Former drill sergeant treats students as his own to ‘push them to become better’

CHICAGO — A former military man who devoted 21 years of his life to service is on a new mission that's no less important: helping urban teenagers achieve and excel.

From their shiny black shoes to the polished brass on their lapels, the students of the Junior Reserves Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) at Lincoln Park High School stand tall. The commanding voice of Sgt. Jorge Villalobos fills the large room, but the drill sergeant’s heart is even bigger.

"I told them from the very beginning, 'I’m going to treat you the same way I treat my own kids and it doesn’t matter,'" Villalobos said. "And that’s what I do with them. To sit there and hug them when they need a hug, to push them to become better, I’m going to do that just like I do with my own kids."

Villalobos spent 21 years in the U.S. Army, from the Persian Gulf to Korea to Texas. After he retired from the service, he found another mission.

"I saw the young people needed a mentor, somebody to motivate them to do something with their lives, and this job actually called to me, and I decided, 'yeah, this is what I want to do,'" Villalobos said. "I’m not going to leave anyone behind, I’m not going to quit on them."

Students from the school said his approach works. Senior Maya Gomberg said Villalobos inspired her to do better in school and bring up her grades.

"He called me over one day and said, 'I know you can do this, and you just need to put some effort in it, and if you need assistance I’m here,'" Gomberg said. "I took him up on that and I have much better grades now."

Sophomore Nino Ocupe said ROTC taught many lessons that can be applied to the real world.

"I’ve learned a lot from this program. How to be a part of a team. How to be a leader how to follow commands that other people give you," Ocupe said.

Discipline and hard work helped Villalobos' Teacher of the Month award sponsor, attorney Ken Allen, build his own academic and professional career. He said he's proud to present him with $1,ooo to honor the teacher of the month.

"These students today are tomorrow’s leaders, and they are not going to lead very well unless they are taught well, so I’m proud to meet these teachers and to help them in some small way," Allen said.

For the students, it’s small steps in the right direction, with a kind and caring leader to guide them.

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