From left, Ursula Jaso of Independence Through GRACE, Kern Athletic Fencing Foundation Head Coach Rudolph Streitz (in black) and ITG clients Sydney Rios, Trevor Waldon and Arai Eli practice fencing at Kern AFF.

Every year at this time, I have the joy of witnessing a months-long trail of magic begin to form. It's the magic of philanthropy leading to feats of nonprofit strengthening, and it's called Give Big Kern.

Hosted by the Kern Community Foundation, Give Big Kern is our county's own online day of giving that sets aside the first Tuesday in May as "One day to celebrate the giving spirit of Kern County." It is a way for nonprofits to raise unrestricted funds and volunteer pledges on the online platform givebigkern.org. And like any venture hoping to be successful, the magic for our day of giving happens in the prep, and the nonprofit strengthening follows.

It all starts with the generous sponsors who make it possible for KCF to provide valuable resources free of charge to fundraising nonprofits: use of the Give Big Kern online platform; printed and downloadable marketing materials; training on effective online fundraising, social media marketing, board engagement and donor cultivation; and, as icing on the cake, competitive and opportunity cash prizes for participants.

In 2019, Give Big Kern raised close to $430,000 and 89,000 pledged volunteer hours for 114 participating nonprofits and received the Greater Bakersfield Chamber’s Beautiful Bakersfield Award for helping to create “A Better Bakersfield.” Since its first year, 2016, Give Big Kern has raised, cumulatively, close to $1 million for local charities.

When you consider that, according to the California Association of Nonprofits, a whopping 70 percent of California charities are all-volunteer organizations, meaning only 30 percent of our state's nonprofits have paid staff, a day of giving for local resource-strapped nonprofits to hitch their wagons to at no cost is pretty magical—indeed, a number of Give Big Kern participants who don’t have a marketing budget tell us that our local day of giving is a godsend.

And our generous community always comes through for them.

Even local youth get in on the magic, as close to two dozen public relations students from Cal State Bakersfield, under the instruction of Kyung Jung Han, assistant professor and student adviser for CSUB’s Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, assist nonprofits with social and digital media, graphic design, photography, video and web efforts to enhance their Give Big Kern campaigns. How’s that for in-kind donation magic with class credit to boot?!

Then there is the magic of the networking connections made by participating nonprofits.

An example involves the partnerships begun just in the last year between Kern Athletic Fencing Foundation, which provides competitive and recreational fencing opportunities for youths and adults; League of Dreams, which affords athletes ages 5 to 22 with physical and developmental disabilities an opportunity to enjoy sports; and Independence Through GRACE Foundation, a faith-based enrichment program for adults with developmental disabilities. All three are Give Big Kern returning participants.

Kern AFF President Lucas Dobrzanski beams with pride every time he talks about these new partnerships and recently invited me to a fencing lesson for ITG clients at Kern AFF’s downtown Bakersfield location.

Ursula Jaso, ITG’s lead mentor, said fencing is a fun and productive activity for her clients on many levels. Handling a fencing foil teaches them fine motor skills. They learn new vocabulary words such as “advance,” “retreat” and “salute.” They practice sportsmanship and etiquette each time they each shake hands with their opponent. And basically, they just have fun moving around. Mobility is important for people with disabilities, she said, who otherwise might be mostly sedentary.

I witnessed the joy and engagement that came upon the faces of three ITG clients, Arai Eli, Sydney Rios and Trevor Waldon, as, with the help of Jaso and Kern AFF Head Coach Rudolph Streitz, they each checked themselves in on a tablet device, spelling their names, pressing buttons that featured their head shots; then donned their fencing breast guards, jackets, gloves, and masks; then lined up and began fencing, listening intently to Streitz’s instructions.

Their fencing foils were like wands working the magic of nonprofit strengthening: agencies brought together by Give Big Kern and Kern Community Foundation becoming stronger as community partners.

How about other nonprofits out there? Are you interested in becoming stronger through training, fundraising and networking? Close to 100 Kern nonprofits are already signed up for Give Big Kern, which aims to increase the visibility, capacity and sustainability of every one of them. This year, the big day falls on May 5 — Cinco de Mayo. Our theme is “Give Like It’s a Fiesta!” It promises to be an especially colorful and fun giving day.

Mandatory “Getting Started” trainings happen Feb. 3 in Bakersfield, and Feb. 6 in Ridgecrest and Kernville, and we don’t want any nonprofit to miss out. Please visit at givebigkern.org and choose the Trainings page from the drop-down menu. Register for the training that best fits your schedule. Questions? Contact me at Louis@kernfoundation.org or 661.616.2603.

Louis Medina is the director of community impact for the Kern Community Foundation.