KidWorks is honored to welcome three new members to our Board of Directors. They join a diverse and talented team of leaders who help set our strategic direction, governance and oversight.

We also deeply thank departing board members Ethan Kay, who now serves on our Advisory Council and Jimmy Mai, who served the maximum terms prescribed by our bylaws.

We’d like you to get to know our three new board members:

Willie Du is Manager of Research and Development at Edwards Lifesciences, and also serves on their Administrative Steering Committee for the Edwards Lifesciences Foundation. He’s been with Edwards Lifesciences for 11 years. The company describes themselves as “ the global leader in patient-focused medical innovations for structural heart disease, as well as critical care and surgical monitoring.”

Willie has been a longtime KidWorks volunteer.

“I began volunteering at KidWorks in the after-school program in 2010 when I first joined Edwards,” Willie says. “Being a transplant to the West Coast, I didn’t know anyone in Southern California and I fell back on what I had always done growing up. So, I started volunteering. I spent one evening a week at the Dan Donahue Center helping kids ranging from middle to high school.”

Adds Willie, “One student that made an impression on me was Xitlally.  One evening, I found myself teaching Xitlally calculus, which was the most advanced thing I had tutored anyone. It was the evening before her advanced placement exam, so I felt a lot of pressure to do a good job. Much later, I found out she aced her AP exam with a max score of five. Many years later I learned she returned to be a teacher in Orange County. This interaction is still one of my favorite volunteering memories. The last couple of years, I reconnected with KidWorks as a member of the Edwards Foundation in our community grant reviews and I helped organize some virtual volunteering events via Zoom during the pandemic. I also donate to KidWorks when I’m able.”

(Editor’s note: Xitlally Sanchez is one of KidWorks’ many student success stories. She was enrolled in KidWorks programs for many years, went on to accepted into the prestigious Fulbright Program and is now a middle school science teacher in Orange County.)

Willie is a strong supporter of what he describes as “KidWorks’ admirable and effective model of following a child and supporting them all the way through adulthood.”

He adds, “The service and support provided to the local Santa Ana community is absolutely crucial for the many families the organization serves. What COVID-19 demonstrated is just how many families are one paycheck away from a major crisis. KidWorks can help bridge that gap with many of the vital support available at the centers.”

With respect to joining our Board of Directors, Willie says he’s “excited to give back to KidWorks in a more direct and strategic manner on the board.” He adds, “My corporate background and experience in employee volunteerism/engagement should enable me to deepen the relationship between KidWorks and Edwards Lifesciences. I’d like to identify some opportunities for KidWorks to become more like a social enterprise by engaging in more activities that are financially sustainable and independent of donations, while maintaining the course on mission and impact.” 

Willie clearly enjoys getting the most out of life, including during his leisure time.

“The first thing I did after moving to California was take the motorcycle safety foundation course and obtained my M1 motorcycle license,” he says. “It was a great hobby for me with ideal, year-round riding weather. Once I met my wife, this hobby fell by the wayside along with the sale of my motorcycle. I did pick up a passion for yoga while searching for a physical activity to do together with my wife. We were able to attend some teacher trainings together and it was a really fun way to work out before we had kids.”

Emily Mandrup is Founder of ECM Management, a land development consulting firm. She came into this career in a wonderfully surprising way.

“I am so grateful to have accidentally discovered my passion,” Emily says. “I was originally going to school as an English major and wanted to be a schoolteacher. To pay for the university, I took a temp job as a receptionist at a small family-owned real estate company. As I was given more responsibility and took a fulltime position, I fell in love with commercial real estate and changed my major to business and finance. I transferred to industrial ground up development in 2004 and have loved it ever since.”

Emily first learned about KidWorks 14 years ago when she decided to connect with us after hearing our story.

“I discovered KidWorks at a Building Blocks Foundation fundraiser,” Emily says. “I was so moved by the speaker that I made an appointment to start volunteering.”

Adds Emily, “I was pregnant with my oldest son the first time I visited the Dan Donahue Center. I live less than five miles from the center and it made my heart ache that the children in that neighborhood would not get the opportunities that my son would, so I immediately pledged to get involved. I’m so excited to have the opportunity to volunteer my time on the board and make a larger financial impact as well.”

