For the past three years, KidWorks student Julie Cons has been learning the piano and violin through our Avanti Music Program. Now she is sharing her gifts and talents with the other students of KidWorks
As the pews filled up at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach this past weekend, over 1,200 worshipers were in for a delightful surprise.
They were about to enjoy a Sunday concert and Sunday worship service featuring students from KidWorks’ Avanti program, who joined with Brandon Muchow, St. Andrew’s Minister of Modern Worship & Production, and several other professional studio musicians.
It all came together thanks to the efforts of KidWorks’ volunteer Joe Cristina, who began a KidWorks music program in 2012 called Avanti Music. In Joe, the students learn from a professional musician with 37 years of experience in composition, arranging, orchestration and production.
“The ‘KidWorks/Avanti Music Concert’ was a bilingual presentation, and therefore was a true bridge-builder since residents from Newport Beach and Santa Ana worshipped together,” Joe says.
There are 18 KidWorks students currently participating in the Avanti program. Those who performed at the St. Andrews concert included Lilian Ramirez (vocals) Liliana Ledezma (vocals and flute), Melisa Luis (piano), Julie Cons (violin) and Luis Lopez (guitar).
The second event was held in the church chapel, and was equally well received. Lilian Ramirez joined Brandon Muchow and Hector Rivera on vocals. Emily Barrios, 12-years-old, recently joined Avanti, and she joined in on percussion and vocals.
David Benavides, Executive Director, KidWorks & Councilmember, City of Santa Ana, also spoke to the congregation, sharing KidWorks’ story.
Dan Wendell, Minister of Missions & Outreach at St. Andrews says he is delighted with the result: “Having the students up front, leading through worship was a beautiful example of extending the family and valuing them as part of our community. I was particularly encouraged to learn that as a result of Avanti’s work, Lilian Ramirez, one of the vocalists, will be leaving for San Francisco State University to study music in just a few weeks. The ministry is changing lives."
Lilian and our Avanti students are equally grateful to Joe and the staff at St. Andrews for providing them with such a special opportunity to perform.
"I couldn't get this experience anywhere else than KidWorks and Avanti,” she says.
Knowing Joe’s commitment to Avanti and our students, we can’t help but say, “Encore!” to him and “Bravo!” to St. Andrews for providing such an extraordinary opportunity.
By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer
With three of her six children currently learning how to play a musical instrument, Karina Torres knows the importance of perseverance and determination.
She puts that philosophy to work at KidWorks, where this mom has volunteered for over seven years.
“Like with a musical piece, a plan is only successful if it is well thought out and you work really hard to make it the best it can be,” Karina says. Then she smiles and adds, “I don’t like to just sit around, and if something needs to get done, I don’t need to be asked; I jump in!”
Sonia Rios-Guzman, our Parent Engagement Coordinator, says Karina is definitely a woman of action.
“Even though it might seem like Karina’s plate is full with six children, she still manages to volunteer and support KidWorks in so many ways,” Sonia says. “And she does all of this while fully supporting her children in their educations.”
One of the ways Karina helps KidWorks is with our “Love & Music” program for aspiring musicians. Karina is proud that three of her children are in the program: Evelyn, 13, and Ashley, eight, who are both learning the violin and Jesse, 10, who is mastering the flute.
Karina volunteers in many other ways at KidWorks. She is part of our Parent Advisory Council, has helped with neighborhood clean up days and both our Myrtle and Townsend Street Resource fairs. For the most recent Myrtle Street Fair, she helped make over 150 ham and cheese sandwiches that were given out for free to those from the surrounding neighborhoods who attended.
Karina enrolled her daughter, Evelyn, in our after school programs six years ago when Evelyn was still in elementary school.
“KidWorks is not like other after-school programs, I see it as the best of all,” Karina says. Then she adds with a grin, “On the very first day Evelyn started at KidWorks, I told her, ‘Get used to it. You are going to be there until you graduate from high school."
Recently, her 10-year-old Jesse gratefully told her, “Mom, you are always around for us.”
“Kids don’t always say it out loud, but it was his way of saying ‘thank you’,” Karina says.
Karina, we also can’t say “thank you” enough for all you do for our students and the community!
By Glenn Leibowtiz, Volunteer Content Writer
Editor’s note: This is the fourth and final installment of“A Tale of Two Santa Anas,” where our graduating high school seniors tell the story of their personal journey in their own words. We are so proud of these students, who later this year will begin attending colleges and universities.
Growing up, I was probably the last person you’d expect to be standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people, singing solos or playing the guitar.
Back in elementary school I was very shy and reserved. Except for walking to and from school each day, I pretty much stayed inside our family’s rented house doing my homework, reading books and listening to music.
Today, I’m an 18-year-old graduate of Valley High School in Santa Ana. This fall, I will begin attending San Francisco State University, where I intend to earn a bachelor of music degree.
Our family--my Dad, Mom, and sisters, Emily, 14 and Ailani, seven, and me--live about one block from KidWorks’ Dan Donahue Center. I’ve lived there since I was born.
For as long as I can remember, our neighborhood has had a lot of gang violence and poverty. But that doesn’t mean every kid falls into that trap.
I credit my parents for giving me a strong sense of right and wrong. “Listen to your inner voice,” my Mom always says. “That voice will tell you what choice to make.”
My love of music is probably something I get from my Dad. From the earliest age, I remember how he introduced me to all his favorite kinds of music—rock, traditional Mexican music and classical.
For the past several years, I’ve been part of KidWorks’ Avanti program, where high school students like me learn from Joe Cristina a professional musician. We get actual experience in composition, arranging, orchestration and production.
Thanks to Joe and KidWorks, I’ve now sung and played music before live audiences. Also, each year in high school, I was part of our choir, and last year auditioned and was accepted by the Southern California Vocal Association Honor Choir.
I hope that my professional musical career will include touring the country, singing and playing music. Yet, no matter where my love of music takes me, I’ll always remember Santa Ana, my city. I’ll also always be forever grateful to KidWorks’ and the wonderful staff and volunteers who helped me all these years.
By Lilian Ramirez
Editor’s note: This is an update to a previous KidWorks blog story about Avanti, founded in 2012 by KidWorks volunteer Joe Cristina. In Joe, the students learn from a professional musician with 37 years of experience in composition, arranging, orchestration and production.
KidWorks student Lilian Ramirez might not yet have a GRAMMY award on her shelf, but just give her a little time.
The 18-year-old high school senior recently contributed several vocal tracks to a Latin/jazz/fusion album project being written/produced by Joe and fellow professional musician, Victor Cajiao.
Both Joe and Victor lead Avanti classes at KidWorks that are very popular with our youth.
“Lilian will be on two of the album’s tracks,” Joe says. “One is an original titled ‘Through the Dark Night / The Lamp.’ It’s a modern lament psalm that has an end section that speaks of hope coming to the neighborhoods in Santa Ana.”
Lilian found the entire process exhilarating.
“The recording experience was phenomenal!” she says. “It was more difficult than I thought it would be. Getting that perfect sound is tedious but once you pinpoint it, it feels amazing. I felt the adrenaline pumping the entire time. I never thought I had that energy in me.”
Lilian will begin attending San Francisco State University this fall.
“I want to become a full-fledged musician and earn my Bachelor of Arts degree in music,” she says. “I also want to become a composer and record music.”
Joe is very encouraged by Lilian’s God-given musical talent. He also says her participation on the upcoming album is giving her priceless insight about what it’s like to be a professional musician.
“During the session, Lilian sees how we do sound checks, monitor her vocal levels, and keep performing each piece over and over again until we get a take that’s the keeper.”
Joe expects the album he and Victor are producing to eventually be available on iTunes and Amazon.
So, as they say in the music business, “stay tuned”!
By Glenn Leibowitz, Community Volunteer and Content Writer
“Music has always been part of my life, and as I grew older I decided to make it my career,” says Shellsea, a 17-year-old high school senior and KidWorks’ student.
Shellsea’s dream is well on its way to becoming true.
She is one of 18 youth who participate in a KidWorks program called Avanti, founded in 2012 by volunteer Joe Cristina. In Joe, the students learn from a professional musician with 37 years of experience in composition, arranging, orchestration and production.
Joe and KidWorks also thank St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach for their strong support of our music program.
“Avanti is designed to guide serious, college-bound students to reach their artistic goals by gaining performance and theoretical experience by working with music industry professionals,” Joe explains.
Avanti offers performance experience and college preparatory music classes, along with exposure to music genres that include pop, rock, jazz, sacred, classical, Latin and world music.
Lilian is an 18-year-old high school senior enrolled in Avanti. She shares Shellsea’s goal of becoming a musician.
“Avanti has given me access to so many things I never had access to before,” she says. “I am getting so much help with my musical future!”
Liliana, a 17-year-old high school student and KidWorks youth adds: “I could not afford such musical training on my own. Avanti has given me more than just the material instruments to pursue music. I have also been given the opportunity to perform what I love and to express myself.”
The students also get a chance to build their musical confidence in front of live audiences. They've performed at Steamers Jazz Club, Village of Hope, Santa Ana street fairs and St. Andrew’s Church.
We are so grateful to Joe and St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church for helping our youth to develop their God-given talent for music.
By Glenn Leibowitz, KidWorks Community Volunteer and Content Writer