On a recent Monday in late June, nearly 100 students in grades kindergarten through fifth gathered during our 2023 summer program at the Dan Donahue Center to sing a worship song titled “Fruit of the Spirit.” Volunteer Stephan “Buddy” Joe joined in with just as much enthusiasm as those raising their voices in praise.

What the students probably didn’t know was that our September “Volunteer of the Month” had been working many hours behind the scenes, decorating, setting up, preparing for snack distribution and much more so the summer experience would create lifetime memories.

He also helped with announcements, games and other activities during the June 19 through July 14 summer program.

“Buddy has volunteered nearly every single day during our summer program and stayed throughout each day,” says David Saucedo, a Program Assistant at our Dan Donahue Center.

Adds David, “Seeing him be so determined and hardworking when it came to meeting deadlines and decorating was awesome because it shows how much he cares that the decorations are done just right, but more importantly his dedication to our students.”

Cynthia Gomez, our Youth Lead, says Buddy has been a much-appreciated summer volunteer in other ways, too.

“Buddy has chaperoned our teens during our field trips, performed snack duty and conducted headcounts,” Cynthia says. “He’s very approachable and has a very kind nature that’s earned him the trust of our students and staff.”

Our September honoree lives in Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of the Navajo Nation. At his own expense and with financial help from family and friends, he’s traveled to California the past two years, specifically to support our summer programs.

“The most rewarding aspects of being involved with KidWorks for me is getting to know and develop relationships with the kids and having fun with them, seeing them brighten up when they see me, making new friends with the other volunteers and staff and experiencing life in Santa Ana,” Buddy says. “Another is when kids remembered me from when I was here last year; that’s something I didn’t expect.”

The students let Buddy know he’s recognized and appreciated.

“One time as I was walking back to my Airbnb, which is just a short distance from KidWorks,” Buddy says. “It was at the end of the day and I heard sweet little voices yelling out ‘Hey, I remember you, I know you from KidWorks!’”

He adds, “It was a group of about four or five children playing in their yard. They all ran up to me and started excitedly talking all at once. We talked together for a while; it just goes to show the impact in the community that KidWorks’ volunteers have.”

It’s perfectly natural that Buddy relates so well with our students. His career in education has included work as a preschool teacher, a teacher’s aide and leading classes in the areas of music physical education and hands-on learning.

Our September honoree is a person of deep faith.

“My Catholic faith is of utmost importance to me and is interweaved in everything I do,” Buddy says. “I want to live my life for Christ and do my best to lead others to Him by word and deed. Before volunteering at KidWorks, I hadn’t realized it was a faith-based organization; that was a huge plus!”

Buddy also shares how he likes to spend his leisure time.

“I enjoy reading classics, spirituality books and books about the inner workings of people,” he says. “I learn and practice meditation and mindfulness.”

He adds, “I love anything outdoorsy, like hiking and camping. I love traveling, having been to the Philippines, Mongolia, the arctic part of Canada and Guatemala–not so much as a tourist but as someone open to sharing life with the people I’m visiting. I know the basics of guitar, piano, ukulele and violin.”

As KidWorks celebrates our 30th anniversary, Buddy joins us in having big dreams for our future and the City of Santa Ana.

“My hope for KidWorks is that it continues being a beacon of light in Santa Ana and beyond, actively expressing love for the children and their families,” Buddy says. “My hope for Santa Ana is that the community would work together to create a safer, brighter, and hopeful future for their children.”

With such a positive and inspiring outlook as that, it’s no wonder that Buddy is the perfect KidWorks volunteer.

By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer