Women of KidWorks: Alma Magana

Editor’s note:  This is the latest installment of our blog series, “The Women of KidWorks.”  This week, we highlight another very special mom!

Alma Magana, a KidWorks preschool teacher, has a special message for parents who attend graduation ceremonies for their four-year-olds.

“Please remember to invite me to your child’s high school and college graduation,” she tells them.  “I’ll go.”

While high school and college seems many years off for these parents and their young students, Alma is a person of her word.

Just ask Isaias Cambron, who recently graduated high school.  He attended KidWorks programs from preschool through his sophomore year in high school.

“You came!” Isaias said as she congratulated the cap-and-gown clad graduate. 

“I told you I would,” she says, recalling her promise of so many years ago.

Alma has been part of the KidWorks’ team since 1999, when she started as an after school volunteer at what was then our Myrtle Street center in Central Santa Ana.  She eventually moved to our Dan Donahue Center when it opened in 2005.  She’s taught at our accredited preschool since then—and is in fact our longest-term employee.

What’s it like to spend 175 days a year helping four year olds to learn the alphabet, recognize the primary colors and explore their artistic skills?

“I confess that sometimes I forget to leave the preschool teacher at the door when I go home for the day,” she laughs.   “I sometimes say to my daughters, Betty, 23, and Debbie, 19, ‘Did you wash your hands,’ and ‘Don’t forget to say hello when you meet someone.’”

There are more dimensions to Alma than many people who meet this soft-spoken woman may not fully realize.

She, her husband, Joel, and Joel’s father, Adolfo (both ordained ministers) and sister, Mirvella, oversee 13 churches the three of them have founded throughout the U.S., Mexico and Nicaragua.

Alma has also run 16 half marathons, many with her daughters.  She also sews (pillow cases, handbags and quilts), giving some of her creations to her students and their families.

Alma says that her deep faith in Jesus means that service in His name goes beyond preaching the gospel.

“To me, it’s important that I also give of my time, visiting with students and their families at their homes after work,” she says.  “KidWorks is like a seed we plant in a child’s life.  That seed grows there forever.”


By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer

The Women of KidWorks: Corina Mora

Editor’s note:  This is the latest installment of our blog series, “The Women of KidWorks.”  This week, we highlight another very special mom!

“Siempre con una sonrisa.”

It means “always with a smile,” and it’s the motto that guides Corina Mora, receptionist and administrative assistant at our Dan Donahue Center, on how she lives her life.

“To me, those words say that it’s important to treat everyone the same, and always warmly,” Corina says.

Corina and her husband, Hector Sr., are very proud—and very involved--parents of four boys:  Adrian, 18-years-old, who will be a senior at Saddleback College; Hector, Jr., 14, an incoming freshman at Mater Dei High School; Isaac, eight-years-old, who is entering third grade and Nathan, five, who will be starting kindergarten.

All her boys have been part of KidWorks programs.  Finding out about KidWorks was easy since Corina’s parents owned a home right across the street from what eventually became our Dan Donahue Center.  She and her family now live in the same house along with her mother, Nelly, 76-years-old.

“My boys are everything to Hector and me,” Corina says.

As a working mom, she has learned the art of balancing parenting, a job, volunteering with Hector Sr. at our preschool and a full schedule of youth sports.

“We are a sports family,” Corina says.  “My boys all play baseball, and we are huge Los Angeles Angels and Dallas Cowboys fans,” she says.  “We even named our one-and-a-half year old French bulldog ‘Dallas’ and he has his own team jersey.”

Corina has become a valuable resource to the parents who come to our center, especially the moms.

“Sometimes the moms will tell me about a problem they are having, often with their children or financially,” Corina says.  “I’ll direct them to resources, but often a person just needs someone to quietly listen.”

From raising her own boys, Corina has learned that it’s important for parents to be proactive with those in charge if they feel their children are at risk in any way.

“Once, one of my little ones was bullied in school,” she says.  “I spoke up, and at first the principal dismissed my concerns.  I persisted, and eventually the situation was resolved when the mother of the bully was made aware of the situation.  This taught me to speak up when necessary.”

As one of the first moms to ever enroll a child at our Dan Donahue Center, Corina is filled with joy at each child see sees enter our doors.

“I am so excited about our upcoming expansion of the Dan Donahue Center,” she says.  “It will mean even more kids playing sports, doing homework and being in a safe place.”  And with a smile, she adds:  “When the kids are not here, it is too quiet.  I miss the chaos!”


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: Karina Torres

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 

The Women of KidWorks: Maria Velazquez

Editor’s note: We are proud to continue our latest blog series, “The Women of KidWorks.” We celebrate the tireless women who generously serve at our centers each week. Some of these women also happen to be the mothers of our students! Their humility, perseverance and love touch our students, staff and volunteers each day. This week, we highlight one very special mom!

Raising five daughters quickly teaches a mom or dad how to overcome obstacles and get the job done.  Just ask Maria Velazquez, a 10-year KidWorks volunteer, who puts those parenting skills to excellent use making her community safer.

She’s teamed up with other members of the KidWorks’ Community Parent Council, which consists of parents and community members, who work hard to do good in their Central Santa Ana community.

Two examples show Maria and her team’s positive impact:

Jerome Park is just blocks from our Townsend and Dan Donahue centers.  Several years ago, most of the park lights were either broken or burned out.  Gangs congregated at night, and families like Maria’s didn’t dare go there after dark.  So, she and our Community Parent Council worked with the City Council and Parks and Recreation Department to have new lights installed and maintained.  Now, families feel safer to relax at the park at a later time.

Then there is the dangerous intersection of McFadden Avenue and Raitt Street.  The absence of a left turn light results in collisions between cars and pedestrians.  In fact, a member of our Community Parent Council was hit, but thankfully fully recovered from her injuries.  So Maria and her fellow parent council members worked with city officials to get a left turn light approved.  It took three years but the light is set for installation in September 2016.

Maria has two daughters currently enrolled in our after-school programs, Joselyn, sixth grade, and Crystal, seventh grade (shown in photo).  Maria and her family have lived on Townsend Street for 23 years, and are right across the street from our center there.

When Maria became aware of our programs, she enrolled her then 14-year-old daughter, Andrea (now 28-years-old).

“At the time, the neighborhood was very violent because of the gangs and drugs, and it still suffers in that way,” Maria says.  “Before I enrolled Andrea, I really checked out KidWorks to make sure I felt it was a safe place.”

KidWorks quickly earned Maria’s trust and it wasn’t long before she was volunteering at the Townsend Street Center, cleaning the small apartment where classes were then held.

Since then, Maria has expanded the scope of her volunteer work at KidWorks, serving at both our Townsend and Dan Donahue Centers.

She is instrumental in the pre-planning of both our Myrtle and Townsend Street Resource Fairs, and also helps out on the day of the event by getting the word out into the neighborhood.  She also prepares and sells food at the events, with proceeds going to support KidWorks programs.

“Maria has grown so much from those early days cleaning our center on Townsend,” says Sonia Rios-Guzman, our Parent Engagement Coordinator.  “As part of her efforts to champion for the park lights and safer street intersection, she has spoken before the Santa Ana City Council, Santa Ana Unified School District Board and the Latino Heath Access organization.”

Sonia sums it up this way:  “Maria is a parent for whom giving has no limit!”

By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer

The Women of KidWorks: Monica Contreras

Editor’s note: We are proud to introduce our latest blog series, “The Women of KidWorks.” We celebrate the tireless women who generously serve at our centers each week. Some of these women also happen to be the mothers of our students! Their humility, perseverance and love touch our students, staff and volunteers each day. This week, we highlight one very special mom!

Over a decade ago, Monica Contreras looked out the living room window of her Santa Ana house and asked herself, “I wonder what they are building across the street where the old tortilla and taco shell factory used to be?”

Soon, she learned that all the hammering and painting would lead up to the opening of KidWorks' main hub, the Dan Donahue Center.

When KidWorks held an open house, Monica stopped by to see what services were being offered.

She soon enrolled her then four-year-old son, Miguel, into the KidWorks preschool program.

Since that first introduction to KidWorks, Monica has been one of our most dedicated and steadfast volunteers. She didn't just enroll her children, she became part of the family, and has worked hard to make her community better from the inside out. 

She began her volunteer duties at our preschool, washing dirty dishes, picking up stray toys, helping the teachers put together learning packets and raising her hand to volunteer for anything else that was asked of her.

Eventually, all of her children enrolled in our preschool program and now continue with our after school program.  That includes, Maria, now in ninth grade, Miguel, sixth grade, and Jimena, first grade.

“At the KidWorks preschool, I really enjoy reading to the kids and helping out with field trips,” Monica says.  “Me, my husband and our kids have received so much from KidWorks, that volunteering for me is a way for me to give back at least as much as we’ve received.”

Monica also serves on our Parent Advisory Council, which is a way the KidWorks’ team receives valuable feedback and ideas about how to continuously improve our programs and services.

She’s also become a resource to other parents seeking advice about raising their children and helping to direct them to available community resources.

“I often say to them, ‘Now that your kids are involved with KidWorks, why not get involved yourselves as volunteers?’” Monica says.

You’d think that all this volunteering would tire a person out.  Not Monica.  She’s also been a longtime member of the KidWorks running club, and now has 16 half marathons to her credit.

Sonia Rios-Guzman, our Parent Engagement Coordinator, says Monica has the perfect temperament to work with the kids and provide leadership on the parent council.

“She’s so good at making others feel comfortable,” Sonia says.  “We love her sense of humor.  During Monica’s more than 10 years as a KidWorks volunteer, she has been able to win many hearts.  She’s definitely a top mom!”

By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer