BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Connie Perez recalls playing on the streets of the Woodville labor camp in Tulare County when she lived there with her family as a small child until her teen years.
"I came from here, I grew up in this labor camp," says Perez in the documentary film, "Camp to Campus".
The documentary premiered Tuesday evening at the Dore Theater at California State University, Bakersfield. The 90-minute film tells the story of 11 first-generation college graduates who grew up in either a labor camp or whose family worked in the fields, yet beat the odds and were able to attend and graduate from college.
"I think they (students) need to hear stories about people like them and let them know that there is hope," said Perez as she attended the premier.
The oldest of graduates featured in the film is 92-year-old Esther Dougherty, who grew up packing oranges in Anaheim. Determined to go to college, she told a supervisor she was 16 when in reality she was only 14.
"I lied to get started so that I could begin saving some money, because I knew my father did not want me to go to college, and that I was going to have to do it all by myself," said the now-retired educator.
Dougherty eventually went to college and became a teacher, with jobs in several Kern County school districts. She was still working as a substitute teacher until last year, at age 91.
The "Camp to Campus" project was funded by a $10,000 grant from Cal Humanities' Community Stories Fund, along with $15,000 in matching funds from CSUB. Marit MacArthur was project director and is also associate professor of English at Cal State.
"I just wanted to show the range of challenges and really get down the nitty gritty of how people overcome those challenges," said MacArthur.
High school and community college students will have the chance to compete for scholarships to CSUB and cash prizes in an essay and video-essay contest about the documentary. The deadline for submissions is April 10. Information on how to submit entries: csub.edu/camptocampus.