HANFORD — After two successful runs, Inspire California will host its second annual summer college prep program next week.
Inspire California is a community-based organization that seeks to provide comprehensive college preparatory counseling, professional development and mentoring opportunities to high school students in the Central Valley.
The program will take place on the Hanford West High School campus from July 16-20 and focus on promoting community service and civic engagement among students.
Aaron Brieno, a 2003 graduate of Hanford West High School, created Inspire California after reading about a 2014 report that stated the Hanford-Corcoran area is far behind national averages in terms of higher-education degrees.
“As a Central Valley native and grandchild of migrant farm laborers, I felt like I needed to do something to improve the conditions of my community,” Brieno said.
After graduating from Hanford West, Brieno 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 and passed the state bar exam shortly after.
Currently, he works in the state capital as the legislative director for California State Senator Ben Hueso (D-San Diego).
During Inspire California's first session last summer, Brieno had Assemblyman Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) and California State University, Fresno president Joseph Castro to speak with the students. Students also met representatives from local colleges and took a tour of Fresno State.
The success of that program prompted Brieno to host an Inspire California winter college prep workshop in December 2017, where students met and talked with Amanda Renteria, a Central Valley native and pioneer in state and national politics.
Brieno said this year’s program will feature a variety of special speakers who will emphasize the theme of community service and civic engagement. He said this will help students learn the importance of diverse volunteer experience and building a strong resume for college.
Along with bringing back Castro, civil rights icon Dolores Huerta will speak to the students.
Castro, a Hanford High School graduate, is the first Central Valley native and first Latino president in the 106-year history of Fresno State. Huerta is a civil rights activist who worked alongside Cesar Chavez to improve conditions for farm workers.
Brieno said he hopes the speakers will inspire students to become engaged in their communities and advocate for what they believe in.
This year's program will conclude with tours of California State University, Sacramento, the California State Capital and the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Brieno said.
While at the state capital, Brieno said students will have an opportunity to tour the Capitol building, visit committee rooms and hear from legislative staff members about their important role in the California legislature.
Finally, the program will conclude with an opportunity for student participants to give back to their community.
Brieno said Inspire California will be hosting a "Kid's Day" literacy event on July 21 in conjunction with the Kings County Library and the Children's Storybook Garden and Museum.
He said the event aims to promote early childhood literacy and Inspire California students will have the opportunity to read to the children. He said the event will also feature special guest speakers and free children's books for Kings County students.
The summer college prep program is free and Brieno said there is space for about 40 students to attend.