Elva Fuentes still has fond memories of the first time she voted. Standing in line at her local polling station in her hometown of Reedley, Fuentes recalls a feeling of pride, hope and determination. At the age of 18, she was the first in her family to cast her vote. To her, this process is more than just a civic duty, but a simple act that has the power to inspire generations to come.
“I was so excited to vote because not only was it my first time doing so, but I was the first in my family to vote,” Fuentes, a first-year master of social work student, said. “To me, voting meant that my voice was being heard and counted. I wanted to empower my younger siblings to do the same.”
Her decision to vote in 2008 made a profound impact on younger sister Brenda.
“Elva was the pioneer in our family, and it definitely motivated and inspired me to vote as well,” Brenda Fuentes, a liberal studies major, said. “It’s now a tradition that we’ve been passing down to our younger siblings and something we encourage of our family, friends and community members.”
Now the Fuentes sisters are on a mission to make sure their fellow Fresno State students, and the entire Central Valley community, have the same opportunities to voice their right to vote. But they are not doing it alone. They are joined by hundreds of other students at Fresno State, mainly those studying social work.
Elva Fuentes is leading the charge on Bulldogs Vote 2020 — a nonpartisan drive-through voter registration event that will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 17, on the Fresno State campus. Nearly 100 students from a variety of social work classes and social work student organizations and clubs will be involved in the event, in addition to students from other majors who are volunteering or participating.
Organizers say an important aspect of the grassroots effort is that it is strictly nonpartisan and open to all first-time voters with the goal to engage, educate and mobilize communities prior to the Oct. 19 voter registration deadline in California.
“This event is one last strong push to increase voter turnout,” said Gabe Yanez, a first-year Master of Social Work student. “We want to provide voter advocacy and really raise awareness of the importance of voting for people of all backgrounds, cultures and political affiliations.”
For the drive-through event, the public will be asked to enter Campus Drive, from Barstow, and head south toward the roundabout and exit through San Ramon to Jackson streets. Individuals who drive through will receive voter registration information, in addition to exclusive Fresno State masks, hand sanitizer and other items, while supplies last.
The goal of the project is to increase voter registration among young adults and minorities by raising awareness about the benefits of voting in the November election. The event is geared toward those who have not yet registered, need to make changes to their registration information or want to check their registration status. Nearly 30 students will be on hand to assist with these needs, while following all CDC guidelines including wearing masks and physical distancing.
A QR code will be shared with individuals, which will take them to the official Bulldogs Vote 2020 website, where more information is available in different languages including Spanish, Hmong, Punjabi, Hindi and Japanese.
“This project is important because it creates awareness about the importance of voting,” Elva Fuentes said. “As a future social worker, I know that the outcome of elections support social work values and its social justice mission. Voting empowers people and ultimately empowers change in society. That’s why registering to vote is so impactful.”
Their goal is to register over 300 first-time voters by Oct. 17. All month, the students have been promoting their efforts through social media and other multimedia campaigns, and hosting Zoom webinars with information in various languages about how to vote, how to understand ballots and to provide education on current propositions.
Faculty in the Department of Social Work Education say this type of civic engagement plays a fundamental role in the social work profession.
“Our social work students are following past and present social work leaders on campus, in the community, and across the nation by mobilizing communities to participate in voting,” said Dr. Dheeshana Jayasundara, associate professor in the Department of Social Work Education and one of the faculty members overseeing the effort.
They are doing this first by educating themselves about the various aspects of voting and then by delivering this information to their communities. Voting is a right available to all eligible citizens. Many of our students are first-generation and young adults who may not have participated in elections before. This gives them the opportunity to educate themselves and thereby, teach others the importance of voting and in turn, empower communities.”
After the event, organizers will reach out to those who registered to encourage them to submit their ballots on time, with an emphasis on new young voters who have not yet submitted their ballots.
“A core aspect of social work is policy advocacy,” said Dr. Marcus Crawford, an assistant professor in the Department of Social Work Education and fellow faculty coordinator of the project. “Efforts such as these not only help students understand the policy process from the ground up, but it propels students in grassroots level community engagement and promotes civic engagement.”
For Brenda, this project goes beyond social work. The aspiring teacher says this project has deep roots to her community.
“Voting is something that happens nationwide, but we want to start by bringing awareness here — at home — and really make a difference,” Brenda Fuentes said. “I’ve had great teachers make an impact on me and have pushed me to make positive change. Now I want to be that encouraging voice for fellow students and my community members as well. I want them to be aware of what’s going on and inspire them to be leaders in our communities. Who knows? They may even become president someday.”
To learn more about the drive-through voter registration event, visit bulldogsvote2020.com or contact Dr. Dheeshana Jayasundara at djayasundara@@csufresno.edu or Dr. Marcus Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org.