San Joaquin High School students create a display for the Big Fresno Fair

By Amy Wu / The Post
Published: Tuesday, October 6, 2015 9:56 AM PDT

A lion’s head sits outside of Parlier Senior Center waiting to make its debut at the Big Fresno Fair.

“Come on guys we’ve got to get to work, we need to get this done,” said Cynthia Sandoval, director of the Parlier Senior Center, as she fills out the papier-mâché lion. In the mid-afternoon heat, Elesly Hernandez, Samantha Everson and Juan Adame, students at San Joaquin High School, follow suit.

Time was ticking. The fair was right around the corner.

Since the start of September, at least 14 students from San Joaquin High School have been working on the Lion’s Club annual display for the fair.  The students signed up on their own initiative.

Andrew Barraza, lead mentor with CenCal Mentoring Academy at San Joaquin High School, said that while the activity is an elective, it is also a commitment. The students come to the Senior Center three times a week for several hours.

The students said the project has given them much in return.

“It keeps me out of the house, I am usually in the house. It helps me physically and emotionally, and you’re helping other people,” said Brianna Rodarte, a senior at San Joaquin.

Nemecio Ledezma said that his biggest reward has been “helping out the community.”

The results of their hard work can be seen in the harvest-themed display, which includes a backdrop of life-sized fruit anchored with the lion’s head.

The display will be exhibited at the Big Fresno Fair, which runs Oct. 7-18.

How did the collaboration come about? Sandoval is secretary of the Lion’s Club and also the recreational coordinator and director at the Senior Center.

San Joaquin has been working collaboratively with the Senior Center over the past year. Last year, Barraza led students in organizing a Valentine’s Day dance at the center. This year, San Joaquin will work with the center on a tree planting on Nov. 11 Veterans Day, and in December a Christmas dance.

But perhaps in a bit of serendipity San Joaquin High School’s mascot is a lion.

“We are the San Joaquin lions, so by virtue of supporting the Lion’s Club, we said we’ll help you because we are the Lions, too,” Barraza said.

Connecting with seniors

Students said that one of the highlights was the opportunity to interact with seniors.

“They are so humble with us, it’s not like two separate groups it’s like a community,” Rodarte said.

“We are trying to build a consciousness of respect for our elders,” Barraza added.

Students said they were sorry the project was coming to an end.

They chimed in when asked what they gained out of the project.

“To communicate more with one another,” said Hernandez.

“Commitment,” said Jesse Gutierrez.

“I think with this (project) we became closer, we are like a family,” Rodarte said.

In return for the students’ contribution, the Lion’s Club is giving the youth wristbands to attend the fair. And there is the satisfaction of knowing that thousands of people will enjoy their display.

The youth have also given back to those who they have worked with.

“They are very respectful, and I enjoy their conversations and laughter,” Sandoval said.

Most importantly, Barraza said, the project has offered the priceless lesson of building community.

“I’ve encouraged the young people, and told them that we are doing this to give back to our community,” Barraza said.

The Big Fresno Fair runs from Oct. 7-Oct. 18 at the Fresno Fairgrounds. For more information, go to Fresnofair.com.

We are the San Joaquin Lions, so by virtue of supporting the Lion’s Club, we said we’ll help you because we are the Lions, too.

-Andrew Barraza

Lead mentor for CenCal Mentoring Academy  at

San Joaquin High School

I think with this (project) we became closer. We are like a family.

-Brianna Rodarte

Senior at San Joaquin High School