HANFORD — Over 25 students sat in a classroom on Hanford West High School’s campus, and no, they weren’t there for summer school; they were there to be inspired.

The students were taking part in Inspire California, a community-based organization that seeks to provide comprehensive college preparatory counseling, professional development and mentoring opportunities to high school students in Hanford.

The free week-long program was created by Aaron Brieno, a Hanford West graduate who wants to see Hanford students succeed in their education and careers. The goal of the program is to give the students firsthand accounts and experiences of what life after high school can be like.

Part of the program Brieno is focusing on is the college application process and steps to get into college. He said sometimes students do not know that college is an option because they don’t get that push from home or don’t have the confidence in their grades.

To show the students that college is definitely an option for them, Brieno gathered former Hanford High and Hanford West graduates to meet with the students, many of whom are young, educated professionals from diverse ethnic backgrounds and who work in different industries.

Brieno got a few well-known local figures to participate, including Assemblyman Rudy Salas, who took time out of his schedule Wednesday to talk to the students. Students also got to meet admissions officers from California State University, Fresno.

Brieno said the program has been great so far and he’s impressed by the outcome, with more students being added every day. The program started with 25 students on Monday, but grew to 28 by Wednesday from students telling their friends about the program.

Even though some of the kids were forced to participate in the program by their parents, Brieno said he can see them coming around and engaging more and he’s hopeful they will take the information that they learn and use it.

Daniel Gutierrez, a Hanford High senior interested in entrepreneurship, said he was surprised to learn everything it takes to get into college, from tests to the application process. He said going to the program has really opened his eyes and he feels more prepared going into his final year of high school.

Hanford High junior Rodrigo Maldonado said he wanted to join the program because he wanted to learn about college and know what to expect. He said he wants to become a dentist and was able to talk to someone who went to the University of California, San Francisco, which inspired him to want to attend graduate school.

Samantha Alcorn, a Hanford High junior who wants to major in biochemistry in college, said she believes the in-depth look into how to get into college will help her as she starts the latter half of her high school career.

She said a speaker from Brown University inspired her to apply for prestigious schools she never thought she would apply to.

“Definitely,” Alcorn answered, when asked if she was glad this program was created.

Hanford High senior Anthony Avalos wants to become a computer engineer, and said he was looking to be more informed in order to gain confidence when going into college. He said speaking to the Fresno State admissions representatives was very helpful to him.

One perspective all the students had in common was their need to feel prepared. They all said being prepared is important because they don’t want to have stress or anxiety because they don’t know what to do.

Brieno has a few helpers/mentors for the students, including Hanford West and Fresno State graduate Joseph Chapa, and Hanford High School graduate and Sacramento State student Jacob Sanchez.

Sanchez met Brieno while working for the state assembly. He said he was more than happy to help with program when Brieno reached out to him because he knows there’s not a lot of opportunities like this for students.

“I thought this was a great opportunity to help others, especially these kids who are only 16 or 17 years old” Sanchez said.

“It’s really great to see that they care about their education and their future,” Sanchez said, adding he hopes the program inspires students to come back home after college to start their careers.

Students in the program will have the opportunity to tour Fresno State on Friday and listen to a speech from the school’s president, Joseph I. Castro, who also happens to be a Hanford High graduate.

Brieno graduated from Hanford West in 2003 and attended Santa Monica City College, Chapman University, and University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law, where he obtained his juris doctor degree in 2014.

He currently works for the California Legislature in the office of California State Senator Ben Hueso (D-San Diego). As a legislative aide for Hueso, Brieno works on policy issues such as education, health and human services and economic development.

Brieno said while researching issues relating to education in the legislature, he said he has become keenly aware of the importance a higher education in today's economy. He told students more than once Wednesday that they can always reach out to him as a mentor.

Brieno said Hanford Joint Union High School District has been very supportive of the entire program, especially Ruben Amavisca, Hanford West’s Career Education Coordinator. Amavisca lent the Career Center on campus for the program to use.

“I’m excited about all the opportunities the program can offer,” Amavisca said.

Maldonado said he was really thankful to Brieno for starting the program, because many people become successful, but not everybody is willing to give their time to educate the next generation.

“To give back like this takes a lot of courage and is really inspiring,” Maldonado said.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or jzavala@hanfordsentinel.com

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