Kid City is 6 years old!

One day, almost six years ago, Jessie Moore and Ben Ede - the original Kid City staff, introduced me to 12 beautiful children who welcomed me warmly as they read their “highs and lows” from daily journals, and shared a snack. The program, guided by Reverend Sandie Richards, facilitated by Jessie and Ben, and inaugurated by the Essilfie, Tilmon, and Gutierrez families, had a family-like atmosphere where children were free to be themselves, relax, create, and explore while they did homework, played, and learned music together.

That small band of close-knit people has grown, and the program grew up too. What does Kid City look like today, as we celebrate its 6th birthday?

  • Kwesi Essilfie, the eldest original Kid City member, will graduate from Cal State Northridge in 2015;
  • Over 100 students are proud to be the first in their families to be enrolled in colleges that include Yale, UCLA, Berkeley, and many other local and out-of-state schools;
  • Another 40-50 high school seniors submitted college applications for fall, 2015;
  • Many more middle and high school students come to Kid City’s summer programs and school-year tutoring;
  • Ten elementary and middle school students (mostly siblings of older participants) attended a summer “baby college” program, where they got a head start in learning about college;
  • The music program has taught dozens of students to play instruments, and the Kid City band performs regularly at churches, retirement homes, and children’s programs.
  • Leadership activities at Kid City include a college ambassador program, annual fundraisers, a student advisory council, and summer courses facilitated by Kid City college students.

Kid City’s focus on college and job readiness, healthy living, and civic participation is responsive to the evolving needs of our community.  It is supported by the Urban Foundation’s dedicated board of directors, the congregation of First Los Angeles United Methodist Church, Kid City’s advisory council, and hundreds of supporters who provide funding and volunteer their time and expertise. All of you are part of our Urban Foundation community.

Although our work is fueled by our board, endowment, and donors, it really is the group of us, each in our own way, that keep the engine running. We now have spinoffs — the greatest compliment — Irvine University United Methodist Church has started its own college persistence program, college kids organized themselves to ice-skate together this week, and students from the music program have started a music club at their school, where they teach others guitar, bass, and percussion. 

Today I want to introduce our current Kid City staff, who really do accomplish miracles with limited time and resources, but endless dedication and creativity. They make it possible for the rest of us to be inspired, informed, and bolstered by the magic that happens every day at Kid City.

For three years, William McKeithen, math maestro, has helped dozens of aspiring college students pass the gateway courses of trig, statistics, calculus, and physics. William has developed a following, in a sense, a band of converted math-lovers who continue to consult with him even in college. 

Dave Catalan began teaching music and directing the band three years ago. His background in music education, his expertise as a performer, composer and arranger, together with his ability to connect to kids of all ages, has stepped up Kid City’s music program in a big way. The band is great! Please call us to book a gig! 

Nearly two years ago, Kid City scored big-time when we hired Alma Catalan as a program assistant. Currently a graduate student at Claremont Graduate School, Alma coordinates music and arts programs, created and oversees a new persistence program for over 30 community college students, coordinates publicity, special events, and is generally invaluable. Alma also works in the Urban Foundation office two days a week, as our communications and special events coordinator.

Laura Cuellar came to Kid City in its early days, when she volunteered to teach workshops in race and culture, as well as tango classes. Soon she developed a job training and other activities. When students voiced a need for college admissions support, she spearheaded outreach to high schools, and in her first year as college programs coordinator, helped 35 students enroll in college. As Kid City’s site director, Laura is now developing a network of on and off-campus resources for college students, a new college-ambassador program, and other programs to ensure college success.

We are so blessed to have this team of incredible and hard-working people working together at Kid City, but they are not alone. Volunteers put in over 400 hours of time just in the last few months. Our advisory council, church and community members, and parents and families all contribute essential pieces that keep the program thriving, from serving up a mean pot of pozole to hungry students, to coming out for recitals.

Thank you for being a part of this wonderful undertaking. Kid City and the other work of the Urban Foundation sometimes seems insanely optimistic in this world as it stands, but I am grateful every day for the opportunity to continue to be hopeful.

So, cheers! May you all have a very warm and merry Christmas, and a very happy New Year. Thank you for being a part of our Kid City family.