A selfless father and community leader in Philadelphia was honored for his work on “Good Morning America” Thursday with a surprise $20,000 check to the food bank where he works and a family vacation to Aruba.
Charles Reyes, a father of five, was also surprised by the mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenney, who declared June 13 Give Back, Make and Impact Day in honor of Reyes’ service to the city.
“I’m speechless,” Reyes said while onstage with the “GMA” anchors and his family in front of a crowd of cheering fans in his hometown.
Reyes goes above and beyond to help the community and families of Dobbins Technical High School, the same Philadelphia high school that he graduated from and now works for as its community director.
“Mr. Charles makes it happen, he gets it done,” school principal Dr. Tony Damon told “Good Morning America.”
“It’s not everyday in any line of work…you don’t meet people who really care about the work,” he added. “Charles cares, he cares so truly, so genuinely.”
Leah Russell, a teacher at the school, added that “to watch him work is magical.”
“We are witnessing greatness,” she added. “What you’re witnessing is true compassion at work.”
Reyes grew up in the struggling area of North Philadelphia, a low-income part of the city where many community members struggle even to be able to feed their families.
Reyes returned to his high school to give back to his community as the school coordinator, and started a Saturday program that helps keep children active and off the streets, while also distributing fresh fruits and vegetables for free to community members.
“You’re talking about a really high-poverty area,” teacher Victoria Monacelli said of the community. “An area that I would consider to be a food desert, where people don’t have access to high-quality food.”
This is partly what prompted Reyes to begin the weekly handout of fresh produce in partnership with the local nonprofit group Philabundance.
“They’re up against a lot…to not be able to eat healthy” Russell added of the students. “A lot of the students here don’t have transportation so they have to walk back and forth to school…so imagine having to walk to school without eating fruits and vegetables.”
In addition to handing out fresh fruits and veggies, Reyes’ Saturday program, “Get Fit Saturdays at Dobbins,” keeps the students moving with a basketball boot camp, cheerleading and tumbling classes. He has been doing it for a little over two years and gets well over 100 students every week.
“His impact is visible quickly,” Russell said. “You see the change in the students — how they talk, how they walk, how they interact with others.”
Reyes gives his all to the community, and whenever someone in the neighborhood needs anything — from tuxes for prom to even household fixes — he is there.
“To some kids he is the only father figure they know,” said Reyes’ wife, Sharita Reyes.
He even helped one student, Tamera Taylor, who became homeless after her 19th birthday left her ineligible to receive child services to find a place to live.
“There really wasn’t room but they made room because he knew them,” Taylor told “GMA.” “Some people wouldn’t probably care but he cared enough to make sure I had somewhere to sleep.”
For former student Jay Dillard, Reyes came through for him just after Dillard lost his own father and couldn’t afford to go to prom or figure out how to look his best.
Dillard said Mister Charles helped with “the suit, the shoes, the haircut and a ticket.”
“He was like, ‘No, I got everything,’ and I was like, ‘Wow, okay,'” Dillard said. “He said I look great, I look nice, I look sharp.”
Reyes’ own son, Semaj Reyes, said, “My dad is my superhero.”
“For a black male growing up in Philadelphia, and statistically it’s hard to make it without a father,” Semaj Reyes said. “So my dad saved me, just being there — his presence.”
To honor his work, “GMA” sponsor PNC Bank presented Reyes with a $20,000 check to Philabundance so that he can keep up with the work he is doing. In addition, the Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express gave Reyes’ whole family a vacation to their Aruba resort.