On a chilly, mid-January afternoon, Karina Flores leads a group of about two dozen elementary school students on a short walk to Jerome Park in central Santa Ana. They’ve earned a 20-minute break from their after-school homework lessons at our Townsend Street Center.
“Stay in a straight line,” Karina gently admonishes. “Don’t cross the alley until you make sure no cars are coming.”
“OK, Ms. Karina,” they chime in unison.
Karina has a special bond with her students. She grew up on Townsend Street where this KidWorks satellite center is located and knows first-hand the struggles and challenges of an underserved neighborhood.
In fact before she joined our staff, Karina was a KidWorks student herself, attending our programs from sixth grade all the way through high school. She was a member of the first-ever group of students who comprised Community Leaders of Santa Ana (CLOSA), our youth-led organization that helps improve the surrounding neighborhood with cleanups, sponsored events and other activities.
“I want each student to know that whatever hardships they and their families are going through, that the KidWorks center is a place that for 90 minutes each day they have a safe, encouraging place to go,” she says.
As she leads her class, Karina’s gentle, quiet personality shines through—and so does her strength. Recently, a second grader approached her in class and asked if he could color with crayons.
“Yes, but only after you read for 10 minutes,” Karina said.
“How about after five minutes?” the boy said, smiling playfully.
“Ten minutes of reading and then you can color,” she countered. Turning to a visitor, she laughed and said, “They learn to negotiate at a very young age!”
Jocelyn is one of Karina’s seventh grade students who is so inspired by her teacher that she also volunteers several hours, four days a week at the Townsend Center.
“I trust Ms. Karina so much,” Jocelyn says. “She’s talks with me when there are problems at my school where I faced bullying or conflicts. She’s helped me deal with those challenges in the right way.”
Outside of work, Karina and Jose Ayala, the Health & Fitness Program Coordinator at our main Dan Donahue Center, are busy planning a June wedding.
They enjoy hiking and camping together, and have visited the Grand Canyon, Sequoia National Forest and Yosemite. She also enjoys action and romance movies.
Karina, everyone at KidWorks is so proud of the way you have grown from a diligent student in our programs into a site coordinator and role model for other children and youth as you mold them into equally contributing members of the community. Thank you!
By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer