Midtown Spring 2016 Alumni Newsletter

Spring 2016

Dear Midtown Alumnus,                 

We’ve just completed the second semester, and it’s proved to be a very beneficial experience for both students and staff.  At its height, One on One tutoring served 120+ 4th-6th graders with individual study help and character development. MAP rolled along the usual assortment of solid classes, electives, sports, character discussions, and high school preparation. COP provided an assortment of grade-relevant courses including ACT review for juniors and Dr. Jorge Pena’s guided college application process for seniors plus character development classes, electives, and informal sports.

Both Midtown eighth graders and seniors have done very well in their acceptances to high schools and colleges, respectively.  Eighth graders sent applications to 144 college prep high schools and received 95 acceptances, a 66% rate.  So far, 94% of the eighth graders will be attending one of those college prep schools to which they were accepted. We have really seen the efficacy of the 8th grade class on the high school admissions process and of providing the weekly notes to the parents.  Of the dozen seniors we currently have information on, all have been accepted to colleges including UIUC, UIC, and University of Wisconsin-Madison, 8 are first generation, 4 are the first in their families to go to college, and 9 started Midtown in grade school.  Congratulations to all involved!

As usual, we’re gearing up to make the 2016 Summer Programs the best yet. (Families can apply here) Alumni can help by enrolling their kids, encouraging other parents to enroll theirs, providing contacts at school or other sources of families, or serving as a career speakers (see below).  Of course, we always welcome financial contributions, however small, especially as this financial year ends with shortfalls due to a variety of factors, most outside of our control. We are also very grateful for introductions to other donors, individuals, foundations, or businesses.


COLLEGE TRIP: Mike Walsh and Sam Dever led a dozen high school boys on the annual spring college tour trip during Easter week, heading west this time and visiting colleges like Creighton and Colorado State.  Along the way, the group got in some sight-seeing and hiking. High schoolers have also done several service projects at Midtown, helping to cleanup and spruce up after the long winter.

STAFF WEDDING: On May 14, Mike began an even more wonderful adventure as he wed Jaclyn Marks at St. Mary of the Angels church. All of Midtown sends congratulations and all our best wishes for an ever more loving and joyful journey!

WILKE HONORED: On April 23, the St. Mary of the Angels School, our “landlords”, honored Glenn Wilke, MEF Executive Officer, for his contributions to education at its annual Angels of Hope fundraiser.  In his brief remarks, Glenn reiterated the philosophy of the Foundation where every student is A VIP and the program's focus on Academics, Virtues, Individual attention, and Parent involvement.

SPRING BREAKFAST: On April 11, at the Midtown Advancement Council’s spring Breakfast with Champions, Ms. Andrea “Andy” Cunningham initiated 150 attendees into Getting to A-Ha: Positioning “the Next Big Thing” for Market Success. A marketing guru and former Steve Jobs’ PR manager, Ms. Cunningham trained under MEF’s Bob Kornecki in Public Relations at Burson-Marsteller. Read more details and Ms. Cunningham’s list of Ten Top Life Lessons.

POTBELLY’S DELICIOUS FUND-RAISER: Through June 6, nearly 100 Potbelly Sandwich Shops in the Chicagoland area hosted a Shake Fundraiser for MEF. The shops featured the Cookie Collision Shake – a blend of Potbelly’s signature shortbread cookies, Oreos and vanilla ice cream – and one dollar from each of the shakes sold benefitted MEF programs. To all who enjoyed a shake: thanks for helping Midtown!

ROOFTOP SOIREE: Two great opportunities for giving to Midtown, introducing new people to us, doing your own networking, and having fun all at the same time are coming up.  First, mostly for the younger crowd, is the fourth annual Rooftop Soiree on Friday, May 20, from 7pm to 11pm, at Ignite Glass Studios in Chicago.  Simply put, this is a great party with a lot of engaging, friendly people. 

GOLF OUTING: Second, for mostly the less young crowd who have traded in hoops for irons, the 23rd annual Golf for the Kids Outing will take place on Monday, June 20, from 11am – 7pm at the Schaumburg Golf Club. Whether you put together a foursome from work or join an existing one, you’ll enjoy the links, the dinner, and the chance to meet some well-known professionals, including representatives from the Bears organization. 

THREE-ON-THREE B-BALL: For the young and young at heart: The annual Alumni May Madness Three-on-Three Basketball Tournament will take place on Saturday, May 28, starting at 11AM at the Midtown courts. Please note that only Midtown alumni who are college-age and older may enter a team. 

FAMILY PICNIC: Bring the family to the annual Midtown Alumni Summer Picnic on Saturday, June 11, starting at 2PM.  Reunite with old friends and their families, make new acquaintances of all ages, catch up on doings at the center, and feast on Rafael Padilla’s (‘95) famed pulled pork and Leo Gomez’s (‘81) scrumptious Costco burgers, all grilled to perfection by Mariano Gomez (‘13).

SAVE THE DATE!! The annual Midtown Alumni Re-Connect Party is scheduled for Thursday evening, September 8.  The presentation part of the evening will focus on career building.  We invite older alumni workers who might like to pass on their experience to younger alumni to contact Jerry now at jshepherd@midtown-metro.org.


Alumni who attended Midtown in the 90’s will recall David Pugh.  As a an undergraduate studying economics at UIC, he met fellow student Mike Brisson, who introduced him to Midtown, then located at 718 South Loomis a couple of blocks from the campus.  Starting in the summer of ‘92, Dave served as a volunteer coach and advisor.  After college graduation he spent a year in Spain teaching in Bilbao and had planned to remain there for another year until he got an “urgent” phone message from then Midtown Director Art Thelen.  “We need you to run the MAP program,” said Art.  “I was planning to teach another year here,” said Dave.  “We need you to run the MAP program,” said Art.  (If this conversation sounds familiar, please look back several issues to a very similar conversation that led Albert Pardilla to take over for Dave.)  Finally worn down and out of loyalty to Midtown, Dave returned to direct MAP from June ’95 through August ’97 when he entered DePaul Law School.  Dave graduated from DePaul in 2000 and now runs his own small firm, The Pugh Law Group.  They specialize in immigration, criminal, and some civil cases.

Dave’s memories of Midtown include the recruiting season when he’d go and pitch the program to some 50 area junior highs and once experiencing a day so hot that the whole center splurged on buses to take everyone to the beach.  Lest we forget the sacrifices that women have often made for Midtown, his wife Ann also recalls being pregnant with their first child and Dave’s losing his car keys in the snow playing sports with the Midtown kids and having to take the train in with the spares – not her most pleasant memory.

I learned to be a father, and the virtues that kids need such as self-confidence and self-esteem.
— Dave Pugh, former MAP Director

What impressed Dave especially were the generations of people that Midtown was on the road to affecting positively, fathers already bringing their sons because of what the program had taught them.  It included academics and sports, of course, but, says Dave, what the fathers mentioned “mainly were character and leadership.” Certainly, Dave contributed to that tradition also, as Matt Johnson, Midtown grad, attested during a recent TV documentary on young teachers when he singled Dave out for helping to change his life. 

But Dave insists that the experience also changed his life, as it has so many who have worked at Midtown. “I learned to be a father, and the virtues that kids need such as self-confidence and self-esteem.” Ann, the mother of their five children, agrees, and thinks that Dave’s experience helped her in home-schooling. “I’ve learned from him to be more positive and optimistic.” Thank you, Dave and Ann!


First, thank you to all the alumni who served as career speakers this year.  The list, by date of appearance, includes Saul Vaca, Ariel Valdes, Diego Carlton, Khafre Liggens, Fortunato Herrera, Luis Paz, Saul Urrutia, Leo Gomez Jr., Fernando Rabiela, Rudy Lozano (rescheduled for summer), Marlowe Baca, and Fabian Gauna. Career paths discussed this year included (in no particular order) engineering, law, filmmaking, financial investing, medicine, accounting, project management, technical writing (for Apple!), telecommunications, community organizing, data analysis, IT, and construction.

We can use many more career speakers this summer and alumni are often the best role models.  We’re looking for speakers in any relevant area for 7th through 9th graders and profession-specific speakers for the 10th-12th apprenticeship programs in Architecture, Business, Engineering, Law, and PR/Journalism.  Please contact Jerry (jshepherd@midtown-metro.org) to discuss your talk and set up a day-time presentation. The programs runs between June 27 and August 5.  A couple of donated hours can make a lifetime of difference for a young person!

Thanks also to our alumni teachers and volunteers this semester: Christian Pardo, Tony Villalba, Ulysses Torres, Josh Ramirez, Moses Ramirez, Vince Paz, Luis Paz, David Mondragon, Randy DeVaul, Efrain Arajuo, Angel Roman, Christian Arevalo, Tony Vaca, Andrew Chavez, Ray Calderon, Leo Gomez, Leo Gomez, Jr,  I apologize now to anyone I inadvertently left off.  I have gotten to an age when I can just blame bad memory!

Jim Palos (’79) is now President of the newly-created Hyde Park Institute for the study and practice of moral philosophy. Working with professors at the University of Chicago, the Institute will operate seminars and discussion groups to help prepare the next generation of moral philosophers. It will also work with professionals in medicine, business, law and other fields. Anthony Mata (’86) has added an MPA in 20003 from San Jose State to his BA in Criminal Justice from UIC and now resides in San Jose, California. Brian Parker (’88) has been named to Pi Sigma Alpha, the national political science honor society.  “This is a significant honor reserved for high achieving students. You should be very proud of your academic accomplishments.” Brian will be attending graduate school in the fall at Roosevelt University (Chicago) in organizational development as well as continuing to head the Middle School MAP program. Carlos Salinas (’93) reports that “things are well here… Maya is excited about choosing a high school for next year and Carlos Eliel is doing great at school, which, for some reason, still surprises him (not me though).  As for me, I am the new Quality & Conformance Manager at Skolnik Industries, a steel drum manufacturer in Chicago’s Archer Heights (49th and Kilbourn).”

Jesse Chavez (‘00) is now a Chicago police office working in the Englewood area. Joe Gardunio (’01) has left “my current job and company, Fanatics, of nearly 10 years to join Wayfair. Christian (’02) and Liz Gauna had their first child, Miguel, on Monday, April 11. Mike Marchewski (‘02) continues to work at Benito Juarez Community Academy as a special education teacher. He also is “halfway done with my Master's degree at National Louis University. I am getting my Master's in Special Education and I am sporting a 4.0 GPA!” Angel Diaz (’07), President of Dominion Lighting, reports that his company recently won three industry awards, including a “First” in Best Customer Service. Hector Vaca (’07) now serves as Dean of Students at Benito Juarez Community Academy in Pilsen.

Andrew Chavez (’08) is now a Project Manager at Loyola University Medical Center. He earned his Master of Healthcare Administration, Healthcare Policy and Administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2015. Gabe Avalos (‘09) has been elected to Sigma Tau Delta National Honors Society in English. He was inducted and named president on April 12. Cristian Pardo (‘11) has graduated from Northeastern Illinois as a BA in secondary education with a concentration in history. Anthony Perez (‘11) is a full-time Certified Nursing Assistant (CAN) and has completed two years in the National Guard.

FORMER STAFF: Alan Vaughters, former Midtown tutor and teacher writes of his subsequent adventures:  “I decided to make a bold move and am now in Melbourne, Australia. After going back to Chicago from teaching in China a little over a year ago, I wasn't really able to find a full-time job that was a good fit, so I decided to look abroad again. Australia offers a 1-year working holiday visa for Americans (and several other nationalities) between the ages of 18-30 who fit some basic criteria (degree holders with some savings, good health, no criminal background, etc.), with up to 6 months working for a single employer. I'd talked with a handful of people who did the same thing, and they loved it. Not sure how long I'll be here, but if all goes well I might look into a skilled worker visa (special ed teachers fall under the category of needed skills).” John VanBerkum, who was an advisor in 2012, has been accepted into the novitiate with the Dominicans. He will start this summer.  Geoff Burdell, a 2013 advisor, is enjoying his 2-year stint in Ireland helping out with some local Catholic Churches there through Notre Dame. 

TESTIMONIALS: Comments from anonymous, year-end surveys from the 7th and 8th graders of MAP.

I feel like Midtown is perfect as it is, it doesn’t need to change. I enjoy Midtown, it has been the best experience I’ve had. I want others to come.
[Character class] helps me with daily life questions. The class helps understand right and bad. It also helps me to become a better man.
[My advisor] helped me set goals for me and to be a better person and gave me very important advice.
I always have fun here.
Yes, it is a positive environment here at Midtown Center because here your child will feel welcome and safe.
I can’t say verbally/written why my time has been beneficial with my advisor, I just feel it.
Every time I come to Midtown I learn something new.
[The] History class fascinates me, and the way he (the teacher) made the class feel made us feel involved.
I liked character development because it helps us change out bad habits into good habits.
My grades went from ‘C’ to ‘A’ in class.
In school I have needed help, eventually most teachers don’t have time. Here at Midtown the teachers do help me. Ever since, I have done better in school.
I wish the class could be longer so that I could learn more.
The [character] teacher introduced me to new methods to get along with my friends and with my family at home.
The character education classes help me be way more respectful and caring for family.
[The Character class] helped me at school. Home, and with sports in ways to benefit me including not giving up, reputation, passion, and hard work.
My advisor always listened to me and asked me how things are at home.
No one at Midtown is mean or a bully and everyone feels like a good friend or family.
You don’t have to worry about no violence [at Midtown]. And I feel like I’m coming into my house with a family that I just met.

Best to you all,

Jerry Shepherd, Midtown Director on behalf of the Midtown staff: Brian Parker, Carlos Martinez, Oscar Calderon, Mike Walsh, and Gabe Avalos.