In the midst of struggle, the Vega family finds strength in each other and KidWorks


During the toughest years financially for her and her family, Esmeralda Vega worked most days baking loaves of Mexican-style bread stuffed with rice pudding or sweet potatoes.  Then, she and her two boys—then just eight and nine years old--would spend hours going door-to-door selling the bread to their central Santa Ana neighbors for $1.50 apiece. 

At the end of a long evening, the profit was often only $50.  Before or after walking all those miles, her sons, Cristian and Enrique, would sit down to complete all their school homework from that day.

At the same time, Esmeralda’s husband, Enrique, would take any minimum wage job he could find in order to provide for his family.  Few of his employers knew that before the Great Recession during the late 2000s and early 2010s, he had been a mid-level manager for 16 years at a major corporation within the food industry.

Today, the Vegas’ are an example of the deep faith in God, unbending tenacity in the face of hardship and strong commitment to others found in so many of the families we serve.  The fabric of their lives is deeply interwoven into KidWorks programs, and also in the many hours they volunteer supporting our outreach events into the surrounding community.

Cristian is now a sophomore at highly-regarded Mater Dei High School, having earned one of only two scholarships awarded each year through a partnership between KidWorks and the school.  He plans to become a forensic scientist.  The younger Enrique is an eighth grader at Saddleback High School.  His dream is to become a detective, working in law enforcement.

The Vegas’ are also very proud of daughters Janet, 22, an assistant manager at a finance company and Azucena, 24, a teacher and registered nurse.

KidWorks became a safe haven for the Vega’s two boys four years ago when the Great Recession forced the family to move from a more spacious apartment in the City of Orange, to a much smaller one bedroom apartment not far from our Townsend Center, where they still live. 

“My brother and I began attending KidWorks after school programs in 2015 at the insistence of our mom,” Cristian recalls.  “At first, we resisted.  But then, we figured out that this place was alright after all.  We made friends that we’re still close with today.”

Both sons continue to volunteer as altar servers at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Santa Ana, something they've done since Cristian was eight and Enrique was nine.  Both daughters did the same from 11 to 20 years old.

Enrique, the husband, gives all credit to Esmeralda for searching out KidWorks and enrolling his sons.  “She is our strength,” he states.  As he says this, tears slide down Esmeralda’s face as she recalls the struggles they’ve all gone through and how the hardships only solidified the lasting bond between all of them.

It wasn’t long after their two sons joined KidWorks that Enrique and Esmeralda began volunteering at our Dan Donahue Center.  They’ve helped out at the Townsend Raitt Street Resource Fair, and Esmeralda has pitched in with childcare, administrative projects and other tasks at the Dan Donahue Center.

Both of them joined the KidWorks Parent Advisory Council in 2016.

“The Vegas’ approach is that community starts with one strong family and this replicates into many other strong families, which leads to an even more resilient Santa Ana,” says Sonia Rios-Guzman, our Parent Engagement Coordinator.  “Enrique and Esmeralda have been married for 25 years, and have counseled about 40 soon-to-be-married couples.  Their strong character is deeply rooted in each of their wonderful children.  We are so grateful for each member of this inspiring family!”  

The younger Enrique says it best when speaking about his family’s tenacity:  “You never fail if you get right back up when you fall.”

By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer