Students

Celebrating our ‘star’ students: Liliana Ledezma has a heart for music—and justice

This April, our KidWorks blog series will highlight two extraordinary students.  All of our students are “stars” in our humble estimation, and the two we’ll introduce you to this month are examples of how your support develops them in ways that make them contributing members of society throughout their entire lives.  In this installment, we are proud to feature Liliana Ledezma.

 

When you’ve been in the music industry as long as KidWorks volunteer Joe Cristina, recognizing exceptional talent almost becomes instinctual.

 

When he first met Liliana Ledezma, he knew there was something special about this 18-year-old Mater Dei High School student.

 

She was one of the very first KidWorks students to enroll in Avanti Music, founded by Joe in 2012 to help our students learn from a professional musician with 37 years of experience in composition, arranging, orchestration and production.

 

“Lili’s a gifted musician,” Joe says.  “She has what we in the music industry call ‘chops.’  Her proficiency includes the flute, piano, ukulele and vocals.  She’s also been a big part of live performance musical events hosted by KidWorks.”

 

Joe also sees a deeply considerate and caring person in Lili, who believes strongly in justice and searching for truth.

 

“Lili does not settle for the easy answer,” Joe says.  “She asks very direct questions in order to get to the underlying truth.”

 

Another strong trait Joe appreciates in Lili is her encouraging nature.

 

“Although Lili might be tired from a week of school and work, she is always quick to offer help to another Avanti Music student,” Joe says.  “She’s very accepting of new students.  Lili makes people feel welcome.”

 

Joe says there is also a lighter side to Lili that’s just as engaging as her musical talent and sense of fairness.

 

“She’s really funny.” Joe says.  “Her comedic timing is just as finely tuned as her musical talent!”

 

By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer

 

Celebrating our ‘star’ students: Maritza Urquiza is setting the table for healthy eating in Santa Ana

This April, our KidWorks blog series will highlight two extraordinary students.  All of our students are “stars” in our humble estimation, and the two we’ll introduce you to this month are examples of how your support develops them in ways that make them contributing members of society throughout their entire lives.  In this installment, we are proud to feature Maritza Urquiza.  

 

No one ever has to tell seventh grader Maritza Urquiza to eat all her vegetables.

 

In fact, she may be the one doing the telling!

 

That’s because this conscientious KidWorks student has made it her personal mission to help fight obesity and bring healthy eating to all residents of Santa Ana.

 

Just ask Emma O’Brien, our Youth & Community Engagement Coordinator for Health and Nutrition.

 

“Martiza is a youth representative for Santa Ana Health & Nutrition Advocates (SAHNA), a youth action team that is part of KidWorks Youth Empowerment Network,” Emma says.

 

In this role, Martiza plays an integral part in our partnership with the Santa Ana Unified School District to upgrade kitchens and cafeterias, while also providing students with nutritional choices that they will find appealing.  As part of that collaboration, our youth are developing a survey that SAUSD can use to help identify and provide healthier breakfast and lunch options.

 

For Martiza, healthy eating habits are just as important at home as they are at school.

 

“Martiza strives to live a healthier lifestyle in her own home, and encourages her family to do the same,” Emma says. “She and the other youth enrolled in our SAHNA program have also set their own personal health goals, including eating a healthier diet.”

 

Emma says that Martiza has really grown in her leadership abilities and self-confidence during the time she’s been part of SAHNA.

 

“I have personally seen Maritza develop as a leader,” Emma says. “She thoughtfully shares her ideas, keeps our team on track and leads by example.”

 

Emma also applauds all the SAHNA students who she says are “changing central Santa Ana from the inside out and in a very positive way.”

 

By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer

 

Engage With KidWorks: The Joy of Giving

Editor’s note:  Our latest blog series is called “Engage With KidWorks.”  We’re excited to share the variety of meaningful—and fun—ways you can become part of the KidWorks experience.  In our first installment, we share research that shows how monetary donations to non-profits like KidWorks not only make a sustained meaningful impact—they also make us feel better as people!

A widely acclaimed Harvard Business School research paper published in 2009 (“Feeling Good About Giving”) concluded that those who give a monetary donation to those in need “reported higher levels of happiness.”

In the words of those researcher:  "Happier people give more and giving makes people happier, such that happiness and giving may operate in a positive feedback loop."

And there’s the Gallup World Poll conducted between 2006 and 2008 that found people who donated to charity “reported a greater satisfaction with life.”

Finally, consider these statistics from the Do Good Live Well survey of 4,500 U.S. adults who supported a charity:  68 percent reported that it made them feel physically healthier, 89 percent that it “has improved my sense of well-bring” (e.g., happiness) and 73 percent that it “lowered my stress levels.”

Our KidWorks supporters are among the most generous people we know.  So, if giving equates to happiness, maybe that’s why our volunteers and contributors have such positive outlooks on life.

Need a lift today?  Consider making a donation to your friends at KidWorks!

 

By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer

KidWorks student, Isaac Michaca, named to City of Santa Ana planning committee

Isaac Michaca is a young man with both vision and passion for Santa Ana, a city he clearly loves.

In fact, this KidWorks student and Santa Ana College freshman is so committed to Santa Ana and its residents that he hopes one day to serve as mayor.

Before that happens, Isaac realizes that it’s “first things-first.”  In that regard, he’s just accepted an appointment as the only youth named to serve a one-year term on the City of Santa Ana’s General Planning Committee.

It’s a significant role that Isaac takes seriously.

“I especially want to be a champion for health and nutrition, urban agriculture, cultural knowledge and restorative justice,” Isaac says.

Those are the same areas of focus he’s had since joining KidWorks’ Youth Empowerment Network (YEN) in 2012.  He now serves as a coordinator with the group.  YEN is a youth-initiated and youth-led program that develops, designs and address issues that impact youth, their families and their neighborhoods.

One of YEN’s focus areas is one that Isaac plans to be a champion for on the City of Santa Ana General Planning Committee.  “Community composting and community garden programs, like the ones we have at KidWorks, will help promote healthy eating, combat obesity and help prevent diabetes,” Isaac says.

Isaac expresses his thanks to those who have helped him along the way.  “I have been blessed by the KidWorks staff, my fellow students and volunteers who have helped me to grow into a leader,” he says. 

“Isaac’s leadership skills and clear vision will ensure that the voice of Santa Ana’s youth will be reflected in the city’s plans,” says Frank Bejarano, our Director of Youth and Family Engagement.  “He will be a major contributor to a plan for Santa Ana that will positively impact the community for generations to come.  KidWorks is very proud of Isaac and we are grateful that his heart is so strongly with the community.”

 

By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer

 

With a little help, a struggling student becomes a star

Our KidWorks teachers mean the world to us. They work so hard to provide our students with support, encouragement, and the tools they need to succeed. Our teachers are developing community leaders and agents of change in central Santa Ana. Teacher,  Rachel Cervantes, is no exception. Her commitment to her students goes unmatched. 

It’s a fact:  In any school, some students struggle a little bit more than others.

That’s where the compassion of KidWorks teachers and volunteers really kicks into high gear. 

Our mission is for every student to perform at his or her full potential.

Recently, Rachel Cervantes, a Program Leader at our Dan Donahue Center, helped a fourth grade boy overcome some behavioral issues and gain confidence.

“When Eduardo (not his real name) first joined the program this summer, we could see that he was going to be a handful!” Rachel said.  “He was easily distracted and that impacted all the other students.”

Yet, by working with Eduardo and his mom, a corner was soon turned.

Today, the words Rachel uses to describe Eduardo are “lively,” “sensitive” and “helpful.”

She also thanks Jessica Ellis, Site Director, Dan Donahue Center, for her guidance.  Jessica suggested ways to involve Eduardo and his mom in monitoring his behavior both at home and at our center.  It’s helped point Eduardo in the right direction.

“I am thankful for Jessica’s guidance, instruction and for her heart for the kids,” Rachel says.

We are proud of students like Eduardo, and forever grateful to teachers like Rachel and all our volunteers who make a permanent positive difference in the lives of those we serve.

 

By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer

KidWorks Students Give Thanks

We asked our students "What are you thankful for?" and they had some great answers!

“What I’m the most thankful for is the KidWorks Center.”
-Cynthia Ramirez
 
“What I’m the most thankful for is you guys being here to help us with the homework.”
-Joselyn Torres
 
“What I’m the most thankful for is the opportunity for new experiences at KidWorks Programs.”
-Isabel Rivas
 
“What I’m the most thankful for is the center. It has helped me improve my homework and grades.”
-Sophia Sanchez
 
“What I’m the most thankful for is the neighborhood cleanup event.”
-Cynthia Espinoza
 
“What I’m the most thankful for is my baby brother and food.”
-Natalie Beltran


“What I’m the most thankful for is the support of my family and friends. The opportunity to get an education.”
-Gabriel Beltran
 

Giving Thanks: Karen Gallardo-Cano

Editor’s note:  We’re delighted to present the third installment in our latest blog series, Giving Thanks.  As everyone prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving, we feel this is the perfect time to invite KidWorks’ friends and families to share a little about what they are most thankful for.  Look for another installment next week!

Karen Gallardo-Cano knows exactly the blessings she’s thankful for this holiday season.  In fact, they number in the dozens.  No, they are not material goods.  This high school sophomore and KidWorks student is most thankful for the many KidWorks staff members, volunteers and fellow students who have positively impacted her life.

“I am so grateful to everyone who is in my life because of KidWorks,” she says.  “The staff and volunteers always push me to go the extra mile.  They sit by my side and let me know that I matter.”

Karen takes her appreciation for others and applies it to her leadership position as president of Community Leaders of Santa Ana (CLOSA), our youth-led organization that helps improve the surrounding neighborhood with cleanup, sponsored events and other activities.

Like a good leader, she is quick to say “thanks” to her team, including Maria Contreras, vice president, Nancy Cervantes, secretary and all the CLOSA membership.

“They are amazing,” Karen says. 

Karen is also thankful for each of the 24 hours in a day.  Without a doubt, she fits all she can into her waking hours.  Karen is a member of the green environmental club at Valley High School and serves as Associated Student Body Vice President for the class of 2019.

And did we mention that she also makes time to play on the school’s varsity and junior varsity water polo teams?

Speaking of giving thanks, we are so grateful to Karen for being a KidWorks student for 11 years, and for the time she spends as a volunteer helping other children and youth.

Now, if someone could just invent the 30-hour day, Karen would find a meaningful way to fill that time, too!
 

By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer

 

Our students learn about democracy on Election Day

Our second graders received a timely lesson about democracy and good citizenship when they were able to practice voting this week.

They marked pretend ballots and slipped them into the ballot box as fellow second graders played the role of poll volunteers.

It was a wonderful lesson on how the democratic process works.  One young second grader wondered if he had to put his name at the top of the ballot, just as he does with his homework.  Learning about the difference, he quickly completed his ballot, glad to know that his voice was heard and his choice registered.

When these second graders turn 18, they’re likely to remember the lesson they learned this week about the importance of voting.

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 

BBVA Partners with KidWorks, Students are a Banker for a Day!

On July 27th we took 11 KidWorks youth to BBVA Compass for our 2nd year of “Banker for a Day”! Our kids had a blast and many of them were inspired to learn more about a future in finance and banking. Here are some great photos from our time with BBVA Compass.

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 

Noche De Las Estrellas

On Friday, June 10th, we celebrated our annual Noche De Las Estrellas (Night of the Stars). Noche De Las Estrellas is an evening to celebrate our graduating seniors and this year was one for the books! 

We are so proud to be sending our students into the world better equipped for college, the workforce, relationships, volunteerism, and community building! But our job doesn't end here, we are committed to doing life with these rock stars for the long haul. 

Help us congratulate the KidWorks Class of 2016!

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

A Tale of Two Santa Anas: Lilian Ramirez

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

Our Students Win Top Honors in Art Contest Promoting Fair Housing

Two young KidWorks students were recently recognized not only for their artistic talent, but also for their social awareness.

Fifth graders Lesly and Aaliyah took first and third place respectively in a poster contest sponsored by the Fair Housing Council of Orange County.

The students’ artwork was selected from among hundreds of posters submitted by students in grades four and five.

“The contest gave KidWorks students an opportunity to learn about fair housing laws and to depict what they learned in an artistic style that represents their views on fair housing choice,” says Kriss Goss-Marr, our Director of After School Programs.

The winning students were presented with a framed picture of their poster, a certificate, and a cash prize.

“I couldn’t believe that I had gotten third place out of all of those drawings,” Aaliyah says.  “I just drew a house with all the things that I would want for my family in my home.”  She is a student at our Bishop Manor center.

Lesly and Aaliyah are also applying the lessons they learned at KidWorks about financial literacy.  Both plan to save the money they were awarded.

It’s inspiring to see our students envision their ideas about fair housing choice. Many live in overcrowded and very difficult home environments where it would be easy to get discouraged. However, this contest provided encouragement to dream and create change so that fair housing laws and healthy living conditions would be a reality for all.
— Kriss Goss-Marr, Director of After School Programs

A Tale of Two Santa Anas: Kaely Catalan

Editor’s note:  We are so proud of our graduating high school students, who later this year will begin attending colleges and universities. “A Tale of Two Santa Anas” is our latest blog series, where the seniors tell their personal story in their own words.

I’m an optimistic person.  Maybe I got that way because I’ve seen difficult situations and learned the importance of making wise decisions.

For about 10 of my 17 years, my family and I have lived in an apartment where the neighborhood confronts the bad that comes from gangs, drugs, violence and poverty.

When my family first moved into the neighborhood, my twin 17-year-old sister, Leslie, and me looked around and said to each other, “What is this all about? Are we going to be safe?”

But I came to realize that new surroundings are also new beginnings.  The gangs and drugs did not attract me.  Instead, I said to myself, “That’s a problem.  Avoid it.  Don’t get pulled in.”

In June, my sister and I are graduating from Godinez Fundamental High School and in September we’ll both begin attending California State University, Fullerton.  I’m majoring in communications.  I’ll focus on either public relations or speech.

I love to write, and I’m an active blogger about music on social media, with over 3,000 followers!

So much credit goes to my parents and to the staff and volunteers and KidWorks who helped me all these years. 

My parents always emphasized the importance of family.  “Family first,” is one of my Mom’s favorite sayings.  Another is, “Everything comes in its time.”

To me, these words of wisdom mean to put others above material objects and to not grow up too fast.

Some of my friends ask, “What’s the name of that center you go to?”  “It’s called Kidworks,” I say. 

We need more places like KidWorks and more people like the staff and volunteers there who help students like me!

By Kaely Catalan

Pass the Carrots: Our Students Are Learning All About Good Nutritional Choices

Did you know that every day at each of our centers, our students are served a nutritional snack before they get down to the business of completing their homework?

Now, that effort just got stronger, thanks to a team led by Emma O'Brien, our Youth & Community Engagement Coordinator for Health and Nutrition.

Emma and a group of our students have formed the Santa Ana Health and Nutrition Advocates (SAHNA).

“We have launched a social media campaign that highlights the effects of sugary beverage consumption on our bodies, as well as other health related facts and yummy recipe tutorials,” Emma says.

The campaign will include content posted on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

 

Stay tuned to our blog for more updates on this timely and vital initiative.

Helping Students Live Outside of their Comfort Zones

Campus Crash is hosted every spring break; We visit college campus. All KidWorks high school students are invited. We learn about what it takes to get to college, what it’s like living on campus, among other things.

This year, 26 of our youth participated. We visited Cal State San Bernardino, California Baptist University, Cal State Los Angeles, and East Los Angeles Community College. We also got the special treat of visiting the Santa Ana Police Department.

It’s important for the youth to learn about different college systems and to visit different campuses so they get a better idea of what they want in a college campus.

Because of trips like these, students chose to apply to colleges out of their comfort zone.

For some seniors, it is their “make or break” deal; they get to visit a campus where they’ve been accepted.

 

- Daniela Valenzuela, College and Career Coordinator