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Meet David Benavides of KidWorks in Santa Ana

Today we’d like to introduce you to David Benavides.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
In the summer of 1996, I moved into an inner-city neighborhood in Santa Ana, CA to serve as a college intern for a small non-profit called KidWorks. My role was to serve as a youth mentor for 8-weeks that summer. It’s been 23 years, I still live in that community. I now serve as Executive Director of KidWorks. Today our non-profit runs a preschool and four afterschool learning centers in some of the most challenging neighborhoods in Santa Ana.

Has it been a smooth road?
The road has not always been smooth. There have been wins and setback along the way. When working with inner-city youth, we celebrate significant milestones like surviving a week at camp, youth serving as volunteers and leading community projects, graduating high school, getting accepted and going away to college. At the same time, we experience the heartbreak of youth getting recruited into gangs, dealing with family and neighborhood hardships, the sorrow of young lives lost to gang violence.

Then there is the challenge of raising money every year to meet your non-profit’s budget bottom line. As the economy ebbs and flows sometime you need to make tough decisions to cut back on programs and the selfless staff who offer those programs. At the end of the day, the commitment to the mission and to seeing young lives impacted and empowered wins, and we make a decision to keep plowing forward. The successes out way the challenges.

Please tell us about KidWorks.
KidWorks is a community development non-profit. We operate neighborhood-based learning centers in four of the most challenging communities of Santa Ana, CA; neighborhoods impacted by gangs, poverty and less than adequate housing conditions. We are for known for walking with children from preschool through college, helping them to succeed in school and become leaders in their community. 100% of our high school seniors graduate on-time and go to college. Our students attend and graduate from colleges like USC, UCLA, UCI, UC Berkley, Duke University, Georgetown, Scripps College, to name a few. We believe that youth should not limited or defined by the zip code in which they grow up.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
The population in the region is getting younger. Santa Ana is the capital of Orange County, it is the second densest city in California, and fourth densest in the United States. It is one of the youngest cities in the nation and the second largest city in Orange County. Investing in the healthy development of our youth is not only important for today, it is critical for the future vitality of our region. Our youth will soon be our community and business leaders and professionals. KidWorks has been in the business of positive youth development for 26 years, we are having tremendous success and in a lot of ways, we are just getting started. There is both great need and a bright future ahead as we develop young people who are Life Ready, Learners, and Leaders.

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