The north and south forks of the Kern River define the Kern River Valley. So does poverty, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau: Weldon, 21 percent; Bodfish, 23 percent; Lake Isabella, 30 percent; Onyx, 41 percent; Mountain Mesa, 44 percent. The state average is 14 percent.

Add to these woes the aftermath of the 2016 Erskine Fire and it should come as no surprise that the Kern County Homeless Collaborative, in its most recent count of the homeless conducted in January of this year, found that “outside of Bakersfield, the Kern River Valley area had the most counted homeless in the county at 18,” as reported by The Bakersfield Californian on May 9.

Fortunately, some regional initiatives from Kern Community Foundation are in place to help meet local needs.

A true community fund for the Kern River Valley

In late 2017, small grants began to be awarded to nonprofit agencies and schools serving the Kern River Valley area thanks to the Kern River Valley Community Fund, a permanently endowed fund established at Kern Community Foundation by area residents with an initial $200,000 capital investment made up of $100,000 in donations from community members matched dollar-for-dollar by a generous local resident who chose to remain anonymous.

As an endowed fund, the principal of the KRV Community Fund cannot be withdrawn and grants are made from a portion of the interest earned, which will only increase over the years.

In the first grant round, five agencies received a total of $5,500 in grants, ranging from $500 to $2,000, to cover environmental, cultural, educational and community information needs.

The current balance of the fund exceeds $235,000 and grantmaking is scheduled to continue yearly.

Erskine Fire Relief

Another Kern River Valley regional effort is the Community Disaster Relief Fund at Kern Community Foundation. This fund was established within a week of the outbreak of the Erskine Fire in June 2016, which became one of the most devastating fires in California history and ended up destroying more than 250 homes in the Lake Isabella area.

The Kern River Valley Long Term Recovery Group, a cooperative body made up of community leaders and organizations working to help survivors of the Erskine Fire recover and rebuild, entered into a memorandum of understanding with KCF in March 2017 to ensure an efficient partnership “to provide assistance in the areas of resettlement, rebuilding and infrastructure within the affected communities.” To date, the Long Term Recovery Group has approved funding for a summer camp for children impacted by the fire, as well as preliminary engineering and survey work for future building efforts.

The current balance of this fund is close to $167,000.

These two initiatives illustrate the generosity of Kern County’s giving community – without which, efforts such as these would not be possible. For more information, visit kernfoundation.org. 

Louis Medina is the manager of community impact for Kern Community Foundation. The views expressed are his own.

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