For 22 years, Reynaldo Reyes assumed life was as good as it could get for him in his new country. A native of Guerrero on Mexico’s southern coast, Reyes was now living in Fayetteville, Arkansas, married with children and gainfully employed in nearby Springdale.
Things began to change.
Reynaldo’s mother passed away, and he and his wife, Angela, decided to adopt his young sister, giving the couple three daughters. Reynaldo’s longtime employer, Ball Metalpack, then announced in 2019 it would be closing its Arkansas operations in 2020.
“When my work said it was going to shut down, there was a lot of depression,” Reynaldo said. “For about a month, I was really going down.”
Angela and Reynaldo knew Ball Metalpack would provide funding for employees to go to school, but they soon discovered spouses were included in the company’s policy. She had worked previously for the U.S. Census Bureau, but was unemployed when her husband’s job was coming to an end.
Reynaldo had worked in industrial maintenance and enjoyed the work, so he and Angela found out that Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale offered such programs to enhance not only his career opportunities but hers, too.
The two began taking classes at NWTI in the fall of 2020. Industrial Maintenance included Ammonia Refrigeration and the Reyes also took classes for math and communications.
“The first three or four weeks of school were rough,” Angela said. “We hadn’t been to school for more than 30 years. Reynaldo had no formal education in reading, writing or math. His level of education was just not the same as here. Algebra was totally new to him.”
Both Angela and Reynaldo said the NWTI instructors helped get them through the early going.
“I failed the first test in DCAC class,” Reynaldo said. “I had to retake that one. But I got going.
“We are really thankful for the teachers. The first month was really hard, but the teachers stayed late for us. When I started classes here the teachers were so great. They probably didn’t know how they could change my mind. I mean, I was depressed. But, they did it.”
Angela said of the instructors, “They are not critical. They really want you to succeed.”
The instructors for Angela and Reynaldo in Industrial Maintenance include Shane Hall, Scott Howard and Mike Lingerfelt. Marie Roop is their Mathematics teacher and Ben Manatt is their Communications teacher.
“I knew how to change parts and fix stuff but I didn’t know how to control stuff, how things could go one way and then could go another way, like reverse and forward,” Reynaldo said.
“it’s easier to learn when you know the how and why behind it,” said Angela.
The couple are full-time students, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week.
It’s a good thing too because the Reyes bought into the programs whole heartedly.
“What I was doing was industrial maintenance, and I liked it and I wanted to learn more but I had no certification,” Reynaldo said. “They had hired me and I learned on the job. We were starting over and over 50 years old, but now we will now have training and certificates so we’re not just going to be starting over when we start a new job.”
Reynaldo had learned limited on-the-job training before coming to NWTI.
“I knew a lot but I didn’t know a lot of the schematics,” he said. “At first, when I saw it I had no idea what to do, but now it makes sense.”
Angela added, “He has the know how now.”
The couple made all A’s until making an 89 (Reynaldo) and 88 (Angela) on their ammonia test.
“Ammonia was the toughest,” Angela said. “We were really disappointed we didn’t make an A.”
Schooling at NWTI may not end when the Reyes complete their current program as they are considering getting their Commercial Driver’s Licenses.
Angela noted that several businesses have spoken to their classes regarding employment opportunities.
“Tyson (Foods) has already offered me a part-time job, but I’m not going to take anything because I want to focus on school,” Reynaldo said. “I’m excited now. I know what it takes to succeed. It’s not easy. You just have to do your part.”
The Reyes have four grandchildren along with the three daughters.