Coworker Corner: Mario Tamayo

Coworker Corner: Mario Tamayo

There’s really no quick way to sum up Mario Tamayo’s many responsibilities at Mercy Home. As the manager of youth programs operations, his daily to-do list spans pages. But even so, Mario is quick to insist that it’s because of his many years in youth programs operations—14 as of March 13—that he is able to accomplish so much.

“Here’s the thing,” he explains, “[when] someone asks me how can you juggle so much, [I say] I feel like initially it would have been impossible, but after 14 years, some things become second nature so they don’t take as much time.”

So what are the things Mario is responsible for? He coordinates trips like those our kids take to Ireland, Yellowstone, and the Justice Journey; he is in charge of the Mercy Home fleet of vehicles, which includes making they are cleaned and maintained and working with insurance when accidents occur; he acts as a Red Cross and CPR instructor; he supervises the cage area, where all non-monetary donations are taken and then distributed; he’s part of the emergency response team; he took on a project to equip each program with special encrypted cell phones to make sure our kids’ privacy is protected; and works with the Christmas wish list to make sure all of our kids receive gifts they’re hoping for. And that’s just to name a few of the things he works on.

As he chats about his job, more things to come to mind—he is responsible for our fleet of bikes, the feral cats who keep the rodent population down at our West Loop campus, budget walkthroughs, inventorying the sensory equipment, distributing medical supplies, maintain the vehicle cameras, and scheduling pickups for furniture. He also developed the “Culture of Cleanliness” program that teaches our young people good life skills of keeping their spaces clean and tests coworkers who want to work as translators at Mercy Home.

“There’s always something going on,” he says matter-of-factly.

Of course, his job didn’t begin with so many different components. Mario originally heard about Mercy Home at a job fair and was immediately interested in the prospect of working with our young people. Even though Mario’s degree is in business, he worked in youth ministry with his wife for 20 years before coming to our Home.

“That was a very fun time,” he remembers. “I just kind of fell in love with the work.”

His original responsibilities included planning “Leadership All-Stars” trips, where our young people who participate in competitions throughout the year for the opportunity to go on trips to different cities during the summer and on snowmobiling trips in the winter. A favorite trip is when he and the young people took a trip to New Orleans two years after Hurricane Katrina hit and planted a tree at a youth residential facility. Though these trips have been discontinued, Mario still looks back fondly on them—and proudly displays photos from them in his office.

Recently, Mario has added another responsibility to his long list—acting as a key member of the Compassionate Care Task Force. The task force, which was established by Fr. Scott Donahue, coordinates the support Mercy Home has been giving to our kids and families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mario and other members of the task force reached out to the different departments in youth programs and determined which families needed assistance when Chicago initially shut down. The number of families quickly grew to 153. Thanks to our generous donors, Mercy Home was able to assist those in need right away.

“Almost since that very first week that it started, we were already delivering food,” he said. “We were delivering to anywhere between maybe six to 10 families a day.”

Traveling to places where our kids live has also been an illuminating experience for Mario.

“It’s been an eyeopener, because you really get to see the areas and neighborhoods where our kids live,” he said. “And you know, some of the areas are high poverty, high crime. It just gives you a better sense [of] some of the challenges and struggles that our kids and our families have to through.”

And because the task force delivered groceries safely (by leaving them on the doorstep and waiting from the car for them to be retrieved), they were even able to continue helping families when a member had COVID-19. So far, Mario estimates they have helped over a thousand families.

It’s been an eyeopener, because you really get to see the areas and neighborhoods where our kids live.

When asked about what he likes about Mercy Home, Mario is quickly able to list off the reasons. One is because he has been able to include his family in Mercy Home’s mission. He and his wife and two sons, Andrew and Nathan have long been involved with Mercy Home. Each year, they come to help with the many Christmas festivities to make sure our kids have the best holiday possible.

“That’s a really cool aspect, because, you know, I don’t many jobs where you get to [also] volunteer, and that’s pretty special,” he says.

He also loves having the opportunity to meet Mercy Home’s many generous donors who give our kids many different unique opportunities, including tickets to sporting and other special events, and even donate things like wheelchairs or bikes for a young person with special needs.

“I get to see all that cool stuff,” he says. “It’s almost like you’re helping make a dream come true.”

In addition to the “incredible sense of meaning” he gets from his job, Mario also loves the team around him.

“Tom [Gilardi, the vice president of youth programs] is a great manager,” he says. “I’ve learned so much under him that’s important when that’s the person you’re working under every day. That has to be a great relationship and he’s been a great mentor and I’ve learned a lot.”

He also lists other members of his team he enjoys working with, including Susan Hackney, Amy Schulz, Monica Payton Cook, Kari Sikich, Daniel Nelson, Joe Wronka, and Katy Sikich, as being a highlight of his time here and the reason he has been here so long.

“I really cherish those relationships,” he says. “It feels like family. I mean, it’s my job but still, it feels like family.”

It feels like family. I mean, it’s my job but still, it feels like family.

He has also enjoyed the opportunity to work with Fr. Scott.

“Being able to see Fr. Scott every day—not many people do, but I get to see him, he walks through here every day,” he says. “Just getting to know him has been pretty cool.”

Mario also relishes the opportunity to work with our kids—and loves the notes, birthday cards, and thank you notes he receives from them.

“I like that kind of stuff— [it’s rewarding to] know I helped out,” he says.

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