When she was just 14 years old, Maria Vega's dad took her with him to work a day she recalls vividly a dozen years later.
A day at the office for Vega's father, Rafael, meant physical labor in the fields of Merced County while the scorching sun beat down on his back. That was the day Vega made the decision to go to college.
"I wasn't doing good in school, but as soon as I saw that, I made a decision to do better in school," Maria Vega said. "Because I wanted to prosper and help them out as well."
Now age 26, she and her sister, Virginia Vega, 24, are nearing graduation from California State University, Fresno.
Besides working on their academics, the sisters have founded a youth organization at Sacred Heart Church and are working on organizing a Community Resource Fair for south Merced residents.
The fair, which will be held July 28 at Sacred Heart Church, will feature more than 40 informational booths. The goal is to provide residents of south Merced access to resources such as health screenings, immigration services and financial counseling.
More than 3,000 people are expected to attend the fair from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"I feel like a lot of people in south Merced don't know about the agencies that are out there," Virginia Vega said. "They've never heard about some of these agencies, and they don't know they have choices."
The Merced County Mental Health Department and the city of Merced Public Works Department will be present, she added.
"The services are there, but they don't know about it," Maria Vega agreed. "By doing this resource fair, I want to help them because there are a lot of programs that can help make their lives easier."
A couple of years ago, the sisters organized a similar resource fair, but ended up with only eight booths.
"We didn't know where to go to find resources," Virginia Vega said. "It was hard to get into contact with people, and we didn't have people to guide us."
This time, the sisters directly contacted community members, agencies and local businesses to participate and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
"When they hear it's for south Merced, everyone is willing to help," Virginia Vega noted.
One of the people helping with the event is community member Irene De La Cruz. She said she was especially impressed with the girls' dedication to their neighborhood.
"They have a true and sincere interest in their community, and it shows from the work they have done so far," De La Cruz said. "There are so many things that young girls can be involved in, and for them to help their community in that way speaks volumes about them."
Virginia Vega is a business administration major, and will graduate in the fall. Maria Vega is studying public health and will earn her degree in May of next year. Both girls are committed to staying in Merced after graduation from CSU, Fresno.
In fact, the sisters have a plan to invest in their community by opening a business in Merced County a Mexican dessert shop.
As the Vega sisters bring much-needed resources to south Merced, they not only will make their community proud but also their father.
"He just pushes us to do better and get educated," said Maria Vega of her father, who now owns a gardening business. "Because he wants a better life for us than he had."
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.