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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

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 

Worship and Concert at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Feature Our Gifted Musicians

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.

I just wanted to celebrate a great collaboration between Gather and Send in featuring the students of Avanti/Kidworks at the 5:30 and 11:11 services. 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, one of the vocalists will be leaving for San Francisco State to study music in just a few weeks. The ministry is changing lives.
— Dan Wendell, Missions Pastor

By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer 

The Women of KidWorks: Leticia Rivera


As her four young sons fidget beside her, Leticia Rivera reflects on what it’s like to be a parent while also being an active volunteer in several KidWorks’ programs.

“It’s a process—sometimes difficult and overwhelming—to be a mom,” she says.  “It can also be very difficult on a street like Townsend, where we live.  You avoid the gunshots and gangs.  You know that your sons can be vulnerable, so you keep them very involved in positive ways.”

For Leticia, KidWorks has been one of those positive influences.  And it goes both ways, says Sonia Rios-Guzman, our Parent Engagement Coordinator. 

“Leticia is humble, kind and hard-working,” Sonia says.  “She comes to every meeting of our Parent Advisory Council and Group of Moms, and she’s never missed a single KidWorks parents workshop.  She always wants to better herself.”

All of Leticia’s sons are involved in our programs, including Jose, fifth grade; Angel, second grade; Carlos, first grade and Francisco, kindergarten.

“I’ve always like giving,” Leticia says.  “It’s easy to want to help when I see a need.  How can I expect KidWorks to give to me and my family and then not give back?”

And give back she does!

“For our Myrtle and Townsend Street Resource Fairs, Leticia went door-to-door helping to gather neighborhood signatures giving the city permission to close the streets for the event,” Sonia says.  “No one gathered more signatures than her!”

Leticia is also quite skilled in arts and crafts.  She’s helped make accessories for our graduating students to wear along with their caps and gowns, and even taught mothers how to sew or knit dresses, scarves and hats to add to their personal wardrobe, using the sewing machines available at KidWorks.

Her son Jose is clearly proud of his mom.  “When I see her volunteer at KidWorks, it makes me want to help others,” he says.  Jose is a role model in his own right for his younger brothers as he volunteers assisting our teachers for the after school programs attended by kindergarten, first, and second grade students.

Leticia has also gotten her husband, Francisco, to join our Parent Advisory Council.  Of the 18 members, only two are men, and we hope he will inspire other fathers to join.

“Leticia always goes far beyond what is asked of her,” Sonia says.  “It’s no wonder her four boys—and all of us at KidWorks—look up to her!”

By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer

The Women of KidWorks: Eleazar Díaz

Eleazar Díaz sees the bigger picture when she waters, weeds and prunes the plants and vegetables in the KidWorks community garden and compost at our Dan Donahue Center.

As a long time volunteer, she is keenly aware not only of the thriving plants, but also the positive growth in the community where KidWorks serves.

Eleazar is gladly willing to get her hands dirty in the garden soil, and she’s also learned to be a leader on our Dan Donahue Group of Moms and Parent Advisory Council.

It all began over 10 years ago when a neighborhood mom invited her to volunteer at the KidWorks preschool.  Her daughter, Yosely, then three-years-old, was too young to enroll—but Eleazar said “yes” to the volunteer request anyway.

“Since then, Eleazar has been one of our most dedicated and committed volunteer moms,” says Sonia Rios-Guzman, our Parent Engagement Coordinator.

Eleazar, quiet and humble, gives much of the credit to her daughter, Yosely, now 13-years-old, and a student in our after school programs.

“Before I enrolled Yosely in the KidWorks preschool, we’d walk by the center and she’d say, ‘Mom, I want to see the kids!’”

Eleazar brought her little daughter with her when she volunteered at our preschool.

“Yosely would pick up a white cloth and help me clean the counters,” she recalls.  “The very next year, she was old enough for preschool and we enrolled her.  Since then, KidWorks has become part of us.”

In her 10-plus years as a KidWorks volunteer, this mom has grown out of her natural shyness and learned to speak up with ideas and suggestions that are welcomed by the KidWorks’ Parents Advisory Council and Group of Moms.

“Eleazar is a real motivator for our parents, and she’s a role model, too, because she’s willing to take on any task,” Sonia says.  “When the parents or moms councils have an upcoming meeting, she goes down the list making phone calls reminding them to attend.  She’s a good planner too, and helped us with the countless details required to make our annual Townsend Street Resource Fair a yearly success.”

To Eleazar, the garden she helps tends is not the only metaphor for the potential within the central Santa Ana community where she and her family live. 

“When the doors first opened at the Dan Donahue Center, I saw this as a place that would be my support system,” she says.  “Today, when I come to volunteer, I love seeing that those doors are still wide open.  It means they are open for me and other moms to volunteer, get involved and make a difference.”

You continue to make a tremendous positive difference, Eleazar.  We appreciate all you do!

 

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