The wine, the music and the fun of Party in the Park, the CSUB Alumni Association’s annual fall fundraiser, was too special a tradition to give up because of the pandemic.

So the Party is still on. It’s just moving from our place — Cal State Bakersfield’s Alumni Park — to your place.

Party at Your Place will be a virtual celebration that, like every year for 23 years, will offer just about everything one needs for a great night out (at home) while raising money for alumni scholarships, mentoring and other programs.

Guests will pick up a party box with wine selections from local winemaker San Rucci, a special event wine glass, and several surprise gifts fitting this year’s theme, Digital Disco. The theme pays homage to the 1970s, the decade of CSUB’s founding 50 years ago this year.

The association hopes they’ll open up their wine, fill their glass, get out their 50th anniversary-branded party box favors and join fellow alumni and friends for an evening of online entertainment and celebration.

The evening will feature music from Disco Sundae Entertainment, a disco dance lesson from CSUB rec center staff, special remarks, and a wine tasting to learn more about San Rucci’s offerings.

“We’re going to take everything that’s great about the event and make it accessible from home,” said Nancy Solis, president of the Alumni Association board of directors. “We’re going to have the music, we’re going to have the wine, we’re just going to make sure people are safe. And it’s going to be fun.”

There was no question Party in the Park was going to happen — the board just needed to figure out how given the California State University’s transition to mostly virtual instruction due to COVID-19, said Chad Boyles, chair of the Party in the Park Committee.

“We’ve really built this event into something a lot of people look forward to each year,” said Boyles. “It’s important that we not lose out on that momentum and give up on that tradition.”

A CHANCE TO GIVE BACK

Party in the Park/Party at Your Place, presented this year by Valley Strong, raises money for alumni scholarships, mentoring and events. And those initiatives are more vital than ever given what COVID-19 has done to pocketbooks and job prospects.

This year, the Alumni Association awarded $11,500 in scholarships to nine CSUB alumni pursuing their graduate degree on campus. All overcame tremendous personal challenges on the road to earning their education including health issues, abusive relationships and family commitments.

A few of the CSUB Alumni Association's 2020-21 scholarship recipients: Allison Cheatwood, Christina Giese, Tabitha Needham, Marisol Luna and Amelia de la Rosa.

“The students were in tears with appreciation, excitement that they were going to have some financial support with the scholarship,” said Solis, a member of the Alumni Association’s Scholarship Committee. “With COVID-19, people are being laid off, they’re seeing their hours cut. The scholarships are one important way we can make sure schooling is still available to people.”

And that need will continue for years, said Solis, human resources manager for Cintas and a two-time CSUB alumna.

CSUB students and graduates are also facing increasingly challenging transitions into the workforce because of the pandemic’s hit to the economy. This year the association’s ’Runner Alumni Mentor Program continues to offer them help, matching up 102 mentors — almost all of them CSUB alumni — with 107 juniors, seniors and graduate students who said they could use extra assistance finishing up their schooling and either jumpstarting or moving up in their career.

To help guide mentor-mentee relationships, the Alumni Association recently launched ’RunnerBridge, an online networking and mentoring platform that offers communication tools, mentoring goals and other resources for people accepted into RAMP. (All students, faculty, staff and alumni — regardless of whether they are in RAMP — can log onto the site’s networking hub for career and social networking as well.)

“In normal times, a lot of students have questions and need a little guidance,” said Boyles, a local attorney. “But in this particularly challenging environment, students need perhaps more support than ever.”

Supporting others is another key theme of Party at Your Place this year.

Typically, local restaurants support the Alumni Association by serving their customers’ favorite dishes at Party in the Park on a donated basis. This year, the association is supporting them by including in the party box coupons to the restaurants in the hope it drives business their way.

RAISE A GLASS

An interactive wine tasting will cap off the night’s celebration, hosted by Bakersfield father-and-son winemakers Bill and Anthony Merz. Their family has been making wine for five generations in Italy and the United States.

Bill took the family tradition commercial in 1983 and Anthony joined him in 2008. They sell their wine online, at Sully’s franchises and through local restaurants.

The grapes for two of their whites (benvenuta and chardonnay) and their cabernet sauvignon are grown in the Tulare County town of Pixley while those for their sparkling wine are grown in the Temecula area and their cabernet franc in the San Diego County community of Warner Springs.

“It’s fun and interesting to find these nooks and crannies and places where they grow unique varieties and fit the style we try to bring,” Anthony Merz said.

What’s that style?

“We like to make California wines inspired by our Italian heritage, and what that really means is wines that are easy to drink, go well with food, and have a connection to where our families come from,” Merz said.

The name San Rucci is a combination of Anthony and Bill’s Sicilian and Tuscan family names, San Filippo and Becherucci. Father and son produce about 250 cases per year, up from 70 last year; they’re exploring the possibility of opening a tasting room in downtown Bakersfield. (They're currently hosting pop-up tastings outside The Kitchen in downtown Bakersfield.)

In its Party at Your Place box, San Rucci will include four tasting-sized samples of its benvenuta, chardonnay, cabernet franc and a fourth it’s keeping a surprise. It will also list which foods pair well with the wines, something to take on a quick shopping run if necessary before the wine tasting event begins.

“CSUB offers a lot for the community and we like the idea of helping them support the area with education,” Merz said of sharing his wines and expertise at Party at Your Place. “Supporting local has always been a key thing for us.”

Christine Bedell is the senior alumni engagement specialist at Cal State Bakersfield.