Nino Reyos believes in second chances. He's had several.
After high school, he was headed for vocational training when his cousin convinced him that he could go to college, despite grades in high school he ruefully describes as "not great." She wanted him to set higher goals for himself and then make them happen.The adviser for Native Americans at the University of Utah encouraged the admissions staff to give him a chance, in spite of those poor grades. By his second quarter at the U., Reyo was on the honor roll and as a freshman made the "Who's Who" of college students.
After earning a bachelor's degree in sociology, Reyos continued on to receive a master's degree in social work.
Today, he's coordinates the Native American Youth Project for the Community Counseling Center. Besides working one-on-one with young Native Americans who have substance abuse problems, he also works with Native Americans at a Salt Lake junior high school.
He relates to the choices they have made. "I did the same things they do," Reyos said. "I drank heavy as a teenager. I think youths should have the chance to recover, but a lot of it has to come from within themselves. They may have the drive, but it may be difficult to find."
He found his own drive - and yet another second chance - more than a decade ago when he decided to stop drinking.
Reyos is Ute and Pueblo Indian. The youngest of 11 children, he was born on the Ute Reservation near Vernal.
Learning, for Reyos, has been an ongoing process. When he was a Marine, he took up karate. Not long ago, he learned how to dance at powwows. As a reward for learning how to do something new, a friend gave him a flute. That becamse his next challenge. He's practiced with it and even played at a friend's wedding.
His approach to working with youths is unusual. He combines substance abuse education and prevention with Native American cultural awareness.
Native American youths, he said, "confront a lot of different issues. A lot have barely relocated from reservations. They may not know the school system as well. Teachers may not be culturally aware."
Many of the students he meets in the school are at great risk of dropping out or using alcohol and drugs. Most of them have little contact with reservation life and Native American life and cultural values."
His office is filled with Native American art. Recently, a young man sat on his couch and made a dream catcher while Reyos was interviewing him.
"I do therapy, but I use a unique way of coming across," he said. "I want to bridge the gap between cultures. I think it's important."