Several years ago, I was assigned to write about people, issues and happenings in southeast Bakersfield. It was one of the most enriching and challenging beats I have had as a daily newspaper reporter. The people working to improve the area are hopeful, compassionate and truly dedicated to improving the lives of residents, and getting to know them was an amazing opportunity for me.

Because of my experience, I was delighted to recently hear from one of those individuals, southeast Bakersfield community activist Andrea Caldwell, who recently updated me on a project that is making significant strides.

Envisioned many years ago, the Stepping Stones Youth Development Program is nearing five years of outreach and serves teens between the ages of 14 to 18. Areas of focus include educational preparation (college and vocational trade), one-on-one mentoring, job readiness, social etiquette, health care support services and personal development. Transportation is also provided.

Caldwell said it has been exciting to see these youth grow over time.

"We have 10 super stars who are currently attending four-year universities; they started with us in 2008," Caldwell said.

Caldwell said the nonprofit is growing so much in reaching youth that it is currently planning a fundraising event to help support its activities.

The first annual Smooth Jazz and Poetic Expressions will be held 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26, at the Four Points Sheraton at 5101 California Ave. Tickets are $25 a person and tax deductible; Caldwell said sponsorships are also being sought.

The charity event will feature smooth jazz by local band, j2, and Jay Jay Hicks, as well local poetry from the Pied Pipers of Poetry.

Ultimately, the goal is to raise enough funds in the long term to acquire a permanent home for the center in 2013.

"We are making aggressive efforts to find a (permanent location) where we can offer the services needed for our youth population on a daily basis," she said.

For more information about the event, please contact Caldwell at 900-2957 or Gloria Morales at 398-9161.

Woman of the Year

Congratulations to Elva Martinez, a district representative with Congressman Jim Costa who will be honored as the 2012 Woman of the Year by the nonprofit African American Network of Kern County.

Martinez "was selected due to her support of the efforts of the African American Network and her community service," said Dee Slade of the African American Network of Kern County. "She has supported her community and mentored to many small businesses and youth. She reached across the table to bridge the gap between ethnic cultures through education. The African American Network of Kern County is honored to acknowledge Elva Martinez."

Martinez will be recognized during the nonprofit's annual event, "Tonight is For You," 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, at the American Sound Recording Studios, 2231 R St. Tickets can be purchased on

Slade said the event was created by a group of strong women but it is open to the public to attend and network as an after-work soiree.

Prior to Costa's office, Martinez worked for former Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, the Law Office of Young Wooldridge, and Norwest Financial. Martinez has served on a number of local community boards and committees, including the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Latina Leaders of Kern County, the Youth Mariachi Foundation, Goodwill Industries, the American Red Cross, and the Bakersfield Police Department's Community Liaison Committee.

She is married to Tony Martinez, a BPD community relations specialist, and the mother of two daughters and a grandmother of one although she is expecting another grandbaby in 2013.

The annual "Tonight is For You" event raises funds for the African American Network's youth mentoring program, "Each One Teach One."

For information, please call Dee Slade at 817-4183.

"Enrique's Journey" If you are free this evening, I encourage you to attend a presentation by Pulitzer-prize winner journalist Sonia Nazario who will be discussing her best-selling book, "Enrique's Journey," 7 p.m. tonight, at Bakersfield College's Forum East.

Nazario's visit was made possible through a BC program and is sponsored by the BC Foundation and Wylie and May Louise Jones Endowment. The public event is free.

Nazario's book is based on her journalistic reporting of a teenage boy's compelling and dangerous journey north, beginning from his Central American homeland of Honduras through several states of Mexico and eventually to the United States -- in an attempt to reunite with his mother who had left for work in "El Norte" when he was about five years old. Although she communicated and sent money home for his care, her absence only furthered his desire to risk a journey to be with her again.

According to BC officials, Nazario has spent more than 20 years as a journalist, most recently for The Los Angeles Times. Some of her reporting included topics on poverty, drug addiction, and immigration.

Aside from her evening presentation, Nazario will also provide two short talks with students during the daytime.

For more information, please call Hannah Egland at 395-4850.