A Closer Look: KidWorks’ Programs: Youth Empowerment Network

Editor’s note:  We are pleased to introduce our latest blog series, “A Closer Look: KidWorks’ Programs.”  We offer a full range of programs for children, youth and adults.  In this series, we focus on several of aspects, giving you a peek into what makes these programs tick—and sharing a few “little known secrets”!

We’ve all heard the adage, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.”  At KidWorks, we have our own take:  “If you want to make positive change in the community, ask our youth!”

For several years now, the teens involved in our program have put their creative energies to work making the neighborhoods of Central Santa Ana safer, more welcoming and aesthetically pleasing.

They are part of our Youth Empowerment Network, YEN for short.  Today, YEN has 25 members, with participants ranging from sixth grade to early college.

“This is really a youth-initiated and youth-led program,” says Frank Bejarano, our Director of Youth and Family Engagement.  “They develop, design and address issues that impact themselves, their families and their neighborhoods.”

Funded by a 10-year grant fro the California Endowment, KidWorks’ YEN program is focused on four key areas where the youth continue to make an impact:

  • Restorative Justice:  Based on the concept of rehabilitation rather than only punishment, YEN has worked hand-in-hand with the Santa Ana Unified School district to find alternative ways to create restoration and healing.
  • Urban Agriculture:  YEN has helped create a community garden and compost operation at our Dan Donahue Center.  The youth are involving the entire community—children, youth, adults and seniors.  Their harvest so far has included kale, tomatoes, chilies and more.
  • Health & Nutrition:  With obesity continuing to be a life threatening problem in Santa Ana and nationwide, our youth are behind efforts to promote healthy choices.  One recent success is convincing the Santa Ana School District to again offer fresh salad bars in school cafeterias.  They have also mapped the location of fruit trees in the surrounding neighborhood, hoping to eventually establish a local farmers’ market and food exchange.
  • Active Transportation:  Active transportation lives right alongside the health and nutrition focus.  Here, the students have successfully advocated for bike lanes, skateboard parks and other ways to keep arms and legs moving.

“In addition to taking steps to proactively improve their neighborhood, our YEN members are learning leadership and project management skills that will last a lifetime,” Frank says.  “They take ownership of opportunities to make neighborhoods better—and then they get it done!”

By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer