Inner City

KidWorks Teacher Spotlight: Raquel Nava

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     Raquel with third-grader, Adrely

Raquel Nava’s eyes brim with tears when she speaks about her own childhood—and how those difficult years fill her with empathy for the students she works with each day at KidWorks.

Raquel was sent to California from Mexico to live with an aunt when she was just six years old.  Her parents have never really been a part of her life.

In elementary school and high school, Raquel’s heart grew softer instead of harder when other students poked fun at her because she didn’t fully understand the culture, speak fluent English or wear newer clothes.

But Raquel learned perseverance and goal setting that led to her earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree.  She paid for her education herself, working three jobs at once.

Raquel has been with KidWorks for nearly two years.  And she’s one of our students’ favorites.

“At one point, I was pursuing a career in film production, but eventually I realized that in my heart my real desire was to help the underserved, especially those in Santa Ana where I grew up,” Raquel says.

KidWorks has proved to be an ideal match with Raquel’s natural teaching gifts and her empathetic nature.

“If a student comes to class without a pencil, my own experience has taught me that it doesn't mean he or she is unprepared,” Raquel says.  “The student may be dealing with other difficulties at home or in school that we might not yet know about.”

Having been a resilient self-starter, Raquel now instills the same skills in the second, fifth and eighth graders she teaches.

“I assign them to be line leaders, teacher’s assistants and door monitors,” Raquel says.  “They learn to take responsibility, just like they’ll need to do in the work world.”

Raquel is a huge believer in positive reinforcement.

“If a student has a really good day, I’ll phone the parents and tell them, ‘Your child was amazing today,’” she says.  With a wink she also adds, “In other cases I might smile at a student and say, ‘Remember, I have your mom’s cell phone number and can text her!’”

Raquel and her husband, Everardo, a certified public accountant, lead busy lives.  Everardo regularly volunteers at our after school programs.  They both enjoy cooking (pozole, a traditional Mexican stew is one of Raquel’s specialties), yoga and bingo.

Raquel, thank you for being such a shining star and fully sharing your caring heart with all of KidWorks students.

By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer 

Karina Flores: Longtime KidWorks student is now a leader on our team

It’s inspiring and uplifting to hear the words Karina Flores uses to describe the impact she hopes to have in her newly promoted role as Site Coordinator for our Townsend Street Center:

“I hope that the students as well as the families see me as a person they can trust,” she says.  “I hope to have a positive impact in their lives, whether it’s by helping students with homework or just having a conversation.  I would like to be a positive impact in the students’ lives, in the same way that KidWorks made such a lasting impact in mine.”

And when she refers to the positive impact KidWorks has had on her life that speaks volumes.

Karina joined our programs as a sixth grader and continued through her high school years.  She was also 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.

She didn’t know it at the time, but her immersion in KidWorks was the perfect preparation for her to join our staff in 2012 as an assistant within the after-school program.  Since then, she’s had roles that have included assisting with KidWorks University workshops and a program leader at the Dan Donahue Center.  For the past four years, Karina has also been a member of the leadership team responsible for the kindergarten through fifth grade summer program.

Karina is the perfect person to take on the Site Coordinator role from Jessica Ellis, who was recently promoted to Site Director for the Dan Donahue Center.  That’s because Karina had been assisting Jessica at the Townsend Center in 2014.

“Karina is so caring and encouraging with each of the students,” Jessica says.  “She’s always motivating them and willing to share her personal story about the many obstacles she too faced while growing up in the community.  Karina sees the potential in each student and really tries to pull out the best in each one.”

Having grown up in Santa Ana, Karina is well suited to understanding the challenges and opportunities within the neighborhoods we serve.

In addition to the academic achievement she works to develop in each student, Karina also hopes to impart even more of what she’s gained through her KidWorks years: “I was able to grow both personally and spiritually.  I came to know God at a deeper level and grow in my faith.”

Outside of work, Karina has a full range of interests and hobbies.

“I absolutely love to dance!” she says.  “In high school I was part of the school’s performing dance team.  It has always been a passion of mine ever since I was a little girl.  I also enjoy doing arts and crafts, scrapbooking and painting.”

Please join us in congratulating this delightful member of the KidWorks team on her new role and in wishing Karina every success.

 

By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer

Summer 2016 fun at KidWorks: Our youngsters artworks tells the story

Hundreds of children and youth had a tremendous summer at KidWorks.  From July 5 through Aug. 12, students in grades kindergarten through 12 participated in “The Island”-themed activities that filled those long summer days while also keeping their minds stimulated so they were “ready to go” when school started again.

Our elementary and middle school students engaged in challenging games, faith-building bible lessons, creative craft making, field trips and other fun activities.

The high school students participated in our Leadership Academy, which for years has helped prepare them for higher education after high school and successful careers.  These students experienced mentoring, company site visits to learn about the work world, character development and service opportunities.

We asked a few of your younger students to create crayon drawings so they can share their summer experience with you.  We hope you enjoy their original artwork!

"Summer is the best; summer is a lot of fun!"

"Summer is the best; summer is a lot of fun!"

"My favorite part of summer was the beach."

"My favorite part of summer was the beach."

"My favorite part of summer was the beach."

"My favorite part of summer was the beach."

"My favorite part of summer was going to the park."

"My favorite part of summer was going to the park."

"My favorite part of summer was eating food! YAY food!"

"My favorite part of summer was eating food! YAY food!"

"My favorite part of summer was playing at the beach."

"My favorite part of summer was playing at the beach."

St. Andrew's Comes to KidWorks for a Serve Day!

Thank you St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church for coming to KidWorks for your Serve Day 2016. KidWorks has been a long time ministry partner of St. Andrew's and on Saturday, September 17th,  many members of their congregation came to our Dan Donahue Center for a Serve Day. 

Volunteers hosted a carnival for our families and participated in reading buddies with our K-5th grade students. Another team of volunteers revamped our storage space to accommodate more instruments for our music program, Avanti. 

Avanti leader, Joe Cristina, led a group of volunteers in working directly with our music students and we ever had a parenting workshop.

Here are some photos from our event! 

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 

High School Senior Justin Sung Helps Us "Build Dreams"

Justin Sung, a senior at Sage High School in Newport Coast, immediately knew whom he wanted his Eagle Scout project to benefit.

“With all the help that KidWorks provides to others, the least that I could do is give back to KidWorks by dedicating my project to such an amazing organization,” he says.

We think Justin is pretty amazing, too!

Eagle Scout is the final and highest rank a Boy Scout can achieve.  For his project—which was months in the planning—Justin designed and built a beautiful wooden bench and a brand new art cabinet, both of which as now installed at our Dan Donahue Center.

“We are also thankful that that Justin choose KidWorks for his Eagle Scout Project,” says Raquel Nava, Arts and Academics Coordinator at the Donahue Center.  “Our students are already sitting on the bench as they wait for programs to start, and we’ve filled the cabinet up with art supplies we use each day.”

Justin’s connection with KidWorks began when his older brother, Ryan, started a club at Sage High School called ReachOut, which organizes various projects that help our students.  When Ryan graduated, he passed the leadership baton on to Justin, who now serves as the club’s president. 

Justin says that ReachOut is already planning more projects to support KidWorks in the months to come.  We are very grateful to Justin and ReachOut for their dedication and love for our students.

By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer 

Our High School Seniors Are College-Bound!

KidWorks is very proud that the majority of the students in our programs earn their high school diplomas, and that many also continue their education at colleges and universities.

The class of 2016 is no exception. We are pleased to share this summary of where our graduating high school seniors will continue their studies this fall.

We also asked our scholars to let you read in the students’ own words how they feel about the next step in their journey of academic excellence. Here’s what several said: 

I intend to pursue a career in law and also get a certificate in architecture. I’m really excited to check out all the potential research opportunities for undergraduates at Duke University and study abroad to learn about cultures and customs. KidWorks has prepared me by expanding my horizon and making me feel empowered.
— Melisa Castillo
I intend to major in psychology and minor in health studies with a concentration in peace, justice and human rights. KidWorks has provided me support, comfort and tools in order to grow and thrive into a much more confident being and a passionate youth. It has been my safe haven and second family.
— Rosa Urquiza
I look forward to going to UCLA in the fall so that I can begin the first step in my career as a physician. I am also really excited to get involved on campus, especially in areas of leadership and social change, which I feel KidWorks has prepared me for through my involvement in the Youth Empowerment Network.
— Jessenya Reyes
After five years of being part of the Youth Empowerment Network at KidWorks, I have been given many tools and one is the ability to speak up. I cannot wait to see what I could do with that strength at UCSB.
— Sarahi Guerrero
My proposed major is mechanical engineering. I am really excited that I’m moving on and I get to meet new people who might help me become successful. KidWorks has helped with my social skills and to value team work.
— Ismael Fuerte
The KidWorks after school program has helped improve my attention span and taught me discipline when it comes to setting time aside for study.
— Melisa Castillo
The KidWorks after school program has given me a lot of opportunities to try new things and has supported me with my college decisions.
— Simon Garcia