PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Peoria man Asa Lewis, Jr said, “I want to create a program that reinforced doing the right thing,” after he lost his brother to gun violence, and that is exactly what he did.
Lewis is the Founder and President of the Make Your Marq non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. It’s an organization he started to remember his brother, Marques.
After losing his brother in 2017 to gun violence, Lewis said he wanted to find a way to recognize the positivity that his brother beamed.
“There was so much sadness, ‘we miss yous,’ all that other stuff, and that’s not who my brother was. He was a lively, bubbly, laughing all-the-time type of person. And that’s when we started the program in 2020,” he said.
That program is now helping hundreds of kids in the Peoria Public School District.
“Initially, we scout about 20/25 kids as part of our leadership council,” said Lewis. “Last year, I think we had 197 kids who chose to be a part of it through meetings and stuff like that, so we can’t grow fast enough for the kids.”
The organization focuses on students from 2nd grade all the way to the high school level and recognizes youth’s good behavior.
That behavior includes arriving to class on time, getting good grades, and helping other students. Lewis said some may think these actions are expected, but he said they need to be rewarded, so they continue the good behavior.
“If you need more people who need to hear positive things about themselves, we have that for you. If you need the skill-building part on how to handle high-stress, high-emotional situations, we have that thing for you. The next goal is to try to get it expanded into more of our schools because it’s something we all need,” said Lewis.
Students who achieve good behavior listen to presentations from Lewis discussing how to handle emotional or stressful situations, amongst other topics. The students are also invited to field trips and volunteering opportunities.
To emphasize the students’ character, they’re given “Make Your Marq” t-shirts, however, it doesn’t come cheap for Lewis.
“A majority of [the donation money] goes towards the shirts, the gear, it matters so much to the kids. If they look cool and they got their stuff on, they pretty much do anything you ask them to,” Lewis said, laughing.
Lewis pays out of pocket for the expenses towards the organization, but it can also be covered through donations. Make Your Marq, however, is struggling to get the attention it needs to receive regular donations.
Instead, Lewis pays $20,000-25,000 each year to keep the organization running.
“Our kids needed me, but I need them. Seeing them grow keeps me going back every day,” said Lewis. “Seeing them get better, seeing them handle things better, makes it easier to go and do your job every day.”
For those who would like to donate to Make Your Marq, click here.