Mark Reyes '95

When Mark Reyes ’95 (Social Work & Human Services) was growing up on the south side of Chicago in the Little Village neighborhood, most of his peers were challenged with significant obstacles – particularly a lack of educational and economic resources.

“Many of my peers came from single-parent homes, were in trouble with the law and joined gangs. I was lucky that I had a strong and supportive family that provided stability and an opportunity for me to be successful in life. I knew when I entered college that I wanted to work with youth who needed guidance and support, who just needed someone to be present because that can make the difference between graduating high school and having the opportunity to attend college – or not graduating and limiting one's possibilities to become successful.”

With so many budget cuts and the elimination of after school programs, there is an evident need today for strong and present role models in the lives of youth across the nation. Mark, who grew up with an ardent Chicago activist, is no stranger to advocating for at-risk youth.

His grandmother, Guadalupe Reyes, founded El Valor in Chicago, an organization whose mission is to “support and challenge urban families to achieve excellence and participate fully in community life. Our programs exist to enrich and empower people with disabilities, the disenfranchised and the underserved.” It was Mrs. Reyes’ passion for activism and helping others that inspired Mark early on in life to follow the same path of service.

“My grandmother had award after award for her work, but she did not do it for the recognition; she did it for her family and to better the lives of those within her community. To me, she was just ‘Grandma’. I did not know what career path I wanted to take when I arrived at Lewis University, but I knew I wanted to help people. The social work classes solidified for me what my passion was.  One of my internships was at Latino Youth, Inc. in the neighborhood I grew up in. I wanted to share with youth from disadvantaged backgrounds the message that everyone comes from different situations, but those situations do not have to define you.”

After graduation, Mark’s internship turned into the beginning of his career. For 10 years, he devoted himself to the youth and families at Latino Youth, Inc., serving in roles for child welfare, social service, and alternative education. During his employment at Latino Youth, Inc., Mark earned his graduate degree in Social Work. He continued his career as a Director at Malcom X College and as school social worker at Golder College Prep and Minooka Community High School.

“At Latino Youth, Inc. my first job was as a day camp counselor. I did an impromptu survey and asked the 45 youth participants how many had been downtown. Keep in mind, Little Village to downtown Chicago is a 15-minute bus ride. Only a handful had ever been downtown. A handful! I used to spend days in the city with my aunts and my cousins. We never bought anything, we never spent money, but we would go and walk and take in the buildings and the culture. I wanted to give the same to these youth. So many never experience life outside their own block. It took some strategy but we organized a trip on the city bus just to show them a little more of the world.”

Five years later, Mark was walking out of work and a teen walked up to him. “He said he used to give me a hard time during his years at camp, but that trip downtown was the best field trip he had ever experienced. It served as another reminder that small things make a big difference. Social work is about connection and the ability to empower others around you. That’s what my grandmother taught me.”

It was during his seventh year at Golder College Prep that Mark realized the next step in his career: passing on his passion for social work to others.  It began with some self-reflection on his over twenty-year career in social work.  He considered his personal and professional accomplishments and obstacles.

“I believe everything happens for a reason. During my last year at Golder College Prep, my commute was over three hours per day.   My children and I had been through a difficult period with my wife’s diagnosis. My wife was diagnosed, fought, and beat brain cancer – and when it returned far too aggressively just four years later, she passed. Twenty years of social work, triplets, and brain cancer can really catch up to a person. I wanted to give my children the best opportunities for a strong future, so I moved with my children Mark Jr., Aiyana, and Xiomara, to a safer community in Plainfield, Illinois. Cancer did not beat my wife; I see her as a survivor because her courage and strength during her battle inspired me to never give up.”

Mark actively searched for employment opportunities in the field of Social Work. Lewis University was one of those opportunities. Mark recently was offered and accepted the position of Assistant Professor of Social Work and will be responsible for the undergraduate and graduate field placement programs.  

“Through my experience as an undergraduate social work student at Lewis University, I know the difference a great supervisor can make when students are beginning their field placements. I am incredibly grateful for the skills that were instilled in me at Lewis, and for their Mission that guided me both during my studies and while in the field. Now, it is my turn to take the lessons I have learned from professors and life experience and share those with the next generation so that they can continue to better the field I am so passionate about.”


August 2017

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