On a recent Saturday morning in late June, Karina Torres and her family gathered to continue a family tradition:  Giving back to their Santa Ana community and helping at KidWorks.

Our July “Volunteer of the Month” knew that our in-person summer programs were about to commence and that KidWorks was also carefully planning for on-site after school programs to begin in September when the Santa Ana Unified School District resumes classes. 

Between themselves, the Torres family spent hours weeding, trimming mowing and sweeping the front of our Dan Donahue Center.

Karina was joined by her husband, Jesus, and children, Evelyn, 18; Jesse, 15; Ashley, 14; Andrew, 12; Alex, 10 and Stephanie, seven. All the children are enrolled in KidWorks’ programs.

Instilling a passion for volunteering in her children is a top priority for Karina. And it’s worked.  All of them have helped out at KidWorks in one way or another.

“I really believe that when a child—or really anyone—sees someone pick up a piece of trash in their neighborhood or give back in some way, that it can inspire them to do the same,” Karina says. “A lot of what I do at KidWorks could be viewed as little acts, but little efforts add up to big results.” 

Karina became an “instant volunteer” immediately after Evelyn began attending KidWorks programs as a second grader over 11 years ago. 

Since then, Karina says it’s been her heart’s desire to be what she calls “an A-to-Z volunteer.”  That’s included preparing classrooms for our teachers, being a mentor and leader as part of our Parent Advisory Council, assisting our staff with office work, translating documents for non-English speaking parents, helping with set up and clean up at many of our community events, assisting with our Thanksgiving and Christmas outreaches to families in need, advocating for KidWorks with government leaders in Santa Ana and Sacramento and assisting with our Love in Music program.

 “Karina is so deserving of ‘Volunteer of the Month’ recognition because even though she maintains a busy life with her six children, her husband, her work and household duties, she manages to find ways to volunteer and give of her time  to KidWorks,” says Sonia Rios-Guzman, our Parent Engagement Coordinator.

Adds Sonia, “Karina demonstrates leadership every time she steps up as a member of the Parent Advisory Council, such as facilitating meetings and asking for input, feedback or suggestions from the other parents. Once, she joined staff from KidWorks in Sacramento, where we advocated for funding and laws that would benefit our children and youth. As a program committee representative, Karina has grown as a leader, providing program staff with ideas and ways to better our programming.”

“Tenacious” is a word that would perfectly describe Karina’s approach as a volunteer. The KidWorks team never needs to ask her to lend a hand—she’s typically the first to see a need and proactively jump in with all her heart.

“If it’s important and in your heart to do it, there’s always a way to make it happen, and there is no reason to come up with excuses,” Karina says. “I love the priceless feeling I get from volunteering.”

Karina’s many years as a KidWorks volunteer give her a unique perspective to offer ideas and input that have helped us to continuously make our programs better:

During the COVID-19 pandemic, she suggested that KidWorks start a Homework Hotline for students learning to navigate the new normal of online learning; we launched the hotline and will continue it even when in-person learning returns.

She also advocated for the creation on a video that could visually show parents the step-by-step process to complete registration for our after school programs. That made filling out the various forms smoother for parents.

On the Parent Advisory Council, Karina has grown into a trusted and valued leader among both staff and parents. Her personal goal this fall is to increase the number of parents  joining and actively participating in the council.

“All parents with students enrolled in KidWorks are required to attend general parent meetings, and I see this as an opportunity to recruit new council members, especially due to the normal attrition when students graduate from high school and parents leave the council,” Karina says. 

Karina is a strong advocate for KidWorks programs among educators and within her community.

“I talk to school principals and tell them about KidWorks’ after school programs,” Karina says.  “I refer parents to KidWorks when I see them searching for a great after school program for their children.”

Karina sees KidWorks as having a positive impact that goes beyond being a proven after school program.

“KidWorks is not like any after school program,” Karina says.  “It’s not just about academics, but also about developing spiritual grounding and good morals in students. That’s why KidWorks is always on my mind when I see a parent with a need for their children.”

We thank Karina for not only bring her own family into ours in such a meaningful way, but also for the countless other families she’s done the same for in the community she cares so deeply about.

By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer