When Zeke Pena attended elementary school he often did his homework in less than ideal circumstances at home because the family of five didn’t have extra space for his studies. Little did our April 2021 “Volunteer of the Month” know that decades later this challenge would inspire him to build desks for KidWorks students who now often study at home in similarly cramped spaces because of the pandemic.

“The motivation to build school desks came from when I was a child and I’d do my studies in the weirdest places ever because I didn’t have a place at home,” Zeke says. “Now that these kids are at home the majority of the day, I recognize how difficult and uncomfortable it is to be doing homework in less than ideal settings. That’s why I knew it was up to me to do my part; I could relate to their situation.” 

Adds Zeke, “These children now have desks where they can do their schoolwork, something that belongs to them and which will continue to be useful as classrooms open up. At the end of March, more than 20 desks were built and provided to KidWorks’ students.” 

Zeke, 23-years-old, is an Accelerated Management Associate at Orange County-based Goodman Distribution, where he is training to become a salesperson in the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning industry.  

Zeke has been both an in-person and on-line volunteer, as well as being very active in Young Professionals for KidWorks, a volunteer group of almost two dozen individuals in their 20s and 30s who volunteer at our events and after school programs, recruit other volunteers and get the word out about KidWorks via social media and networking.

Zeke has also helped out our Read Across America activities in March, where he shared Dr. Seuss stories with our younger students. He also volunteered at our 2020 youth overnight lock-in for middle and high school students, where they enjoyed games, discussions and snacks .

Zeke was introduced to KidWorks by Jake Miknuk, our October 2020 “Volunteer of the Month,” a sales development professional at Alteryx, an Irvine, California based leader in analytic process automation. Jake is also a co-chair of our Young Professionals for KidWorks group with Melissa Ley, Senior Associate Broker for the Net Lease Property Group at CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment company.

“Zeke has made some amazing contributions to Young Professionals for KidWorks and to the students,” Jake says. “His idea to make custom-built desks really sparked a lot of interest and the kids were so happy to get them.”

Adds Jake, “Zeke is one of the most outgoing people I know. He brings that energy to our meetings and when he volunteers. He is always looking for opportunities to give back to the community. He has inspired the group to become more involved in KidWorks, even during these unprecedented times. He is one of the most genuine and selfless people I know.”

“Zeke is one of the first to raise his hand when we’re looking for volunteers,” says SueLynn Kim, our Partnership & Donor Relations Coordinator. “He thinks innovatively and proactively seeks opportunities to help our students, such as talking about his college experience during our College Chats sessions. Zeke is dynamic and approachable. He’s unafraid to ask tough questions and he truly wants the best for all our students.”

The desk-building project required Zeke to reach out to others for resources and supplies, in addition to his own time and funds.

He thanks his friend, Wesley Allemand, for assisting with the project through his small woodworking business while going to school to become a doctor.

Zeke also expresses gratitude to Mark Nappi from Quality First Woodworks, an Orange County company that specializes in building custom cabinetry. 

“Mark has been able to help us save time by having his machinery cut the wood and is willing to donate material from his own business,” Zeke says.

Our April “Volunteer of the Month” also knows that our students have a sense of humor and enjoy it when others join in on the fun.

“My style is a very comedic,” Zeke says. “I’m willing to make fun of myself or joke around about dumb things to make the students laugh. I keep trying to encourage students by being involved and connecting with as many of them as I can. Since they’re young, they’re unaware of all the amazing friendships they can make at KidWorks. I encourage them to talk amongst each other.”

Zeke also has big dreams for central Santa Ana.

“I remember as a child living across the street from an active gang member and my mom telling me to stay away from that house and area,” Zeke recalls. “Now, imagine living in an area where everywhere you turn there might be an active gang member. Having an opportunity to spend time at KidWorks and make these kids laugh is probably the best thing that I can do to distract them from the situation they are living in. Volunteering at KidWorks is exactly what I imagined—so many great people helping to further these kids’ lives for the better.”

From building desks for students to being a role model for others, the KidWorks’ team is deeply grateful for the countless ways Zeke lives up to his values and selflessly serves others. 

By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer

For virtual corporate volunteer opportunities or more information on Young Professionals for KidWorks, contact SueLynn at:  suelynn.kim@kidworksoc.org