A busy life can get the best of us, but not for the few good men and women behind the Kern County Sheriff’s Activities League, a free program dedicated to at-risk youth in the community.
Six individuals have committed their lives on a weekly basis to the SAL program in east Bakersfield.
Appreciative for their time, KCSO Senior Deputy Martin Barron said, “Without them there is no program.”
Barron was no stranger to SAL as he took over as the sheriff’s activity coordinator in December 2018.
Like the deputy, a constant in the kids’ lives are the volunteers – whose dedication and physical presence speak volumes of their character.
“You can have people sign up – ‘I’ll help, I’ll help’ – but to be that mentor and to be here … is not that easy. … That’s why I’m so appreciative that they come,” Barron said. “They have their own lives, but they come here right after work and they constantly come.”
The after-school program provides boxing, soccer, cheerleading, arts and crafts and weightlifting to 45 to 75 kids between the ages of 10 to 17 ½ years old.
Parent-volunteers Celene and Edward Garcia were drawn to the program through their children, Ethan and Eddie, whose interest solely laid with the ones and twos – boxing.
But it was more personal for Celene, as she grew up around the area of Flower and Virginia streets.
Celene, often referred to as the “Boxing Mom,” reflected back to a time when volunteers made an impression on her.
“I know how it was on these streets and I know the impact that people had made on me when I was growing up,” she said. “And I know how it felt when that person was there every day and just couldn’t come anymore.”
The Boxing Mom works a full-time job but never hesitates when she drops off her kids. Instead, she parks, walks the 30-plus feet to the door and gives two hours of her time four days each week.
“Religiously, I am here every day,” said Celene, who has devoted the last two years volunteering for SAL. “That way, these kids can say, ‘Hey, she’s here, she didn’t come just for the first week.’ I want them to feel like we matter enough for her to show up every day.”
Along with the pair, Oscar Hernandez, Mike Chavez, Jesus Fuentes and Pastor Pete Baker show up to SAL every week to help instill responsibility, confidence and a yearning to lead their life in a positive light.
Going on his eighth year as head boxing coach, Pete Baker is involved in at least a dozen programs outside of the nonprofit in his role as a pastor with Fairfax Assembly of God. But despite the running around, Pastor Pete, as he is known inside and outside the ring, continually shows up.
“I believe in prayer and I pray for each of these kids every day and I believe that God’s spirit touches them and transforms them,” he said. “I’m under no illusion that this sport does it. This is just the care, just the care.” ￼