Jun. 10—Update: Records show that Ricky Simpson was the first Black trustee with the school district, serving in the early 90's.
Friends Paula Massey and Carolyn Hudgins have already made a mark — but now they're determined to use their positions to benefit the underserved in Hanford.
In January, Massey became the one of the first Black board members of the Hanford Joint Union High School District after being elected in 2020, while Hudgins is one of the first Black commissioners on the Hanford Parks and Recreation Commission. Their collaborative work goes back decades before their current positions, however.
Massey and Hudgins first met through work on their church newsletter. Through that, they eventually founded Women with Visions Unlimited in 2007, an entrepreneurial resource network. Now their focus is mostly on the educational needs of children and locating gaps in their learning. They help older students as well in preparing for college, including helping them apply for things like financial aid.
For her part, Massey is applying her experience to helping underserved children in the school district. Massey says there are gaps that poorer students tend to fall through and hopes to help close them to ensure success across all demographics.
"We always talked about equality, but now we talk about equity," Massey said. "Equity is a big thing and one of the things that the Hanford Joint Union High School Board is working on, looking at [helping] every child succeed."
One thing she and her teammates hope to work on is coordinating with government agencies like the Hanford City Council and the Kings County Board of Supervisors. Another area they're hoping to improve is parental involvement and awareness in the community.
Children need their parents in high school more than any other time, Massey said, because it's at this point where some of the most crucial decisions in their lives will be made. Parental involvement also means a greater likelihood of students engaging in opportunities they may not even realize are open to them.
"When I'm sitting at the graduations and I have all these students that are ASB, students that have lifetime honor roll achievements ... but then when you go to the three graduations from Sierra Pacific, Hanford West and Hanford High and you see one Black girl that's sitting up in the front that received those awards," Massey said. "And it's like, 'alright, what's wrong with this picture?' Why is she the only one?"
For her part, Hudgins joined the commission after remembering her own childhood, in which her summers were spent outdoors. However, she noticed parks in Hanford were often closed, even at 10 a.m. She applied for the Parks and Recreation Commission and was appointed in January of 2020.
She's aiming not only for earlier park openings, but also for improvements to quality and infrastructure.
"I just wanna be better able to help serve the community as far as programs in the community," Hudgins said.
One improvement in the last year has been the installment of bleachers at the skate park in the Longfield Center — a skate park that Massey's son Jeffrey Hamilton designed and was instrumental in bringing to fruition.
"That's a big deal, having a voice in something like that, just to get simple things like bleachers at the skate park," Hudgins said. "So I've seen some improvement just since I've been there the last year."
Massey and Hudgins continue their work at Women with Visions Unlimited alongside their board and commission duties.