Buy Photo

Columnist Olivia Garcia

If you ever wondered about the caliber or future of our Bakersfield youth, then you need to sit in on a Dream Builders Awards Night, which honors high school seniors involved in a local leadership program.

The program is run by the Jim Burke Education Foundation and as part of project, 32 local high school students are selected and divided into four groups, and challenged to develop and implement an idea that can make this community a better place. The team represents seniors from different high schools but they form one unit before diving into their community service project. The youth also get the support of local businesses that help cover the costs of implementing their ideas.

Dream Builders Awards Night is where the groups share and compete by presenting their community service projects. As part of the awards, the groups are given a $250 cash prize that they donate to local charitable organization of their choice.

I was familiar with this leadership program but it was only until last week that I had the opportunity to judge the team presentations (thank you, Mikie Hay) and boy, did I walk away feeling inspired and hopeful about our youth.

We sure do have some solid kids and if there was one message shared, it was for the kids to continue with community service and higher education, and return to Bakersfield to give back again.

Here are details of the projects and awards:

The Best in Class Award went to team and project, Memories in Flight. Sponsored by Dignity Health, Mercy and Memorial Hospitals, Memories in Flight partnered with Honor Fight, conducted interviews of local World War II veterans and donated the interviews to the Library of Congress. Special memory books were also created for the veterans' families. Team Memories in Flight also earned the Exceptional Perseverance Award. Both awards resulted in a $500 cash prize, which the group donated to the Honor Flight program.

The team and project, Bright House Builders, earned the Best Keynote Presentation. Sponsored by Bright House Networks, the Bright House Builders set out to improve the quality of life of low-income seniors living at the Plaza Towers in south Bakersfield. Through this project, the youth leaders revamped Plaza Towers' recreational room and collected non-food items from the community to help meet the seniors' basic needs. The team also won the Community Impact Award. Both awards resulted in a $500 cash prize, which will be donated to Plaza Towers, which is run by the Housing Authority of Kern County.

The FRESH team and project received the Community Collaboration Award. Sponsored by Bank of Sierra, the team created a healthy plan for local residents by sharing recipes, workout pamphlets and smoothie samples at a local Farmers' Market. They earned a $250 cash prize to benefit the Golden Empire Gleaners.

The Creative Strategies Award went to team and project the Freshmen Five. Sponsored by Aera Energy, the youth leaders helped more than 1,000 junior high school students prepare for the transition to high school by teaching them tips through their presentations. They earned a $250 award that will benefit CASA.

Well done, student leaders.

BROKEN HEART: I want to say thank you to everyone, including our veterinarian and staff, for the kind words about the recent passing of my 14-year-old German shepherd, Kita. She grew up with my teenagers and left us tons of special memories. But we weren't the only ones suffering heartache over her death. Her lifelong companion and daughter, Tanka, died of a broken heart about a week later.

Kita and 12-year-old Tanka were inseparable from the moment Tanka was born. My son named her Tanka because she was such a chubby German shepherd puppy that she reminded us of a tank. My husband, Julio, and 15-year-old son, Mateo, just adored Tanka. She was their girl.

Tanka treasured her mother. She always followed Kita around and when her mom became ill and unable to walk anymore, she remained closely by her side.

When Kita died, an enormous weight of sadness filled Tanka. She refused to eat or move around much. I could just see the despair and unhappiness in her eyes, and I felt helpless. Worried, we researched her symptoms and learned that it is common for another furry pal to be depressed when they realize their counterpart is gone and that it would pass. We tried our best to assure her that everything was going to be fine; we kept telling ourselves that she needed this time to grieve.

The last time I saw her alive, I was just about to leave for work. I told her not to be sad anymore, that we wanted her to be OK. My husband arrived home from work that evening and went to check on her when he learned that Tanka had died in her sleep in her doggie house she shared with Kita. It was a major blow to our family. Then we heard stories of other pets that had died of a broken heart because of the loss of a companion.

Losing Tanka reminded me that pets are much like humans. They love with all of their hearts, and when they lose someone very close to them, it is sometimes too painful to bear. Tanka could not see life without Kita at her side. It's taken us time to understand that but we have found peace knowing that the two are somehow together again, running around and looking after each other.

Olivia Garcia is editor of Bakersfield Life and BWell magazines, and a columnist of The Bakersfield Californian. These are her opinions, not necessarily those of The Bakersfield Californian. Send her tips at