Emily clearly sees the need for the kinds of services KidWorks provides.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” she says. “In a city where only 56% of adults have a high school diploma, the fact that 100% of KidWorks’ high school seniors graduate on time and enroll in a college or university is a true testament to the tools and support that KidWorks provides its students. I love the character and leadership development programs and can’t wait to see where the programs will lead in the future.”

Emily also sees a future that more and more will need organizations like KidWorks.

“Family and community resources are strained more than ever,” Emily says. “Inequities and challenges have always faced our city but the pandemic made those difficulties exponentially larger. 

In a city where 91% of families live at or below the poverty line, organizations like KidWorks are imperative in helping to break that cycle and give the youth an opportunity to find success.” 

Emily is very proud of Santa Ana, the city she has called home for many years.

“Shortly after college I moved to Santa Ana and have lived in the same house for 18 years,” Emily says. “I am so excited to be able to give back to the city that has given me so much.  As a development manager, it’s my job to organize tasks, establish budgets and schedules and find creative solutions to unique problems that present themselves during the various stages of development and construction. I think those skills can apply to any organization, mission or goal, both big and small.”

Emily’s family has strong roots in Southern California.

 “I was born and raised in South Orange County,” she says. “My dad was a dedicated city employee and my mom stayed home with us. She was always volunteering at school and taught me the importance of leadership and community involvement when she did two terms on the Saddleback Unified School District Board. I was also involved in National Charity League and Boys Scouts of American and took every opportunity I could to give back.”

Pat Merrell is Co-Founder & President of PTS Marketing Group, located in Santa Ana. The company, founded in 2004, describes itself as “a full-service printing and marketing group that supports brands throughout their life-cycles,” including high tech printing, mailing/fulfillment and promotional products.

 “I’ve been involved in the printing and marketing industry most of my adult life; before starting PTS Marketing Group, I worked at Newport Printing Systems in Irvine, California,” Pat says. “I’ve seen firsthand the success of the amazing kids who’ve come through KidWorks.”

 In fact, he’s hired five student alumni from KidWorks and three currently work at his company in different positions.

Pat first was first introduced to KidWorks in 2015 through his good friends Billy Skeffington and Steve Craig.

“They suggested I get involved supporting the annual KidWorks Classic Golf Tournament and that’s when I met Lisa Gels, the organization’s Associate Director of Development and learned about the great things happening at KidWorks,” Pat says.

In his new role on our board, Pat plans to offer support wherever he’s needed.

“I see my strengths in supporting the KidWorks Classic Golf Tournament and other unique events that KidWorks holds to raise the necessary funds to support the after-school and other programs,” Pat says.

(Editor’s note: Current plans are for the KidWorks Classic Golf Tournament to return in 2023, as we anticipate the pandemic will be under more control by that time.) 

Pat strongly believes in the vital role KidWorks plays, especially as everyone deals with the impact of the pandemic, including the hard-hit families we serve in central Santa Ana.

“I think KidWorks is vital for the children in this community at this time as the shutdowns and lockdowns have done a number on both the mental and physical health of the kids,” Pat says.

Pat has been involved in charitable work since his high school days in Corona Del Mar, where he was also born and raised.

“During high school, I was quite involved in our charity club called the Key Club and we would have many outreaches, such as donation drives for an orphanage in Tijuana as well as visits to the Veterans Hospital in Long Beach,” Pat says. “I am also a lifelong Elk member and support many of the causes they focus on.”

Asked to share something not everyone knows about him, Pat says, “I was an avid fisherman along with my dad and would frequent Cabo San Lucas for many fishing trips. I caught my first marlin at eight-years-old. It weighed 181 pounds.” 

“Emily, Pat and Willie bring a wealth of experience to our KidWorks leadership team and we are grateful for their willingness to serve in new and heightened capacities,” says David Benavides, KidWorks’ Executive Director/CEO. “Please join us in welcoming our three new board members and thanking our two departing board members for their service and dedication to KidWorks.”