When KidWorks first integrated the “Leader in Me” program into our preschool through 12th grade programs in late 2019, Omar Salazar instantly knew he wanted to cultivate his skills as a leader.  

As a freshman in high school, Omar embraced what would become the program’s life-transforming lessons. Today, he’s regarded as a leader among his peers and by the younger students he tutors as part of our after school programs.

KidWorks was the first after school program in the nation to be selected by the “Leader in Me” creator, the highly regarded Franklin Covey organization, which is well-known for helping corporations and other organizations develop leaders.

Omar is now a sophomore at Mater Dei, and his path towards academic excellence and leadership development first began when his parents enrolled him in KidWorks’ programs as a preschooler.

“KidWorks has been such a big part of my life since then,” he says. “The leadership lessons I’ve learned at KidWorks have helped me become a better listener, more respectful, proactive, responsible and open to the ideas of others.”

Omar says that for him leadership is not only how he presents himself to others, but also the high expectations he sets for himself.

“I always want bring my ‘A-game,’” Omar says.  “A specific way I’ve learned to do this is to avoid procrastination.  Now, homework comes first. Not video games.”

Omar says he’s also learned what true leadership means by observing and modeling the staff and volunteers at KidWorks.  He credits teachers like Maria Ruvalcaba, Youth & Community Engagement Coordinator—Active Transportation and Erika Sanchez, College and Career Manager for helping him develop leadership skills. 

“Applying at a school as prestigious as Mater Dei requires significant paperwork, and both these women helped me and my family whenever we were unsure about next steps,” Omar says. “They constantly keep in touch with me and my family to see how we’re doing. I can bring any concern or question to them. They show me what a leader does and how he or she acts.”

Omar applies what he’s learned about leadership when tutoring our students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade.

“Younger kids have a short attention span, so I’ve learned to develop patience,” Omar says.  “When they hear that I was also once a KidWorks student at their grade level, that really helps create a bond.”

That lesson of patience was important when he was helping out in a second grade classroom before the pandemic made in-person learning impossible.  

“A girl was really struggling with pronunciation and definitions as part of her reading homework,” Omar recalls.  “I sat down in the chair next to her. Slowly but surely, we worked through each part of the lesson. Over the following weeks, she improved and was able to read much better and with increased confidence.”

Omar’s development as a leader has also grew when KidWorks provided experiences that were initially outside of his comfort zone.

“Last year, me and several other of my KidWorks peers were invited to tell the KidWorks’ story in front of managers from around the country at Taco Bell’s Orange County headquarters,” Omar says.  “I’m naturally a shy person, so this experience helped me gain confidence in my public speaking skills.”

Omar’s memories of KidWorks go all the way back to his time attending our state-licensed preschool.

“I remember field trips to a local pumpkin patch in the fall and to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach,” he says. “Our family could never have afforded the aquarium trip, and it was made even more exciting since it was my first time ever on a bus.”

Over the years, Omar has been part of our spring and summer break programs, youth lock-in get-togethers, Love in Music program and KidWorks University workshops. He also makes sure to reach out to the KidWorks’ team when he needs a little assistance with his high school assignments.

Omar plans to continue volunteering at KidWorks as he pursues his higher education and when he enters the work world.  

His dream is to attend Stanford University in Northern California and pursue a career in teaching or as a doctor specializing in sports medicine.

KidWorks is immensely proud of students like Omar who make it their mission to be a leader–and likewise inspire others to do the same.

By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer