Europe to perform. But it’s the travel from Bakersfield to Los Angeles that concerns him the most.
Maric, 38, and his wife Susanna are raising twin 4-year-old boys, one of which was born with congenital heart disease. The trips to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for surgeries and care have turned Maric into an advocate for children’s health. He and his wife collected toys over the years from local donors to take to sick children in Los Angeles, and their efforts are paying off for children locally, too.
Due to Maric’s advocacy, in July, specialists from the children’s hospital will start staffing a full-time pedicenter in Bakersfield.
At Frontier High School, he ensures safety in his role as campus supervisor. It’s a career far different from what he left behind. After serving as a military police officer in the Bosnian War, Maric built a lucrative pop rock music career in Serbia. In 2003, when he visited his father in Bakersfield, Maric attended a Mento Buru concert and met his future wife — Susanna was a professional mariachi player and English teacher. Maric enrolled in Bakersfield Adult School and learned English quickly.
Still, Maric has been able to build an international audience by traveling to cities with concentrated Serbian populations in the United States and Europe.
— Jennifer Burger
How do you instill pride and spirit into a group of people? For the answer, you can ask Myka Peck.
The Garces Memorial High coach and activities director is credited for doing just that at the school.
Peck, a soccer standout, graduated from Bakersfield High School and then Loyola Marymount University (her master’s degree is from Cal State Bakersfield). She returned home and began coaching the next generation of soccer stars — first at Golden Valley High and then Liberty High, and as assistant coach for Cal State Bakersfield’s women’s soccer team. Now at Garces Memorial, she has been “the heartbeat of our campus,” said Lou Ann Durrett, Garces director of marketing. As activities director, she infused heart, soul and renewed enthusiasm at the school’s campus with her spirited approach to student activities.
As a coach, she teaches players about dignity, respect and sportsmanship above winning. But winning came. In 2010, her second year at Garces, The Bakersfield Californian named Peck “Girls Soccer Coach of the Year” — she credited the players for working hard. The Rams this year won their second Division II Central Section championship under Peck, despite starting with an 0-6 record. The team stayed positive with Peck’s leadership.
Peck also suffers from multiple sclerosis. She never lets the disease define her or uses it as an excuse, let alone talk about it. She is a role model to others who suffer from debilitating illnesses.
— Jorge Barrientos
Michael McCarthy, a 25-year-old Cal State Bakersfield alum originally from Brentwood, was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2011. He transfered here from the University of Redlands and has treated Bakersfield like his hometown since.
Even now, as he pitches for a Red Sox minor league team in Virginia, McCarthy returns in the off-season to live, work and serve.
He has taken part in Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service and United Way Day of Caring. At CSUB, he coordinated and fundraised for the Boys and Girls Club of Kern County, as well as helping families in need. He was co-coordinator of CSUB Athletics’ Relay for Life, serves as volunteer coach for a junior baseball team, and guest speaks for local nonprofit events.
He served on CSUB athletic boards and committees, and remains assistant to the vice president of student affairs. While he broke baseball records, he made the dean’s list eight times, won the CSUB President’s Award and CSUB Roadrunner of the Year Award.
When he was drafted, he made a commitment to return and finish his biology degree at CSUB. He did. In the offseason, he mentors the Roadrunners, and shares nutrition and physiology knowledge.
While he pitches throughout the United States, McCarthy writes a column that runs in The Bakersfield Californian.
— Jorge Barrientos
Kimberly Smith Van Metre
At 39, Kimberly Smith Van Metre, owner of Neurofeedback Train Your Brain, has taken a challenging route to success and life.
Against personal odds, she introduced a new business in town on the cutting edge of health care.
While attending Cal State Northridge, she lost everything in the 1994 earthquake. She later returned to Bakersfield, married and a mother of three, and graduate at the top of her class with a degree in environmental science. But permanent nerve damage, the result of a surgery for degenerative discs, left her on an endless quest to alleviate her chronic pain. She entered a pain rehabilitation program at UCLA and said it was the best $26,000 investment she’d ever made.
She received neurofeedback clinician certification and three years ago brought the practical application of brain science to town. Now recognized as cutting-edge and vital, the treatment modality is covered by health insurances. Van Metre’s migraine clients no longer suffer debilitating headaches. She is also helps vets grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder. “I feel like the luckiest person on earth,” she says. “If you looked at me on paper, you wouldn’t look at it that way. But I am grateful for it all.”
— Lisa Kimble
Brian Mendiburu believes that the magical spirit his mother exuded could be spread throughout Kern County while helping local families.
That belief, for 13 years, has been a reality with the Mendiburu Magic Foundation, which Mendiburu founded as a way to help others in Kern in his mother’s memory.
Nancy Ann Mendiburu died in June 2000 from ovarian cancer when Brian was 22. Since, foundation has raised hundreds of thousands for ongoing cancer care, to help families affected by catastrophic illnesses, and for scholarships.
Mendiburu, 33, serves as president, with help from his wife Valerie and volunteers (and a few staffers), many of whom are community leaders. They host the annual Nancy Ann Mendiburu Compassion Awards, which recognizes the caring ways local folks and businesses promote her philosophy and commitment. The annual Pyrenees Fiesta also raises funds.
In his day job as Bakersfield High School assistant principal, Mendiburu is motivating and well-respected by staff and students. The Kern High School District, he said, has been great foundation supporter from day one. Those who know Brian best say he is committed to his faith, family, profession and community efforts.
Mendiburu and his wife raise three boys.
— Jorge Barrientos