Jorge Perez: Alumni Spotlight


Jorge Perez, SFDS Class of 1990, Building Community

Growing up in the Bush neighborhood, St. Francis de Sales High School (SFDS) alumnus Jorge Perez got his education in Community 101 at an early age. His lessons took place in the bakery and grocery store his family owned and lived above at 83rd and Houston. “It was a town within a town,” recalled Jorge. “Everyone knew each other.” Working for his parents taught him skills that would form the foundation for his personal and professional future. “I learned early on to talk to everyone on a first-name basis, to maintain relationships.”

After graduating from SFDS, Jorge continued to manage his parents’ store during the day while studying economics at night at Roosevelt University. His most powerful real-world economics lesson came during that time period. “The steel mills closed down,” explained Jorge. “To see that all fall apart in your neighborhood, you ask yourself, how can I get involved, how can I fix those things?”

One look at his resume makes it clear that “getting involved” has been Jorge’s lifelong mission. After obtaining an MBA from Loyola University, Jorge served as President of the Calumet Area Industrial Commission (CAIC) from 2001 – 2008. There, he recruited many new local and regional business leaders, and worked with members and elected officials to promote the new face of industry in the Greater Calumet Region.

Jorge went on to serve as Deputy Commissioner for Chicago’s Department of Aviation, then as Vice President of Strategic Planning and Policy for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), before taking the helm as Executive Director of The Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA) in 2011. Founded in 1979, HACIA has been a leader among organizations of its kind, providing training, education, and leadership development for its more than 300 members; lobbying for legislative change within the industry; and giving scholarship assistance to students in related fields of study.

With its 40th anniversary on the horizon, HACIA continues to expand its own horizons. Under Jorge’s leadership, HACIA has teamed up with similar organizations in Texas, Florida, and New York to collaborate on projects. “We have a much bigger opportunity to work together regionally or nationally, which is exciting,” said Jorge.

Jorge’s economic development efforts have not gone unnoticed by city leaders. In 2016, Mayor Emanuel appointed Jorge to be Chairman of the City of Chicago’s Community Development Commission. As someone whose economics experience had previously focused on managing TIF dollars and land acquisition sales, Jorge says that overseeing the designation of new TIF districts has given him a new perspective. “Seeing the pipeline of projects coming through the city, you get a really good sense of what’s happening. If it weren’t for TIF dollars, many of those projects wouldn’t be possible.”

When he’s not focusing on the city’s economic growth, Jorge says that much of his time is spent trying to keep up with the growth of his 10- and 13-year-old sons, including their voracious appetites. His latest venture may help. Years ago, Jorge bought the building he grew up in from his dad, and lived there with his wife and sons until three years ago, “when we moved a whopping mile south,” laughed Jorge. The storefront has been vacant since 1994, but still has the baking equipment and zoning permits, leading to a project Jorge affectionately dubbed, “I want to hang out with my dad, and he’s bored out of his mind.”

“There are a ton of kids at the new charter high school down the street,” explained Jorge. “Dad and I have been slowly working on the building for a couple years, and we plan to sell pizza and a couple items on the weekend from a walk-up window.” He is quick to explain that this latest project is purely a labor of love: “It’s not intended to make money. Just to hang out and have fun with it, that’s the goal.”

For someone who has spent decades building connections, it comes as no surprise that the relationships that Jorge made at SFDS are what stand out most to him now. “There was a close knit group when I was in school, and we still get along really well. It’s great to see everyone still encouraging each other, and to see [my former classmates] doing well.” His advice to current students is to focus on making their own connections: “Make a lot of friends, get to know people, and keep all of those relationships warm.

Jim Kelly Retires after 33 Years of Service -- Thank you Mr. Kelly!

Congratulations on your Retirement and Thank You to Jim Kelly for 33 Years of Service!Mr. Kelly started coaching boys basketball in 1985 and since then has also coached girls softball and boys baseball. Starting in 1990, he began as a substitute teacher and bus driver becoming the Head of Transportation in 1994. Read Full Article Here

Meet Juan

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Juan Gonzalez knows one thing about his college selection process: He has many good choices for college and all with sizable scholarship money.

When looking for a college, Juan wanted to stay local where he could get a degree in Computer Information Systems. Now he is choosing from many good schools including Loyola, DePaul, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Illinois Chicago St. Xavier, Eastern Illinois, Purdue NW and Roosevelt. He is leaning towards Illinois Tech because of his chosen major and the excellent job placement for Illinois Tech graduates.

