Kids Unlimited alumni play a vital role in our organization — and community.

Navigating and overcoming numerous challenges as participants in KU afterschool programs, these men and women went on to become leaders in local business, finance, education, nursing, criminal justice, emergency services and other sectors. They continue to inspire us as we celebrate 25 years of KU’s extended “family.”

Watch and listen as they tell their stories for our 25th anniversary celebration. Then read more in our commemorative Kids Unlimited 25th Anniversary Story, available for digital download. Follow KU on Facebook and Instagram for our biweekly alumni spotlight and other organization highlights.

Below are excerpts from the personal journeys of Rose Alvarez, kindergarten teacher for Kids Unlimited Academy; Franco Caballero, small business owner; Gonzalo Duran, accountant for Grange Co-op; and Lupita Vargas, KUA director of educational services.

Rose Alvarez, right, is a teacher at Kids Unlimited Academy.

Rose Alvarez:

She was involved with KU afterschool programs throughout elementary school, volunteered for KU lunch and recess duty and later worked for the program at Medford’s Howard Elementary.

But Rose Alvarez said she never wanted to be a teacher. She’s now in her third year at KUA’s Medford campus.

“I knew I wanted to work at Kids Unlimited because that was literally my home,” said Alvarez. “Our culture was there … Our traditions were still there.”

Among the few Latinas at Medford’s Sacred Heart and St. Mary’s schools, Alvarez said her parents made significant sacrifices for her education, and she never would be where she is today without it.

“My parents worked hard for that.”

But KU broadened her horizons further with activities and sports after school. Ultimately, she decided she wanted to give back to the organization that gave her so much.

“No matter what would happen, Kids Unlimited would always have our back.”

Franco Caballero:

“Instead of just leaving kids to their own devices for those three hours between the end of school and when parents get home, instead of kids going home and watching cartoons or just loitering with their friends and looking for trouble, KU provides a structured, focused and positive influence in kids’ lives that they may not otherwise receive.

“KU’s unique service to my group of classmates was showing us and giving us experiences that we otherwise would never have had. Simple things like going to a Trail Blazers game, buying us cleats or basketball shoes, meeting with successful community members that would come out and spend a day with us. Even the president came to visit once. It stretched our minds and made our world a little bigger in a positive way. I don’t believe there is a better program in the state to support our community youth.

“I’ve been involved in every aspect of KU, starting as a student enrolled, to junior counselor (teenage helper), to counselor, to now being a parent with kids in the program.”

Gonzalo Duran:

KU alum Gonzalo Duran has a son attending KU Academy.

His own path, recalls this father of a preschool-age son, had veered into troubled territory before he found Kids Unlimited. When Gonzalo Duran was in eighth grade attending Medford public schools, the community was concerned about the rise of gang activity. His mom attended a parent meeting, heard about KU and encouraged her son to go after school.

“It’s been a long journey for me and Kids Unlimited,” said Duran, who came from Mexico to the United States as an infant with his parents.

Now a member of the KUA board for White City’s satellite campus, Duran gained a sense of belonging at KU, where he could pursue a love of basketball, eventually leading to two years on the Lane Community College team.

Duran recalls helping to build the gym at KU with many of his teammates. But the youth organization, Duran said, had the greatest impact for its mentorships and illustrating “where I wanted to be in life.”

“It gave me the opportunity to see what success on many different levels looks like.”

Lupita Vargas:

Lupita Vargas played for South Medford’s Lady Panthers before becoming KUA Director of Educational Services.

“Growing up as a Kids Unlimited kid, I felt empowered to break barriers and to change the narrative of what a first-generation Latina student can accomplish if given the opportunity. Being part of KU has allowed me to accomplish things I never even dreamed about.

“I was part of KU’s first afterschool program. I started kindergarten without speaking a single word of English. I still remember my first day walking into the cafeteria and hearing Edgar, a KU staff member, greet me in Spanish and another staff member, Tanny, greet students with a big, welcoming smile.

“During homework time, I greatly appreciated the one-on-one and small-group support I received because there was no way I could have done my homework on my own. I know this support played a key part in my English acquisition. The staff went out of their way to make students feel seen, heard and valued.

“My parents — seeing the positive impact the afterschool program was having on me and my siblings — signed us up for the summer camps, too. I have many fond memories of the summer camps, including playing wall ball against staff and the ever-popular staff-versus-campers dodgeball games.

“I feel blessed to be back in the valley and working in a place that feels like my second home and second family.”