Their hometowns are Kern County cities, and their hearts are in Bakersfield

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY A BE IN BAKERSFIELD AMBASSADOR, THIS STORY FIRST APPEARED IN BAKERSFIELD LIFE MAGAZINE. ALL BAKERSFIELD LIFE STORIES CONTRIBUTED BY THE BE IN BAKERSFIELD TEAM ARE WRITTEN WITH THE GOAL TO SHARE WHAT IS GOOD ABOUT BAKERSFIELD, EXCITE RESIDENTS AND BRING MORE LIKE-MINDED FOLKS TO OUR TOWN.

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Alex Balfour in the Tehachapi mountains

Alex Balfour in the Tehachapi mountains

By Jorge Barrientos


As the saying goes, “Home is where the heart is.” That is, love and home go hand-in-hand. 

For Heather Pennella, her hometown of Lebec in south Kern County gave her a love of nature, the four seasons and small-town neighborly living. 

No one in her neighborhood locked their doors. She finished her schooling with the same group of close friends at El Tejon School. She looked forward to playing in the snow each year. 

“It was a magical place,” Pennella said.

Pennella says Bakersfield gave her education and opportunity. 

For high school, Pennella drove from Lebec to Bakersfield High School, and then attended Bakersfield College.  After studying at CSU Northridge, she moved to Bakersfield. Today she is the alumni and donor relations manager at Bakersfield College Foundation. Her heart is now in a city with a social scene, access to arts and culture, abundant restaurants and ample opportunities. 

“I’m a single female who is a homeowner,” Pennella said. “In Bakersfield, a certain level of success is easily attainable.” 

Like Pennella, Alex Balfour was raised in the hills, although in eastern Kern. His parents traded city life in southern California for the great outdoors of Tehachapi, where hiking trails, fishing, and hunting are bountiful, where the pace of life is slower, the nights cooler, and the feeling always peaceful. 

After graduating from Tehachapi High School, Balfour attended Bakersfield College, transferred to UC San Diego and finished at Cal State Bakersfield. Today, Balfour says he is enjoying this mixture of suburban and urban life in Bakersfield. The commercial real estate broker is married to Kathyrine, also from Bakersfield, and the two have a 1-year-old. When he retires, he hopes to call Tehachapi home again. 

“I love Bakersfield — I love to see it grow,” Balfour said. “I also love the outdoor life of Tehachapi. Luckily it’s just a few minutes away.” 

Sean Hart’s heart is with family and community. His grandparents moved to Wasco during the Dust Bowl. Wasco, Hart says, is a place where you can run into 50 people you know in a day and catch up with each of them. 

After high school, Hart attended and graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and began his career in banking in Bakersfield and Camarillo. 

The birth of a special-needs child and sickness of his wife Anna, a fellow Wasco High graduate, led him to follow his heart. 

“We really needed family close by, so we moved back to Wasco,” Hart said. “You’d be surprised how comforting it is to be in a place and with people so familiar when there are things happening in your life you can’t control.” 

Seven years ago, however, Hart and his family moved to Bakersfield permanently. 

“I didn’t think it was possible to have this sense of a community outside of a smaller town,” Hart said. “Bakersfield can be Wasco-esque.” 

As the saying goes, “Home is where the heart is.” For these Kern County natives, their hearts are in Bakersfield.  


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Jorge is the director of marketing and public relations for Chain | Cohn | Stiles law firm in Bakersfield and a board member for The Hub of Bakersfield. Though he moved to Bakersfield when he was 10, and has lived in other places as an adult, he considers it his hometown. Jorge and his wife, of 9 years, Carla, have a Shih Tzu named Leon, and an 10-month-old baby boy, Julian.

Jorge is the director of marketing and public relations for Chain | Cohn | Stiles law firm in Bakersfield and a board member for The Hub of Bakersfield. Though he moved to Bakersfield when he was 10, and has lived in other places as an adult, he considers it his hometown. Jorge and his wife, of 9 years, Carla, have a Shih Tzu named Leon, and an 10-month-old baby boy, Julian.

Connect Jorge: @jtothebarr

This story first appeared here in the Bakersfield Life August Issue.

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