KERN COUNTY, Calif. — When you meet Raji Brar, you realize pretty quickly just how passionate she is about hard work and giving back.
"I would say my passion is definitely serving my community. That’s what gets me going. That’s what gets me very, very excited," said Raji.
Raji said her family takes nothing for granted. Her parents came to the United States from Punjab, India, in the 70s before having her and her brother.
“I have a perspective of a first generation immigrant that I really value the opportunities I have in America," she said.
Raji’s father first started their family business, Countryside Market and Restaurants, with a gas station in Oildale about thirty years ago. Now they employ 450 people at various gas stations and fast food franchises in Kern County.
Raji said her dad is a true role model.
“He was always that entrepreneur behind us pushing us, like, 'Hey, try this, try this.' And if it wasn’t for him, obviously I wouldn’t be sitting here talking today," she said.
Raji is the business’ Chief Operation Officer but that wasn’t the original plan. She went to UC Riverside to get a biology degree. Her family wanted her to be a doctor.
“I just felt it in my veins that this was not the right path for me," she said.
So Raji came home and finished her degree at Cal State Bakersfield. She had no idea what she wanted to do for a career though.
That’s when her dad asked if she wanted to open a Subway in Arvin.
"I jumped at the chance and I absolutely fell in love with business," said Raji.
She said she was scared no one would come but opening day foreshadowed the success she would soon find.
“We literally had lines [wrapped] around the block and I loved it. I thrived in it," said Raji.
The family business is just one thing she does. Raji is also on the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Kern Medical’s Hospital Board, the CSUB's Foundation Board and she co-founded a nonprofit.
About six years ago, Raji’s friend saw a Sikh float in the Rose Parade. The two women decided to bring that representation to Kern County and created the Bakersfield Sikh Women’s Association.
“We’re really a resource that connects the Sikh community to the larger community of Kern and all the resources available to them," said Raji.
She said including “women” in the title was integral.
“We wanted young girls to say, "Hey look, there’s Sikh women," said Raji. "Growing up... there were no Sikh women anywhere outside of your family and your home.”
The association raises money for scholarships and provides resources like breast cancer screenings and a mental health hotline.
Raji said she didn’t know she’d do so much community work in her adult life but looking back, it makes sense.
“When I ran for city council and was elected, I never would’ve thought I would’ve done that, but when I look back, I think it’s funny because I ran for office in high school," she said.
Raji plans to continue using her story and her voice to support young women.
“It’s so important to recognize how valuable it is to support young girls and young women because there’s so much they can contribute to the world," she said.
That’s a message Raji hopes to spread throughout Kern County for years to come.