Dolores Huerta inspires local students

Feb. 16—HANFORD — Although the pandemic has put a halt to in-person events, Inspire California continues to do what it can to reach and motivate local high school and college students through virtual events.

Recently, Inspire California hosted a virtual conversation via Zoom with civil rights icon Dolores Huerta as a part of its "Conversations that Inspire Change" series.

Inspire California is a community-based organization that provides rural Central Valley high school and college students with free comprehensive college preparatory counseling, professional development mentoring and free college campus tours.

This event followed a summer 2018 conversation with Huerta that Inspire California hosted at Hanford West High School as part of its week-long summer college access initiative that also featured then-Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro.

Inspire California founder Aaron Brieno, a Hanford native and Hanford West High School graduate, said he worked hard to adapt Inspire California's programming to pivot from many of the organization's in-person events to a series of virtual Zoom-focused learning opportunities.

December's "Conversations that Inspire Change" Zoom event with Huerta was virtually attended by over 65 Central Valley students, Brieno said.

"Dolores is a civil rights icon and so it was nothing short of inspiring to hear from her personally about her life and experiences," said Molly Lao, a Fresno native and third-year student at University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. "There's something special about a leader like her generously taking the time to teach students about social justice, and her words have reinvigorated my commitment toward positive change in my community."

Marina Espinoza, a Hanford native and Inspire California mentor, said the organization's work is critical in promoting civic engagement and building a benchmark of young professionals. She said the conversation with Huerta reinforced how important it is for her to remain engaged in her community.

"As the daughter of immigrant agricultural workers, I have always been inspired by Dolores Huerta's fight to improve the working and living conditions of people like my parents," Espinoza said. "During this virtual event Dolores Huerta shared the history of her work and urged us to get involved in our communities."

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, Brieno said Inspire California had to cancel its annual April Tech Tour of Google's global headquarters in Mountain View and the accompanying tour of Stanford University that always followed the tour of Google. He said the "Conversations that Inspire Change" series seeks to inspire the organization's student participants to become agents of positive social change within their communities.

"It has been very difficult canceling all of our phenomenal in-person events this year, but we are working to adapt and are seeking to pivot towards more virtual based learning opportunities" Brieno said. "December's Zoom conversation with Dolores Huerta was the first of our 'Conversations that Inspire Change' series, which will eventually include a similar conversation with California State University Chancellor Dr. Joseph Castro as well a March 14 conversation with 'Just Mercy' film producer and criminal justice reform advocate Scott Budnick."

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