Humans of Sweet Water...Meet Mike Reynolds

Meet Mike Reynolds...a native of Chicago and retired Union Carpenter who has been with Sweet Water Foundation (SWF) for two years. Before joining SWF, Mike worked with Habitat for Humanity in Chicago. Although it took a couple of months of prodding by a colleague to visit the Perry Ave Commons, Mike was instantly inspired by the organization’s work and has proudly been with Sweet Water Foundation ever since.  

Read on to learn more about Mike.

Helping the community and young people is my legacy. It’s something positive that I’m finally doing in my life. I took a lot from the streets when I was younger...I did a lot of damage to the community. This is my way of redemption. If I can help some of these young people make a change… it’s personal to me.
— Mike Reynolds, Master Carpenter

Tell us about your background.

I am a retired Union Carpenter. I was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago in the projects on 43rd and Lake Park. My family moved numerous times so we stayed all over the South Side. Later in life, I joined the Carpenters Union. I was a carpenter long before then, but joined the union later on in life and retired from the union.


How did you become involved with Sweet Water Foundation?

When I retired, I joined Habitat for Humanity in Chicago because I wanted to give something back to the community. I liked the work they were doing on the South Side. I met Emmanuel Pratt through a mutual colleague that had previously worked with Habitat. My colleague bugged me, continuously, about coming to Sweet Water Foundation. I wasn’t interested because I was happy and content at Habitat. Finally, in early Summer 2015, I visited Sweet Water Foundation and saw the young people, elders from the community, and the team members working together. It touched me in a different way than Habitat for Humanity. It was more grassroots. I felt it was a little more beneficial because these young people are learning all of the traits and habits that are necessary to have a career and to provide for themselves and their families when they get to that point in their lives. With Sweet Water Foundation, they won’t need someone building a home for them. They’ll be able to build their own home and purchase their own home because they’re learning these things through the program.

What role here at Perry Ave Commons?

My role here is to train the young people in carpentry. I also mentor them on other life lessons, which I sneak them in on them. We have other team members who train them in plumbing, architecture, and different aspects of the trades. It’s amazing to see these young people who have never held a hammer light up at the chance to learn how to build things on their own.


If you had unlimited resources, what project would you dedicate yourself to on the Perry Ave Commons?

If I had infinite resources, I would love to see this program grow and expand across the city and, eventually, the entire country. A lot of our neighborhoods are desolate, and it’s by design. It’s not necessarily because of the residents and the people who live here, but by design. It’s a fantastic thing to see this community coming back to life. To see people moving back into the homes. To see people building homes. To see people repairing their homes so they won’t be torn down.


What’s in store for the future of the Perry Ave Commons?

I think the future's very bright. We are getting outside attention from other groups and other people. They are beginning to pay attention to what we're doing in our community with our young people and our elder residents. I think it’s a fantastic thing because we’re not only teaching them agriculture, but also teaching how to provide for yourself, how to grow your community, and all of the skills that are necessary to rebuild the neighborhood, like carpentry, agriculture, plumbing, and electrical work. Once these skills are learned, they will carry them to the next project and the next house and the next community...and the community will continue to grow and grow.


Why you do this? Why do you care?

I care because when I was a young man, we didn’t have programs like Sweet Water Foundation or people like Emmanuel Pratt. In my particular case, which is the case with so many youth in my generation and the generation now, there wasn’t any hope. So, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if you did something to get locked up, if you stole a car, or if you took something from another community member because there wasn’t any hope. Sweet Water Foundation’s program and the the Perry Ave Commons is a place where a lot of young people are doing positive things. A lot of young people are changing their behaviors and habits through the program. That’s why I care.


What has been your most profound experience at Sweet Water Foundation?

We encourage folks to come and take a tour to see what we do. One of the most profound things I’ve experienced since joining Sweet Water is witnessing a lot of visitors that break down in tears after we show them the Think-Do House and the farm and explain to them what we do. They tell us, “I wish my son or daughter would have been able to come here.” Many times, we find out that they have lost a child or have had a child incarcerated. It’s always profound to me that while explaining this program, they literally break down in tears, saying, “I wish my kid who got killed could have came here first; he would have been on a different path.” That is the most profound experience I've had as a member of the Sweet Water Foundation team.


Favorite Movie: Lackawanna Blues

Favorite Book: Autobiography of Malcolm X and The Art of Peace by Morihei Ueshiba

Interesting fact about Mike.

Mike’s first trip on an airplane was a trip to Dublin, Ireland in 2016 as part of an exchange program with artists and tradespeople of Sweet Water Foundation and the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Even more interesting, Mike’s third plane trip was one in which he leaped out of the plane; skydiving right outside DeKalb, Illinois. He plans to continue skydiving until he can fly once, on his own. “Then that’s it… that’s all I want to do.”


Mike has one final thing he’d like to share:

I would like to thank my wife of 36 years, Sarah, for without her patience and support none of my accomplishments would have ever materialized.
— Mike Reynolds