Bakersfield has often excelled at building bridges out of rubble, searching for joy in sorrow, finding kindness beyond our grief and rage.
And so it was that two families who lost loved ones in a senseless mass shooting at the Route 91 music festival in Las Vegas last October gathered Friday to honor the memory of their daughters, Bailey Schweitzer and Kelsey Meadows, through the creation of two scholarships for high school graduates in Kern County.
"She was everything. It's a huge loss," Scott Schweitzer said of his daughter, Bailey, at Friday's event held at the offices of Kern Community Foundation, a local nonprofit that assisted in organizing and administering the scholarship funds.
With Bailey's mom, Crissy Schweitzer, at his side, Scott Schweitzer's voice broke at times, as he explained that establishing an ongoing scholarship fund in their daughter's name — with money donated from the community — was a way to wring goodness from heart-rending tragedy, and a way to keep Bailey's memory alive.
"It means the world to us," he said.
The Oct. 1 mass shooting claimed the lives of and injured a number of Kern County residents. But the community came together in solidarity with the victims and their families at several events, including the Bakersfield Together fundraiser held at the Fox Theater and the Day of Remembrance held at a lot in downtown Bakersfield.
More than $46,000 was raised by the events, as well as from generous donations received from hundreds of community members. The fundraising efforts were orchestrated by community leaders including Kevin Burton, Kristen Beall, Derek Jeffery, Paul Sturgeon, Mark Zaninovich, Kim Barrett and Mike Pelishek, the Kern Community Foundation said in a news release.
And KGET was instrumental as well, organizers said.
The foundation was asked to be the fiscal agent of the Day of Remembrance Fund, and on Friday made a check presentation to the two local families who chose to honor their daughters with annual scholarships in their names.
Each $10,000 check was earmarked for the scholarships: one in honor of Bailey Schweitzer, who helped with the family business, the Bakersfield Speedway; the second in honor of Kelsey Meadows, a substitute teacher at Taft Union High School.
The Meadows scholarships will go to students from Taft High, and the Schweitzer scholarships will be granted to students from Centennial High, Bailey's alma mater.
Friday's check distribution was symbolic as some funds have already been distributed for scholarships in 2018.
"It's huge. The best thing kids can do is to live their dreams, and I think Kelsey was a perfect example of that," said Mary Alice Finn, principal at Taft High. "Giving the kids the opportunity to live their dreams without the financial burden that often comes with living those dreams, it is everything to a kid."
Kelsey graduated from Taft High in 2007, earned her teaching credential from Fresno State University in 2012, and then returned to Taft to be a substitute teacher. With donations from family, friends, the community of Taft and Berry Petroleum, 11 scholarships were granted to 2018 graduates.
“We are overwhelmed by the support of the community during this tragedy,” Scott Schweitzer said. “It warms our heart to see something good created from this and that scholarships will be handed out in Bailey’s honor for many years to come.”
A graduate of Centennial High School, Bailey played volleyball and was a member of the cheer squad.
Kelsey's mom, Stacy Meadows, was present Friday along with Kelsey's father, Greg Meadows. They elected not to comment.
But in an email she wrote to the foundation, she said making something positive out of the tragedy was what they were hoping for.
"When our life was turned upside down on Oct. 1 with the loss of our daughter, Kelsey, we knew right away that we wanted to do something positive with the outpouring of community support.
"We created a scholarship for Taft Union High School students to help them achieve their goals and follow their dreams."
More funding is still available.
Kristen Beall, president and CEO of the Kern Community Foundation, said the check presentations represent the first distributions made from the fund. Additional resources are available until the money is depleted.
Kern County residents who are victims and survivors of the Las Vegas tragedy are invited to provide general contact information using the Kern Community Foundation’s online automated platform. Go to kernfoundation.org/grants and click on the "Apply Here" button in the "Special Assistance for Victims and Survivors of the Las Vegas Tragedy" section.
All the money should be used for its stated purpose, Beall said.
"We'd like there to be zero dollars in the fund."