Juan is happy and excited about his future. In college he wants to study and learn more about computers, technology and information systems. He plans on joining clubs, maybe running track and joining greek life.

Juan’s family is happy about all the acceptance letters and the financial support provided by each acceptance. Juan received over $500,000 in college scholarships!

St. Francis de Sales helped prepare Juan for college. “Mr. Fennessy was incredibly helpful, explaining the application process, helping me apply for scholarships and encouraging me along the way” said Juan. At SFDS, Juan learned about various software programs and through the technology club his Junior year, he learned about hardware and how to troubleshoot problems.

Reflecting on his experience and success, Juan offers good advice to sophomores and juniors: “Start Early! Applying to college, doing financial aid applications, looking for scholarships takes time, get a jump on the process early”. Juan also recommends taking the ACT test more than once because you gain confidence from practicing. Finally, he recommends dedicating time each day and each week to researching schools, filling out applications, applying for aid and talking to your teachers and Mr. Fennessy.

We are excited to hear about Juan’s success in college and look forward to him coming back to St. Francis de Sales to encourage others to follow in his footsteps.

Chris Cole: Alumni Spotlight

In honor of International Women’s Day in March, we took the opportunity to have one of our seniors interview St. Francis de Sales alumnae and business leader, Chris Cole.

Chris Cole graduated from St. Francis de Sales in 1971. She went on to graduate from Northern Illinois University with a BA in Accounting. After four years at Deloitte as an accountant, she left and started her long career at McDonalds Corporation.

Anissa Vanna, a senior at St. Francis de Sales, interviewed Chris on what it means to be a woman in the business world and what her advice would be for the students of today. Chris had lots of good advice and stories. Both women talked about their St. Francis de Sales education, their dreams and experiences.

Click the link here and read up on what Chris and Anissa talked about. 

Meet Gabe

Work hard. Life isn’t always easy. Take your opportunities.


These are just some of the lessons that Gabe Barker has learned during his tenure at
St. Francis de Sales. With college acceptances coming in (many of them and with scholarship money), he answered some of our questions about his experiences during high school.

Why did you choose St. Francis de Sales?
I came from C.I.C.S. Longwood and chose St. Francis de Sales because I wanted a school where I could play more than one sport and get a good education. St. Francis de Sales gave me that. I started right away playing football my freshman year and have played both baseball and basketball my last three years. I am currently part of the choir and was also a part of the student council. 

I know basketball is your favorite sport, can you tell us a bit about your experience on the basketball team?
I have played on the team for all four years as a small forward/power forward and played center too at times. I have been a leader on the team because I was able to play from freshman year on. Being on a team is so important. My game has evolved over the course of years. In the beginning, others doubted my ability but I pushed myself to overcome my inner struggles, a lot of problems come from internal battles. My goal is to give my best no matter whether we win or lose. My favorite memory came during my sophomore year and our sectional win. We played a super - sectional game at Northern Illinois University. What a memorable experience! I knew I still had two more varsity years. The school was electrified and everyone rooted for us and alumni even came to cheer us on.

Being on the basketball team for four years has been a great experience. I have learned that you have to work hard and if you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.

Are you glad you attended a Catholic School?
Yes, Mr. Warner, our Theology teacher, has taught me so much. I have talked with Mr. Warner countless times about problems or questions I have. He’s been a great supporter of me in everything I want to do and he gives great advice. Kairos, our retreat, was another great opportunity for me to express myself and grow stronger in who I am.

Do you have any specific stories that you want to share about your high school journey?
First semester of my freshman year, I was in and out of school due to a concussion from playing Varsity football. Throughout the course of the school year I went out to prove my ability to perform in the classroom and in extracurricular activities. I didn’t allow a rough start to affect how I finished the year. I wasn't up to par with all the material that was covered in the class while I was out for my concussion and my teacher at the time didn't make it easy for me.

Although this happened, I bounced back and squeezed in the top ten for the B honor roll for second semester. I had to go to summer school to make up my algebra class and I did it! I didn’t let that concussion and the time out of class stop me. 

Now because of my hard work and St. Francis de Sales education, I’ve been accepted into a number of schools with scholarship money including: Iowa Wesleyan, Youngstown State University, Central State University, Lewis University, Holy Cross College, Eastern Illinois University, Eastern Michigan, St Xavier University, Bradley University and Alabama A&M.