For many years, Gilda I. Gallardo kept a three-by-five index card with her. Over time, it became bent, crinkled, worn and torn.

“The condition of that card was a metaphor for how I felt about myself,” says Gilda, now 26-years-old, and a graduate of KidWorks’ programs. “But the single word written on that card let me know I would persevere. It read: IM*POSSIBLE.”

Gilda’s journey begins in Mexico and is shaped by the challenges of growing up undocumented, yet she consistently finds a way to turn what might appear to be an impossible obstacle into the possible.

Now living in a small port town near Valencia, Spain, Gilda first began her KidWorks journey in 1999 when her older brother, Cresenciano, now 27-years-old, began attending our programs at the original Townsend Street Center (a one-room apartment converted into a schoolroom).

“I was too young to enroll in KidWorks, but the staff just couldn’t bring themselves to chase me away when I refused to leave,” Gilda recalls with a laugh.

She’s stayed involved in our programs all the way up to her enrollment at Georgetown University, graduating in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in German Literature and Culture.

But it was never a sure thing that she would continue her education beyond high school.  KidWorks changed all that.

Gilda says,  “I remember that Sara Culver, a KidWorks staff member at the time, handed me a brochure from Yale University. She looked me right in the eye and said, ‘You need to start by planning to go to college.’ She told me I could go to a university. I held onto that pamphlet and that simple act of encouragement by KidWorks reoriented me to towards a possibility I had not before even imagined.”

She said the path to higher education was also inspired by our Campus Crash program, where high school students enrolled in our programs get a firsthand taste of college and university life, with the goal that they pursue higher education.  

Even so, attending Georgetown was far from a given.  At the time, her father vehemently objected. Yet, he eventually came around. At one point, Gilda gave him a metal car license plate frame reading “Georgetown University Parent,” which he put on his vehicle. That led to his bosses at work inviting Gilda to speak to their children about Georgetown. 

Gilda completed her Georgetown courses during a study abroad semester in Germany and began her current entrepreneurial work in the areas of music, film, editing and production.

A German company she co-founded called KreativeKids was inspired by the name KidWorks and is now absorbed into another European enterprise.

Gilda also credits KidWorks volunteers from a wide range of economic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds for what she calls her own “becoming.”

“KidWorks was a combination of wonderful, consistent volunteers who gathered in a safe and welcoming place. The contrast of people freed my mind to dare to be different,” she says. 

Some of Gilda’s fondest memories of her elementary, middle school and high school years at KidWorks include our summer camp, where she hunted for blackberries and played in the lakes, “I noticed that every KidWorks student was wearing a life vest because none of us knew how to swim,” Gilda says. “That motivated me to sign up for the girl’s water polo team in high school. Through KidWorks I met Genai Kerr, United States Men’s Water Polo Olympic Team goalie (2004 Athens Olympics), and received a scholarship to train at his water polo clinic at UCLA.

“Another time Genai came to town to introduce the Summer Kids Club to water polo. He demonstrated to me the bigger lesson of gathering strength and power in the struggle and discipline. I learned about nutrition for athletic performance from my tutor, Monica Mendoza and was encouraged by her presence at my tournaments and games. “

“About the same time I also got to sing and dance in the KidWorks Children’s Choir for Roger Waters’ “The Wall” tour. Former KidWorks staff member, Donia Quon is a mastermind! Those were the best two nights of my life, dancing like a wild child next to my guitar hero for a packed Honda Center.”

In Spain, Gilda continues to pursue her interests in music and film.

And while she may be thousands of miles away from Santa Ana where she was raised, Gilda has stayed in touch with many she forged friendships with at KidWorks.

One of those contemporaries is Erika Sanchez, our College & Career Manager. Says Erika, “Gilda and I grew up together. We were neighbors and would do everything together. My favorite memories were going to KidWorks together for tutoring, dance classes and art classes. It was such a fun time together.”

Gilda continues to keep in touch with KidWorks by participating in virtual alumni activities from Spain. She most recently participated in a Loteria night where she enjoyed reminiscing with fellow alumni.

Erika and Gilda are two KidWorks student alumni who make “possible” come to life–whether they are in Orange County or an ocean and a continent away.

By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer

(Editor’s note:  This is the first in an occasional series called “Where Are They Now?”, which tells the stories of students who have graduated from KidWorks’ programs and what their lives have been like in subsequent years.)