With the exception of a few, the 36 locals featured in Bakersfield’s latest best-seller are not household names. But their passions are – Smith’s cookies, organ donation, art, tennis and ta-ble grapes, to name a few.
The 40-page glossy picture book “Greetings from Bakersfield – A Celebration of our People” is the brainchild of one of this year’s Jim Burke Ford Education Foundation’s Dream Builders stu-dent leadership class.
Back in August at the start of the school year, the team of eight high school seniors identified 36 people to profile for the project. The only criteria was that they have had a positive impact on the community. While there are some big names, like Mayor Karen Goh and Assemblyman Vince Fong, there are also small-business owners and individuals who are less familiar to most, like Bakersfield Museum of Art curator Rachel Magnus and table grape grower Marko Zaninovich.
“They are a good reflection of what is good about Bakersfield,” said Bakersfield Christian High School senior Jessica Stump. “This focuses on Bakersfield’s positive culture and turns the ste-reotype on its head.”
They also set out to showcase the passion and diversity within our vibrant community that dis-tinguishes itself from other cities.
“We hope to promote pride in where we live and improve Bakersfield’s image as well,” said Bakersfield High School senior Margo Kuney.
With a $500 donation from Aera Energy, the students set out to interview and photograph their subjects in the settings most familiar to them – City Hall, St. Francis Church, a vineyard. Advis-ers like Jeff and Jenny Vaughan helped the team navigate the daunting task of taking their col-lective work and publishing it.
“These students were so excited about this idea from the start,” Jenny said. “They love their town and wanted to share with others what they find so special about Bakersfield. I think they have knocked it out of the park. When you read their interviews, you will be amazed at the sto-ries and accomplishments of your fellow Bakersfield friends and neighbors.”
Completed in February, just weeks before a book-signing event where their creation was un-veiled, some of those profiled mingled with the authors. Turning the pages in awe, local immi-gration attorney and Poland native Edyta Grant marveled at the quality, wondering in jest how she made the cut. But it was Mira Monte senior Karen Hinojosa, who profiled Grant, who was impressed.
“I got to engage with people about how they got to Bakersfield,” Hinojosa said. “In my future, I want to come back and make a difference like they did.”
Since 2003, the Dream Builders program, along with its yearlong sister curriculum for high-achieving high school seniors Ford Dimension, focuses on civic responsibility, life skills and leadership development through the creation of significant service projects. In 15 years, teams have developed 57 civic projects ranging from cookbooks to health education.
Next week, the four teams will present their projects to an audience of parents and other invit-ed guests. They will be judged by a panel of four community members and the winners will receive a check to be given to the charity of their choice.
In the book liner’s notes, Team Aera challenges future teams to continue the project.
“We hope it is a gift to the community and know it has been a gift to us.”
Full disclosure: I thoroughly enjoyed helping these students edit some of their profiles of inter-esting individuals living in our midst. Like team leader and Liberty senior Jack Waite, it was a treat to “pull back the curtains,” as he wrote in the book, and find a true appreciation for the town we grew up in.
Proceeds from the sale of the $25 book will support the Kern County Museum, which in turn will order additional printings should demand necessitate it. I think it will. This gem should be on every local’s book shelf or coffee table. Hurry up and grab yours before they are gone.
— Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lisa Kimble