Empower Youth

A future CEO in Training

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Karen G. recalls telling her mom,  “I want to go to KidWorks!” as a three-year-old when she saw her big sister, Gilda, head off each weekday to our after-school programs.  The persistence and tenacity that defines Karen’s personality to this very day meant she never let up until she convinced her mom to enroll her.  Never mind that at three, Karen was still a year short of qualifying for KidWorks preschool programs.

“I managed to get in to what I now call pre-preschool,” Karen laughs.  “I’m one lucky kid who got a special opportunity to be part of KidWorks from such a young age, up to and including today,” she says.

Now a junior at Valley High School in Santa Ana, Karen not only remains active at KidWorks but also plays on her school water polo team, is active in student body leadership and plays saxophone in the school jazz band.  She is also President of Community Leaders of Santa Ana (CLOSA), our youth-led initiative that helps improve the surrounding neighborhood with cleanup, sponsored events and other activities.  As part of this organization, she has spoken before the Santa Ana City Council and the Santa Ana Unified School District Board.  The first time she did this, she was only in seventh grade. "KidWorks has given so many great opportunities, I learned what it means to be a leader.” says Karen.

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Karen recently overcame a potentially life-threatening event.  She underwent testing and treatment because of a cancer diagnosis.  Despite the physical pain of her treatment, Karen stayed active at KidWorks, and kept volunteering on her school’s water polo and swim teams, despite being unable to compete due to her treatment.  We thank God that she is now cancer-free.  Each Friday, Karen leads a health a fitness workshop for our third, fourth and fifth grade girls to encourage students to stay physically active. 

Like all KidWorks high school students, college and career preparation are a major part of her focus.  As she plans her career, Karen knows that her next stop after graduating high school is to attend a university with a focus in sociology and social service.  Karen is always one to set her sights high. “One day, I hope to be executive director of KidWorks,” she says. 

Support students like Karen on the road to college this #givingtuesday! With the expanded KidWorks Dan Donahue Center 300 new students are joining our programs.

 

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 

Empowering Young People To Change The World

WE Day is a celebration of youth making a difference in their local and global communities. WE Schools is the yearlong program that nurtures compassion in young people and gives them the tools to create transformational social change.

Together they offer young people the tools and the inspiration to take social action, empower others and transform lives—including their own.