There’s a good reason our annual Youth Lock-in isn’t called the annual Youth Sleepover. That’s because from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. starting Friday, Jan. 13, no one got a wink of sleep. And that’s all by design.

The 90 students in grades six through 12 who attended wouldn’t have it any other way. They were from all three of our centers, along with the friends they’d invited from the community.

Lock-in is a KidWorks tradition that students hear about and look forward to from their earliest years at KidWorks.

Here’s just a sampling of what the youth experienced at our Dan Donahue Center:

Here’s how two students described their experience:

Fabian A., 12th grade: “The lock-in was special. The games, food and activities were all fun to be part of.”

Yulissa R., sixth grade: “The lock-in was special because we had the spa room. We don’t usually get to go to a spa.”

“The youth lock-in is an important part of KidWorks’ focus on developing youth; it’s one of the few opportunities we have to really bring all the teens together in one place and create that sense of community that can be elusive in the daily hustle and bustle of our programming,” says Cynthia Gomez, our Youth Lead.

And while having fun is a big part of the lock-in, there’s also a serious side.

“One of the components we always include is ‘real talk,’” Cynthia says. “This includes a mental health panel where students can safely ask questions of adults whom they trust.”

Adds Cynthia, “The panel typically includes at least one faith partner—a youth pastor, or a therapist who is also a Christian or a youth leader.”

Cynthia says the 2023 lock-in was especially meaningful since it coincides with the 30th anniversary of KidWorks’ opening our doors.

With that in mind, the students spent time with David Benavides, our CEO/Executive Director, who recounted his many years at KidWorks since his start as an intern.

“David really connected with the youth, since his presence showed that it doesn’t matter where you begin. With perseverance, a vision and support, our dreams are possible,” Cynthia says. “It’s inspiring for the students to see how David and the staff absolutely cherish KidWorks and believe in our vision and mission,” she adds.

Because developing leaders is such a strong focus at KidWorks, Cynthia made sure the youth were a big part of planning all elements of the lock-in.

“We always include our teens in leading the pre-planning as well as the day-of event,” Cynthia says.  

“We also invite them to help set up on the days leading up to the event and clean-up afterward,” she says. “Two students even served as emcees during the 12-hours everyone spent together.”

KidWorks is grateful to everyone who partnered with us this year:

The 2023 “lock-in” truly opened the door to wonderful fellowship, fun and treasured memories for all who participated.

By Glenn Leibowitz, volunteer writer