KidWorks closely collaborates with the business community to develop students who are prepared to enter the workforce and embark on meaningful careers.

A perfect example is Jesse Torres, a KidWorks student since second grade who is graduating this June from Segerstrom High School in Santa Ana with the goal of becoming a computer programmer.

Jesse plans to major in computer science when he starts at a college or university this August. He’s deciding between offers of acceptance he’s received from four universities and colleges.

College was not always in Jesse’s plans.

He credits KidWorks with giving him the confidence—and the motivation—to attend a college or university after high school.

“In my elementary and middle school years, I thought college was out of reach because it would be too expensive and also that I didn’t have what it takes,” Jesse says.

All that changed when KidWorks encouraged him to attend events such as our Campus Crash, where students in sixth through 12th grade get a firsthand taste of college and university life through in-person visits to a range of campuses.

Jesse participated in Campus Crash twice while in middle school, visiting campuses that included UCLA, USC, the University of California, Irvine and others.

Campus Crash is part KidWorks’ College & Career Success Initiative™ (C&CSI). The initiative prepares first generation college students for higher education beyond high school and includes our College Apps Academy, Campus Crash, engagement with our college counselor, care packages for our college students and more.

“KidWorks opened my eyes that if I tried hard enough, I’d have what it takes to be accepted at a college or university,” Jesse says.

“Math was one subject that was not my strong suit during my elementary school years,” Jesse recalls. 

Teachers and volunteer tutors in KidWorks’ after school programs helped him gain confidence and proficiency in math, so much so that he’s been enrolled in honors math classes in the areas of algebra and pre-calculus since his sophomore year in high school.

“Math is an essential skill in computer programming and the tutoring help in this subject during KidWorks’ after school programs really set me on a path for success in a career I wasn’t even considering back then,” Jesse says.

Jesse has participated in KidWorks wherever possible, including:

Jesse may be one of the busiest youths you’ll ever meet.

“Jesse has a crazy academic, athletic and social calendar and also attends KidWorks programs weekly,” says Clarisa Vargas, our College & Career Readiness Coordinator.

She adds, “Jesse maintains the most positive attitude despite being extremely busy and at times exhausted. He’s always fully engaged.”

“Many of my KidWorks’ experiences—such as playing the flute in front of a crowd during a concert and presenting to elected officials—helped me gain confidence in public speaking and being a leader,” Jesse says.

In fact, from second through fifth grade, Jesse says he aspired to become president of the United States.

His main policy goal, he recalls, was “free candy for kids who can’t afford it.”

“I’ve seen Jesse grow into a very caring and confident young man; he is a natural-born leader,” says Maria Ruvalcaba, our Youth Leadership Development Coordinator.

She adds, “His faith and self-confidence have grown over the years. He’s always looking out for others and is not afraid to speak and voice his concerns. He embodies a humble leadership style that is very admirable for someone his age.”

Maria, Clarisa and other KidWorks staff members have worked alongside Jesse to help him complete college/university admissions applications, apply for scholarships and more.

Once he starts his higher education in August, Jesse says he plans to do much more than only attend classes.

“I want to be as much a part of that experience as possible,” he says.

A big influence on Jesse is Lance Lew, 26, an incoming medical student and future doctor, who is part of KidWorks’ mentor program. That program matches those with career and life experiences with our 12th grade students to help them navigate the challenges and decisions they face.

Jesse was so excited to meet Lance for their first introduction last year that he attempted to run the three miles from Segerstrom High School to KidWorks rather than be late (the KidWorks van came to the rescue and that’s where the two first shook hands).

Like other KidWorks’ mentors, Lance meets with Jesse at least once a month.  But they connect whenever Jesse needs advice.

“The world needs more people like Jesse, who are positive, passionate and kind to the core,” Lance says. “When I sit down with Jesse, I’m immediately in a brighter mood. His strong sense of self and ability to enliven others is inspiring.”

“Lance is amazing,” Jesse says. “He gets me. He’s a key person in my life. If I need help, he’s there for me.”

As KidWorks celebrates our 30th anniversary, Jesse says he hopes to see KidWorks “become even bigger and touch more lives.”

Jesse’s entire family has been very involved with KidWorks over the years, including his parents, Jesus and Karina.

His five siblings have also called KidWorks home: Evelyn, 21, now attending Vanguard University; Ashley, 16, a high school student still enrolled in KidWorks and also a volunteer; Andrew, 14, a middle school and KidWorks student; Alex, 12, a middle school and KidWorks student and Stephany, nine, an elementary school and KidWorks student.

Jesse remains active at Segerstrom High School as he prepares to graduate. He’s part of their color guard and is a midfielder on the varsity lacrosse team.

His hobbies include video games, reading and a big emphasis on personal physical fitness.

We see a wonderful future ahead for Jesse and look forward to sharing his successes and achievements in the years and months ahead. We are also deeply grateful for the entire Torres family. They inspire us in our mission to serve even more students and families in Santa Ana.

By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer