“He took one of the seedlings of the land and put it in fertile soil. He planted it like a willow by abundant water”

Ezekiel 17.5

When Anthony Cummings first met Santa Ana High School student Karla Gutierrez, he immediately saw what he describes as “a small ember that wanted to blossom into a mighty flame.”

Anthony is an honorary KidWorks staff member and Unite Health Share Ministries’ Director of Youth Leadership & Fireside Ministry. Anthony leads the Ignite Youth Leadership Program at KidWorks.

Ignite Youth Leadership is centered around the game of soccer to develop Biblical characteristics and leadership skills. 

Now a high school senior, Karla has been part of KidWorks since 2022 and Ignite Youth Leadership beginning in 2021.

Like a seed planted in good soil, Anthony says he “saw something inside of Karla that just needed to be brought to the surface.”

Anthony explains:  “Karla had determination, she had grit, she had ‘leader’ written all over her. But for some reason, she wasn’t involved in many other programs at school or outside of school. 

“My first thought, was, ‘Why is this young lady not in student government or a leadership club? How did she get overlooked? Why wasn’t she involved in more?’ Through us, and with us, she has caught fire, and she is by far one of our best leaders (if not the best).”

“Karla is what makes our program great. She has faced every challenge in our program head on. She has taken feedback with dignity, and she has soaked up all we’ve offered and applied it. Like many young people, Karla just needed a place where she could catch fire. And I’m glad God brought her to us.”

Clarisa Vargas, KidWorks’ College & Career Coordinator, has also become a very big part of Karla’s life.

In fact, Clarisa was the primary influence who convinced Karla that a college/university degree was definitely in her future.

Clarisa first met Karla as a high school junior. At the time, Karla didn’t see college in her future, and in fact had no interest in pursuing education beyond high school.

But Clarisa wanted more for Karla and set to work changing her mindset.

“I was able to convince Karla to come to our Wednesday College Apps Academy meetings,” Clarisa recalls. “College Apps is our 25-week program for high school seniors that provides guidance through the college application process, including support with college and financial aid applications, scholarships, admissions essays and tips on how to have a successful transition into college.”

“As fall rolled around, Karla started coming more and I met with her individually to learn the schools she wanted to apply to.”

Clarisa says that Karla applied to eight colleges. She remembers the moment Karla shared some great news:

“Karla came up to me and said she was accepted by Vanguard University and received a scholarship! We started screaming, and I gave her a hug and she started crying because she never thought this could be possible for her.”

While Karla hasn’t yet made her final choice, she says Vanguard University is now the top contender. She begins her university education this fall.

 Clarisa is committed to walking alongside of Karla throughout her university experience.

Says Clarisa, “I continue to meet or talk with Karla every week, including her time participating in College Apps.”

“I will be there to help with Karla’s financial aid application, to go over financial aid packages in the spring, and then help her to make the final college decision by May 1.”

For her part, Karla says both KidWorks and Ignite Youth Leadership have been life changing.

“Mr. Anthony has been supportive throughout my whole time being at Ignite,” Karla says. “He’s set the bar for me so high up that I know I can do more than I think I can and better than what I believe is possible. I thank him for helping me become a leader and for giving me continuous support.”

“The Ignite Youth Leadership program has helped me grow in every aspect, such as leadership skills, self-confidence, faith and creativity.

“Ms. Clarisa has been the most helpful person ever to me because if it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t have even applied to a college or university,” Karla says. “She’s helped me so much with my applications, and she’s opened my mind to so many different schools; I couldn’t be happier.”

“Ms. Clarisa and the KidWorks team continuously show me that they are there for me and that I can always reach out for help and guidance.”

 Karla also has her sights firmly set on a successful future.

 “My long-term goal is to finish college and be financially stable at a decent age,” she says. “I strive to be a successful person and an example to my siblings.”

 Karla is one of hundreds of KidWorks success stories over the 30 years since we first began our mission. We are so proud that this seed God has planted is growing and flourishing to her full potential.

By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer