When it comes to overcoming adversity, few have shown the kind of special drive and determination that Mark displayed on his journey to community employment Mark went from almost being removed from Little City’s Employee Development Services (EDS) program when he first started to now being happily employed at Portillo’s and a mentor and leader in the EDS program. 

Lori Palmer-Kane, Employee Development Services Coordinator, said Mark is one of the most highly motivated people she has ever had come through the program and that played a large role in his turnaround and the unique potential he has moving forward.

 “I’m just so thrilled for Mark because he has worked so hard to get where he is. We honestly didn’t know if he would make it to this point, and now, this is just the beginning for Mark,” Lori said. “Now he has really big goals and he can reach them.” 

While Mark had a difficult time in the beginning focusing and following the rules and expectations, Lori said the solution was to actually raise the expectations on Mark and motivate and encourage him to meet those lofty goals. 

They started to see an improvement right away and when he was ready to search for a job, his unique determination was on full display. Pam Moyer, Mark’s job coach, said it took about six months for Mark to land his job at Portillo’s, but it was his focus and perseverance that stood out during the process.

 “His personal ambition is so strong and he has this innate drive to succeed,” Pam said. “We had quite a few interviews and he heard some nos. That can really deter a lot of people or make them think about giving up, but he always stayed positive and kept working at it.” 

Those qualities have now reached a point that continue to surprise both Lori and Pam. In class, Mark has turned into a mentor and teacher, openly discussing his past struggles and encouraging others to not give up. Lori said his ability to recognize areas he still needs to improve on shows a level of self-awareness he didn’t always have.

 During the pandemic when his work at Portillo’s temporarily halted, Mark used that time to start working toward his long-term goal of owning a concrete business. He started researching trade schools, having long discussions with Lori about first steps about the subject and working on a plan that can help him reach his goals. 

An important part of that plan is to continue working at Portillo’s for the next few years to continue to grow and work his way up. 

“He thinks bigger than almost anyone I have ever seen in the program. A lot of people will think about getting a job and that’s it, but he wants a career, he wants to keep moving up,” Lori said. “He’s become such an inspiration and leader for other students. Just the other day he gave a pep talk to another participant and I was so proud watching it. He’s a great role model.”