Julissa Velasco-- KidWorks October 2018 “Volunteer of the Month—may still be finishing up college, but you’d think she has decades of teaching experience when you see her skillfully tutoring students enrolled in our afterschool programs
For years, Julissa has made it a point to volunteer with tutoring programs offered in Santa Ana, where she’s lived most of her life. That includes the elementary school she attended as a child.
Yet, for all the hundreds of volunteer hours she’s spent in Santa Ana classrooms, it took a fieldwork day sponsored by her university to bring KidWorks to her attention.
“I didn't have any idea KidWorks existed,” Julissa says. “I’ve lived in Santa Ana all my life and never did I imagine a center like this. I was intrigued by the structure and the programs provided at KidWorks. It’s vital to that the opportunities and resources that KidWorks provides be available to low-income families.”
Since January, she’s helped tutor our kindergarten, third and sixth grade students.
Betty Garcia, Assistant Program Leader at our Dan Donahue Center, says one of Julissa’s strengths is how deeply she engages with each student.
“When students are all done with their daily homework, they have the opportunity to color, and that’s when Julissa joins in and is always engaged in conversations with them,” Betty says. “The way the students are willing to talk to her and open up has been amazing to see.”
Betty adds, “Julissa takes initiative when working with the students. If she sees that no one needs help at the moment, she will go and sit next to the students and engage with them by asking questions about what they are doing. She is also constantly ensuring that the classroom is organized.”
Having grown up in a low-income family that faced economic pressure each day, Julissa sees how KidWorks’ programs can break generational cycles of poverty through education and character building.
“I know from firsthand experience that it can be very difficult to focus and go further with your education when most of the odds are against you,” Julissa says. “KidWorks’ programs help students realize that there is greater opportunity for them in life than just a minimum wage job. Volunteering at KidWorks allows me to be a mentor to these children. Another aspect of KidWorks that I’ve not always found in other organizations of this type is how strongly the parents are involved and aligned with KidWorks.”
Julissa sees unlimited potential for Santa Ana.
“My ultimate dream for the Santa Ana community is that it would be free of gang violence and have more programs focused on higher education,” Julissa says. “Programs like KidWorks energize students to reach for a higher education and provide various resources to make that possible.”
As a big believer in education for others, Julissa is also paying attention to her own academic success and future career. Our October Volunteer of the Month is a senior at California State University, Fullerton, majoring in human services. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she plans to take a year off and then attend grad school.
“My ultimate career goal is to be a social work counselor at a middle school or high school setting,” Julissa says.
The KidWorks team can’t think of a better equipped person than Julissa to lead the students of today and tomorrow.
By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer