30 Years Of Impact

KidWorks unleashes youth potential by developing the next generation of life-ready learners who are leaders.

KidWorks was founded in 1993 by Larry Acosta, a youth pastor, and his wife, Jayme, a school teacher. It began as summer Bible clubs and mentoring groups in under-served neighborhoods of Santa Ana. In 1996, our first community center opened in a tiny, one-room apartment on Townsend Street as a safe haven for children and youth.

From the beginning, KidWorks recruited college students to live and serve in the community. Our Executive Director, David Benavides, was one of the first students to volunteer. His time with KidWorks began with an eight-week program that changed his life, and ours, forever.

Since 1993, KidWorks has grown into a vibrant community development non-profit with a presence in several neighborhoods of central Santa Ana. We serve youth and families through a licensed preschool, after-school programs, tutoring, mentoring, college and career readiness, family services, and leadership development.

Major Milestones

  • KidWorks is Founded

    KidWorks is founded as a summer program under the Hispanic Ministry Center (HMC). College interns move into overlooked neighborhoods of central Santa Ana to lead Bible clubs and mentoring groups for local youth.

    In 1995, summer program interns start living in the neighborhoods year-round to build deeper relationships in the community.

  • First KidWorks Center opens on Townsend St.

    Early interns are trained on Townsend Street, Santa Ana. David Benavides serves as one of the first interns at KidWorks and subsequently becomes KidWorks Program Director. At the time, this neighborhood was tougher than what it is today, with heavy gang violence and visible drug wars.

    During the Fall, the KidWorks program opens the Los Puentes Center on Townsend. This apartment becomes the central location for the Homework Club after-school program and adult education programs.

  • Second KidWorks Center opens on Myrtle St.

    KidWorks opens the Myrtle Street Center, near Daisy Street, in a two–bedroom apartment.

    Ava Steaffens, an immigration attorney, is introduced to KidWorks through her church. She becomes involved, and, shortly after, leaves her practice to become Hispanic Ministry Center’s first office manager.

  • Teen Leadership Academy is Launched

    KidWorks launches the Teen Leadership Academy, a summer program that recruits neighborhood teenagers to participate in KidWorks year-round. Teens organize and implement children’s day camps and tutor younger children. Educational field trips and tutoring are used to challenge youth to say “yes” to school and “yes” to a different future.

    The Teahouse Gang, a group of influential commercial real estate executives, become involved with KidWorks.

    Dan Donahue, one of the group’s leaders, suggested they start giving back to the local community. During their first year, they provided holiday food baskets and turkeys to families at KidWorks.

  • KidWorks Development Corporation

    After the Hispanic Ministry Center Board of Directors decides that the KidWorks program has potential to grow beyond its parent organization, Ava Steaffens and David Benavides, lead the incorporation of KidWorks as its own 501 (c)(3) organization called El Puente Community Development Corporation (later renamed KidWorks Community Development Corporation).

    On December 31st, KidWorks loses a dear friend and supporter, Dan Donahue. Dan worked tirelessly to bring hope and resources to the children of KidWorks.

  • Celebration of Dan Donahue

    To honor his memory, friends and family of Dan Donahue raise over one million dollars at a “celebration of life” luau. These funds were donated in their entirety to KidWorks.

    The KidWorks Board uses their donation to purchase a much-needed building to transform into a community center. Dan’s work and memory continues to leave an indelible mark on KidWorks.

  • KidWorks Dan Donahue Center

    After a successful $3 million capital campaign, KidWorks moves into a newly renovated, 10,000 sq. ft. community center on October 27, 2005. The building is named the KidWorks Dan Donahue Center, in memory of its esteemed friend and supporter.

  • KidWorks Preschool Opens

    KidWorks opens its Preschool for children ages four and five. It targets the lowest income families in the service area. Startup funding is provided through the Children and Families Commission of Orange County.

  • First KidWorks Annual Foundation For Success Luncheon

    On November 15, Pat and Paula Donahue launch the First KidWorks Annual Foundation for Success Luncheon, with keynote speaker John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach.

  • New home for the KidWorks Center on Townsend St.

    The KidWorks Center on Townsend opens down the street from the original Townsend apartment, through a generous in-kind donation from Orange Housing and C&C Development. 80 children are served daily from this center.

  • Early intern David Benavides named CEO

    KidWorks board of directors appoints Santa Ana City Council member and former KidWorks intern, David Benavides, to serve as CEO. Ava Steaffens remains involved with KidWorks as a passionate ambassador.

    KidWorks youth are awarded a $2.3 million dollar grant from the State of California to fund the creation of bike lanes in central Santa Ana.

    KidWorks launches its Building Dreams Capital Campaign, chaired by Steve Perry, to expand the Dan Donahue Center and eliminate the 300 student waiting list.

    KidWorks raises $3.5 million dollars thanks to a $1 million dollar lead challenge gift from the Sacred Harvest Foundation. Ground is broken in 2016 to begin construction.

  • Dan Donahue center Grand Re-Opening

    KidWorks celebrates the grand opening of the expanded KidWorks Dan Donahue center. The new building includes additional learning labs, outdoor sports court, urban garden and 21st century technology. The capital campaign was a complete success, raising all the funding required for real estate acquisitions and improvements.

    KidWorks friend and philanthropist, David A. Pyle, provides KidWorks with a million dollar challenge grant to launch its College Success Initiative. This innovative program will allow KidWorks to serve students from Pre-K to B.A.

  • KidWorks College Success Initiative is launched

    The first class of KidWorks High School seniors enrolls in the College Success Initiative as part of College Signing Day.

    No longer limited by space, KidWorks enrolls new students who were previously on a waiting list.

    On May 15th, the inaugural KidWorks Advisory Council meeting was chaired by Steve Craig of Craig Realty Group. The Advisory Council includes prominent business and community leaders throughout Orange County.

  • Keep their Dreams Alive Campaign in response to COVID-19

    In response to COVID-19, KidWorks launches their “Keep their Dreams Alive” campaign to keep KidWorks fully operational during the pandemic. Over 516,000 lbs of food was distributed to KidWorks families, as well as assistance with technology and basic services so that students could attend school and KidWorks online.

  • KidWorks College Success Initiative proves positive results

    First cohort of CCSI students begin graduating from college

  • Celebrating 30 Years!

    KidWorks celebrates thirty years of impact in central Santa Ana with festivities throughout the twelve months.