Estrella has a passion for making a positive impact on Santa Ana and the neighborhoods where KidWorks families live.

As part of our youth leadership team for the past four years, she’s been involved in projects and advocacy in support of bike lanes, parks, community beautification, sidewalks repairs, alleviating hunger and better nutritional options at schools.

A self-described shy student when she first walked through KidWorks’ doors, Estrella has now found confidence in her own voice. The love and support she’s found from KidWorks’ staff and volunteers has motivated her to open her heart to fellow students who now rely on her listening ear when they are troubled or sad—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Estrella is also a member of our newly formed student ambassador group, which will bring KidWorks’ inspiring story to companies, organizations, officials and others who are potential partners, supporters and influencers.

During her years at KidWorks, Estrella has benefitted from after school programs, Campus Crash, youth group, summer and spring events and attending our weeklong camp in Yosemite.  She’s also volunteered helping third graders with homework (science is her specialty).

“I really can’t imagine what my life would be like today without KidWorks and the volunteers,” Estrella says. “During the pandemic, I’ve sometimes been emotional and sad, missing being with people, including friends I first made when we attended preschool together. At KidWorks, I can always share my feelings and know I’m not alone.”

Estrella thanks volunteers Kyle Team (also a member of our board of directors) and Camille Strader, along with KidWorks’ staff members Brizzy Cruz, Associate Site Director, Dan Donahue Center; and Maria Ruvalcaba, Youth Coordinator.

“Estrella is a quiet but mighty force to be reckoned with,” Maria says. “She will share her thoughts when she’s processed what she has learned and assessed the situation and will be brutally honest about her opinions.  Over the years I’ve seen her develop into a young woman who isn’t afraid to say what’s on her mind and steps up in situations, even when they may be challenging or uncomfortable for her.  She sets an example for the rest of her peers.”

“Brizzy and Maria introduced me to journaling, which really helped me write down my thoughts and feelings during the pandemic,” Estrella says.  “I’ve known Kyle since third grade and Camille since fifth grade. Whenever I do good on a test in school, they are always so excited when I share my grade with them. Camille and I also write letters to each other during the pandemic, sharing about what’s going on in our lives.”

“As pen pals, we write to each other, back-and-forth,” Camille says. “It’s been such a blessing to me and has given us an opportunity to know each other better and to share our emotions, struggles and dreams for the future. These letters are precious to me. I have saved each one and read them often.”

Adds Camille, “I was happy when Estrella was chosen to be Mary in the posada; she was the perfect representation—a humble, quiet, servant of God. She is someone who always says yes to helping another person.” 

“Over the years, I have seen Estrella take advantage of the Leader in Me programs offered by KidWorks to develop her public speaking and leadership skills,” Kyle says. “She is a compassionate friend and loving young lady. When Camille and I asked her about her grades, I saw them climb from B’s to A’s, and I saw the pride in her smile when she shared that good news with us.”

Photography is a creative outlet Estrella discovered just before the onset of the pandemic; she’s also using these natural talents in support of KidWorks.

“Estrella has taken beautiful pictures at various KidWorks’ events and functions,” says Beckie White, our Manager, Marketing and Communications.  “Before the pandemic, this included our in-person Thanksgiving events for the community, youth lock-in night that focused on fun and fellowship and Campus Crash, which introduces youth to colleges and universities.”

Beckie says Estrella will also be helping her produce KidWorks videos and assisting with our social media presence.

These experiences align with Estrella’s big dreams for the future. She plans to attend the University of California, Irvine, majoring in photography. She will be the first in her immediate family to pursue a degree after high school graduation. Estrella has set her sights on a career as a special events photographer or as a preschool teacher.

Estrella says that tenacity is an important lesson KidWorks taught her.

“Before the pandemic, KidWorks took us on a roller-skating field trip,” she recalls. “I’d never done that before and was a little frightened. But after awhile, I got the hang of it and started to skate faster and faster, until I fell hard to the ground. I wasn’t hurt but someone did help me get up. I went right back to skating. This taught me a bigger lesson in life: to not be afraid to try something new, to get up when you fall and to be there for others when they need help.”

Estrella says she’s always set high standards and goals for herself and will continue to do so.

“For example, when I could only run a mile in 10 minutes, I kept at it until I could run it in eight minutes and 50 seconds,” she says. “The staff and volunteers at KidWorks have done so much to motivate me to achieve any goal I set for myself. They’ve also helped me grow spiritually through my faith in God. KidWorks is my second home and family.”

When you walk alongside us with students like Estrella, you play a priceless role developing the character, leadership and spiritual attributes that have a lasting impact on Santa Ana and society.  Thank you!

By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer