Imagine you’re a 17-year-old high school senior who took 9 AP Classes, maintained a 4.0 GPA and is starting your college career in June at Vanguard University.

Oh, and you’re also holding down a part-time job as a restaurant server. Meet KidWorks star student Jocelyn Velazquez.

But don’t blink. This class of 2022 graduate is on a mission to earn her Bachelor of Arts degree from Vanguard University in just three years instead of the standard four. And then she’ll then enroll in law school, with the goal of becoming a corporate attorney or immigration lawyer.

Jocelyn’s been enrolled in KidWorks since first grade. She’s been part of our after school academic programs, participated in summer and spring break enrichment activities, visited Yosemite during camp outings, joined our youth programs and volunteered in our classrooms (including helping tutor younger students during her middle and high school years).

It was at the Yosemite camp that Jocelyn said that Bible study led her to develop her love of Jesus and that her faith has grown stronger ever since.

“It was there that I really connected deeply with God, even though I believed in Him since I was a child,” Jocelyn says.

Jocelyn had her sights on attending KidWorks early on.

She wanted to follow in the footsteps of her four older sisters who attended our programs: Andrea, 32; Nayeli, 28; Vanessa, 26 and Crystal, 18 (who is now on staff at our Townsend Street Center).

Jocelyn also knew since elementary school that she wanted to attend a college or university after earning her high school diploma.

“I’ll be the first in my class to earn a university degree,” Jocelyn says. “My four sisters started college but economic pressures meant they had to stop in order to take jobs. My parents, Maria and Delfino, did not complete middle school.”

Jocelyn and her fellow students benefit from KidWorks’ College Success Initiative™ (CSI). The initiative prepares first generation college students for higher education beyond high school and includes our College Apps Academy, Campus Crash (visits to colleges and universities), guidance from our staff, care packages for our college students and more.

Jocelyn says that while attending a university was always a priority, KidWorks provided the extra support when it was most needed.

With our staff’s encouragement and support, Jocelyn has received a Vanguard scholarship that will fully cover her tuition.

She was selected for the scholarship because of her excellent academic record, admissions essays, life experiences and community service (in addition to helping at KidWorks, she’s assisted with Thanksgiving and Christmas food drives for hundreds of her Townsend Street neighbors).

Jocelyn especially thanks these KidWorks leaders: Jessica Ellis, Site Director, Dan Donahue Center; Brenda Trujillo Sanchez, our College & Career Manager and Jacky Hernandez, Program Assist/Program Leader at our Dan Donahue Center.

Jocelyn has known Jessica since elementary school and calls her “my second mother.”

Jocelyn was in Jessica’s after school programs class when Jessica was a teacher at our Townsend Street Center.

“No matter what, I could always go to Ms. Jessica for advice, even about the smallest thing,” Jocelyn says. “She celebrated my accomplishments and gave me confidence.”

Jocelyn remembers that in elementary school she’d express her thanks to Jessica by writing her letters, creating drawings and making cards.

Jessica says Jocelyn continues to impress her in so many ways.

“It’s been amazing watching Jocelyn grow into the amazing  young woman she’s become today,” Jessica says. “She’s overcome many obstacles and adversities yet has continued to thrive and fight her way through them all.”

Among those hardships has been growing up on Townsend Street since birth, where over the years she witnessed first-hand the negative impact of gangs, drugs, guns and violence. Her family has lived in that same apartment for over 20 years.

“The neighborhood has calmed down from how it was several years ago, yet it wasn’t long ago that the bodies of two murdered gang members lay in front of our apartment complex,” Jocelyn says. “I was never tempted to follow the path of gangs, even though it was there every day. KidWorks has been a safe haven where children and youth like me could be ourselves.”

Adds Jocelyn, “Once while I was in third grade, my friends and I were riding our bikes in the courtyard of the apartment and shots rang out. We dropped our bikes and ran for cover. That’s just how things were. But we were never afraid while at KidWorks. Instead, we could learn, laugh and have fun.”

Jessica says that despite Joselyn having “some really traumatic experiences” on Townsend Street,  she “has always been a student, that when facing a challenge, will not only meet it head on, but will go above and beyond to make sure what she does is done with excellence.”

Jessica says that Jocelyn’s graduation from Godinez Fundamental High School in Santa Ana is something they  both talked and dreamt about over the years.

“Every Thursday at KidWorks, we’d have the younger students like Jocelyn dress up in caps and gowns so they could imagine what graduating high school and going on to a college or university would be like,” Jessica says. “Now, she’ll don the cap and gown for real as she receives her high school diploma.”

Jocelyn has pushed herself to do her best in high school, just as she has done her entire life. The advanced placement courses she is completing include macroeconomics, psychology, literature, human geography, English language arts, Spanish, government and U.S. history.

Jocelyn says she’s always been attracted to the field of law.

 “I like the idea of stating the facts, presenting an idea and defending a person or company,” she says.

The competitive side to Jocelyn adds with a smile, “It’ll also be fun to see if the arguments I make in court win the day for my client over what the other lawyers might present.”

In her spare time (what little there is of it!), Jocelyn enjoys weightlifting, running and reading (especially the classics).

 Jessica sums it up perfectly: “I’m so proud of Jocelyn and the path that she’s laid out for herself.  I can’t wait to see what the next chapter looks like for her. I know she’ll accomplish great things in life.”

By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer