When I called, she answered and I asked, “May I please speak to Judge Wendy Avila?” She answered with a chuckle and said, “I need to get used to that!”
The governor’s office recently announced the appointment of Wendy Avila as one of three new judges assigned to the Kern County Superior Court.
On Jan. 11, she begins her tenure as the Honorable Wendy Avila, Judge, Juvenile Court of Kern County. Although Wendy and I have traveled in similar social circles for more than 25 years, she was an enigma to me. In those 25 years, she and I rarely spoke. She was serious and focused whenever our paths did cross. Although I knew little about Wendy, she seemed to always be in the right place at the right time to help create opportunities for those in most need.
Her recent appointment as a judge aroused my curiosity and I wanted to find out more about her life’s path that brought her to being the Honorable Wendy Avila.
“Ginger Avila. That’s who this should really be about,” Wendy said when asked about her recent appointment. Ginger was Wendy’s mother. Wendy was adopted by Ginger and Ernest Avila at the age of 3 months old.
Ginger had an 8th grade education and served in both the Army and Air Force. Ginger would eventually be the single head of the household and raise Wendy.
Looking back, Wendy explains, “I did not think of my life as growing up poor.”
In recounting the struggles of her Mom, “But I do remember bills not getting paid and things being turned off.” As part of a class project, Wendy remembers helping put food baskets together for the needy.
“The weekend came, and a car pulled up to our house. A school counselor came to our front door with a food basket we had put together in class. She left the basket for us,” Wendy said.
Perplexed, Wendy asked her Mom why the school would bring them food baskets. Her Mom explained, “They probably had extra to give.” Wendy also recalls summer vacations were with neighborhood families. Never with her own.
“Get your education” was a mantra repeated by Ginger, whose 8th grade education never prevented her from trying her best to provide for her children.
It was Wendy’s freshman year, when Alex Vasquez, a health education teacher at West High School, asked her to stay after class.
Vasquez explained he saw potential in Wendy. He wanted to make sure Wendy understood that she would make a positive or negative influence on people like her. He wanted to enroll her in a summer high school program at UC Santa Barbara.
Wendy heard her Mom’s voice: “Get your education.” Wendy accepted.
Wendy had never been to Santa Barbara. Her campus summer dorm was literally on the beach. Wendy explains, “I couldn’t believe people could actually live there. The contrast to how I was living in Bakersfield was life-changing and opened up a whole new world.”
Life’s challenges, tragic circumstances and her mom’s struggles helped shaped Wendy’s desire to further her education and become an attorney. Her motivation was never about money. As she explains, “It was always about helping people.”
And get her education she did. Wendy went on to college and earned a juris doctor degree from the University of San Francisco School of Law.
Dec. 27 marked 15 years that Ginger passed after her struggle from Alzheimer’s disease. Wendy recalls, “Even in my Mom’s darkest hours of Alzheimer’s, when she didn’t even recognize me, she repeated the story to her hairdresser and nurses of how her daughter went to college, law school and was a deputy district attorney.”
“I am not here in spite of my circumstances. I am here because of my circumstance,” Wendy said.
Wendy felt an obligation to live her life to her fullest to honor those no longer living, especially her brother, Dad and Mom.
Wendy, you have indeed brought honor to your Mom, Dad and brother.
And as Vasquez foretold, you have indeed become a positive influence. And you are a source of inspiration for all the young girls watching you, who want to be like you.
Wendy, its an honor to know you.
Email contributing columnist Steve Flores at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work appears here every third Monday; the views expressed are his own.