This pandemic has proved that people can get creative when the need arises, whether it was home projects or ways to entertain the family. While many are focused again on more everyday pursuits, there's still a place for go-getters to keep using those creative muscles: downtown Bakersfield.
Now people are being asked to think beyond the home to the larger community we share and what can be done to make it better. The Hub of Bakersfield is gearing up for its second Innovation Lab this fall and is now seeking applicants.
The nonprofit, composed of local professionals, business owners and change makers, launched its first Bakersfield Innovation Lab in September, bringing together 16 individuals with different backgrounds, careers and interests but united in one goal: to improve Bakersfield's urban core.
"We all want to see Bakersfield and the downtown area even better than it is right now," said Jorge Barrientos, a Hub board member and one of the Innovation Lab facilitators. "We come together as a team and determine what can we do to make this a better place for everyone, to live, to work, to play. That's the aim of the Innovation Lab, to provide that venue."
Last year, the inaugural class was responsible for the #Bakerdise temporary mural behind Locale Farm to Table. Other projects that the team had planned were put on hold due to the shutdown this spring.
Participants also met with local innovators and those invested in downtown businesses and projects including Bakersfield Museum of Art curator Rachel Magnus, architect Daniel Cater and City Councilmen Bob Smith and Andrae Gonzales, who also founded The Hub last year. There was also a trip to the Fresno campus of Bitwise Industries, which is completing its Bakersfield location on 18th Street.
Participant Tamara Lwenya said discussions with community guests helped provide focus for the class.
"Hearing everyone's story enhanced the program a lot," she said. "It was a lot of fun. I feel like I was part of something in the moment."
After graduating from UC Riverside, Lwenya said she didn't originally plan to move back to Bakersfield. Now a youth mentoring leader at Garden Pathways, she heard about the Innovation Lab from a friend and was interested in collaborating with other like-minded, action-driven residents.
Along with developing friendships, Lwenya said the program provided insight into her community.
She said, "I've lived here my whole life and I'm seeing Bakersfield in a different way."
Lwenya encourages people who are interested in being a part of helping Bakersfield's urban core to thrive should consider applying to the program,
"I would consider it an investment in yourself and the community," she said.
Applications (available at thehubofbakersfield.org/innovation-lab) must be submitted by Monday. The form is simple, focusing on applicant's activities and interests as well as their ideas for downtown Bakersfield and beyond.
The Innovation Lab is seeking forward-thinking and responsible individuals who want to learn about what makes things work the way they do and are interested in improving the quality of life in Bakersfield.
After narrowing down the field of applicants, the board will hold interviews before making their final selections.
Due to the pandemic and restrictions on gatherings, this second Innovation Lab will be different starting with its duration. Now shortened to a four-month program, participants will meet twice a month to learn more about the community as well as plan and execute team projects.
"We agree it’s best to meet in person whenever we can," said Barrientos, who will be returning with fellow facilitators Heather Laganelli and Kaitlyn Yates, who chairs the program.
There will likely be outdoor meetings, Barrientos said, along with immersive activities and presentations from community members to learn about growth in the urban core and examples of what's already in the works.
Because the program won't have as many activities, the participation fee has been reduced to $500. That cost includes program materials, meals and "life-enhancing experiences."
Barrientos said they understand money is a concern for many right now but that they hope people will still apply if they're passionate about the program.
"If you want to be a part of this, please let us know," he said. "We don't want cost to be any sort of barrier to help achieving those goals, those dreams."
If a local organization or business would like to sponsor an innovator, they are invited to text Laganelli at 203-687-0468 for more details.
For more information or to apply, visit thehubofbakersfield.org/innovation-lab.