Title: Leadership Engagement Coordinator
Center: Dan Donahue Center
Focus: Leadership development for all grades, with an emphasis on our youth
Hobbies: Travel, both locally and globally
Favorite after-school snack: Watermelon with Tajin seasoning
Years at KidWorks: 6 years

(Editor’s note: This is the second installment in our monthly feature called “Meet the Teacher,” where readers have a chance to know each of our dedicated educators a little better.)

If you happen to see a group of hardworking youth doing community service in Santa Ana, you may be witnessing an outreach project led by Maria Ruvalcaba, our Leadership Engagement Coordinator.

Maria has served in several roles, including classroom teacher, youth leadership development coordinator, and providing overall support for youth enrolled in our programs.  She also manages KidWorks Youth Leadership Team (YLT).

“KidWorks YLT empowers youth to develop leadership skills such as public speaking, networking, and service,” Maria says. “As a result, youth grow in their self-confidence as they learn about themselves and the community they serve. They begin to self-identify as changemakers.”

The leadership skills Maria teaches are not limited to the classroom. She ensures youth are serving in the community on a monthly basis, putting their leadership skills to practical, hands-on use. Projects at local shelters, city clean-up events, and volunteering at KidWorks special events are some examples of where KidWorks youth leaders have served. 

Earlier this month, YLT co-hosted a school board candidates forum at KidWorks where youth posed questions to candidates about their education and school conditions. Upcoming projects include volunteering at our annual Trunk or Treat festival, hosting a tenant rights workshop for families, and their annual gift distribution for children at Christmas. 

“YLT takes the initiative by suggesting ideas and then they take responsibility for the planning,” Maria says. “I help educate them about the root cause of each issue they want to address.”

She adds, “The students become aware of bigger systemic issues that affect their community and understand that a service project is just one small step but it’s not the only answer to tackling such issues.”

While Maria has an especially busy schedule, she also takes the time to proactively ask youth for their opinions and ideas.

“One of the biggest challenges facing youth is not having their voices valued or taken seriously,” Maria says. “It’s crucial to listen and elevate their voices since they have important perspectives that can help improve our community and future generations.”

Maria says the key is “taking it one step further by actually acting on their input, making sure not to minimize their voices with no action.”

Working with our youth inspires Maria.

“I witness them grow and develop throughout the years, knowing that they can reach their highest potential with the adequate support,” Maria says. “That’s what makes me passionate about working with Santa Ana youth. 

“My hope is that they will represent their city with pride and return to our city to uplift our community.”

Maria earned her undergraduate degrees from the University of San Diego where she double majored in Political Science and Ethnic Studies and minored in Latin American Studies. 

She is currently pursuing her Master’s in Education degree in the Social and Cultural Analysis of Education program at California State University, Long Beach.

Having been born and raised in Santa Ana, Maria is a perfect role model and inspiration for students who see that they can be proven, caring leaders, just as she is.

We thank Maria for making such a positive impact on our students, one that will guide them their entire lives.

By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer

Would you like to personally say “thanks” to Maria for the way she is developing leaders, please email her at maria.ruvalcaba@kidworksoc.org