There are people in our community that could easily choose to slow down in their later years and rest on their laurels. Not Jim Young, Chancellor Emeritus of the Kern Community College District. OK, maybe he's physically slowed down a little bit, (he's 79) but his mind and ambition are active as ever. I caught up with him recently and just as I suspected, he's still out there focusing on helping young people who face a difficult situation because of their immigration status.
In exactly 64 days from today, some 800,000 undocumented youth known as Dreamers will lose their protected status from deportation unless Congress takes action. In September, President Trump dismantled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — the 2012 Obama program that granted administrative relief to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors. Trump left it up to Congress to come with a law that protects Dreamers or else they face deportation by March 5. Young has no faith in Trump and gets right to the point.
"I don't think it's the president's intent to help the Dreamers at all," said Young. "I don't think he cares crap about them."
For the past 12 years, perhaps longer, Jim Young has made it his mission to get as many kids into college as possible. Trouble is that many students in Kern County have the brains to get into elite schools but lack the money to attend. It's particularly difficult for undocumented youth to come up with the funds. That's where the "retired" chancellor emeritus comes in. Since 2010, some 300 or so undocumented students in Kern County have financially benefited when Young founded the College Dream Fund, a scholarship program aimed at helping pay college costs. Had it not been for this financial help and his mentoring several students said they would not be where they are today.
"Dr. Young is just like a second father to me; he's been instrumental," said 27-year-old Erika Hernandez of Lamont. "Dr. Young has vastly shaped my understanding of the world."
One of the top students in her class when she graduated from Arvin High School in 2008, Hernandez had been accepted at UC Berkeley but the problem was money. As an undocumented immigrant, she didn't qualify then for financial aid. Dr. Young told her she would start at Bakersfield College and he drove her to BC for the start of the fall semester. Hernandez later transferred and eventually graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in Philosophy. Then she went on to Berkeley School of Law and has one semester left to graduate. Thanks to the College Dream Fund, she received $30,000 to help pay college costs.
Another beneficiary of Young's guidance is Blanca Perez. The 2010 North High School grad also faced the same issues as Hernandez, but again it was Young who found a way to make things happen. "He's such a selfless kind caring person," said Perez. "I don't think he'll ever realize what he's done for many of us." Perez graduated in 2015 from Montana State University with a major in Biology and now works at Kern Medical. She has plans to go to medical school.
Perhaps Young empathizes with undocumented youth because of his upbringing. Born in Shamrock, Texas, Young was one-year-old when his family moved to Arvin in 1939 in search of work. His parents were farmworkers. The youngest of eight children, Young attended local schools and went on to earn a Doctorate of Education from USC, plus two other post-doctorate degrees. Suffice to say that his professional experience is two pages long. Named chancellor of the Kern Community College District in 1978, Young was a young 39-year-old and would hold that post for 21 years. In an effort to gain more state funding for higher education, Young was recruited to run for the state Senate's 16th District in 1986, but did not win. I'm sure he would've made an excellent representative, but that might have altered history and who knows if he and his students' paths would have crossed years later?
"I want to grow up to be like him," said Blanca Cavazos, who is already grown up and serves as the superintendent of the Taft Union High School District. "Regardless of economic status or culture, he interacts with all people with the same level of respect," she said. "Dr. Young has never forgotten his family's struggles that brought them to Arvin during the Dust Bowl."
It's not just undocumented youth who have benefited. Three out of five members of the current Arvin city council you can say are Young proteges including Mayor Jose Gurrola.
"He instilled in me and many of my peers the importance of giving back to our community and participating in government," said Gurrola.
Jim Young has lived in the same house for more than 50 years with his wife Ruth. After retirement Young could have chosen just about any other scenic community to live. I asked him why he never moved away? His answer was simple. "I like Arvin. It's a good place," said Young who was proudly wearing a bright red Arvin Bears jacket. A life-long educator, Young was instrumental in getting his former college district to commit to building a Bakersfield College satellite campus in Arvin. Hmmmmm...."The Jim Young Arvin Center" has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?