A Life of Service

Mark Cazalas comes home to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities as the executive director of the Corpus Christi State Supported Living Center.

By: Judy Lapointe
Photos By: Blanca Tamez

M ark Cazalas was born at Shoreline Hospital, and he lived in Corpus Christi until his family moved to North Dakota when he was in high school. After graduating from the University of North Dakota, he brought his wife back with him to Corpus Christi. In 1991, he took a position as a case manager and worked out of what was then known as the Corpus Christi State School.

Fast-forward 23 years, and Cazalas is now the executive director of the Corpus Christi State Supported Living Center. His first official day as the director was Dec. 1, 2011. During those intervening years, he worked in almost every professional position at the facility, except for medical positions. He gained experience and knowledge in providing 24-hour residential care to hundreds of individuals with intellectual, physical and psychiatric disabilities.

While working at the Living Center, Cazalas also had a few other things going on. He completed a master’s degree in psychology at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and he and his wife, Laura, had three children, now ages 17, 15 and 12. He has always been involved in his community, and he has done everything from serving as a precinct chair to volunteering with the Boy Scouts. He was the president of the parish council for St. Philip the Apostle Church, and he is proud of his part in helping build the Family Life Center there.

He may have come by his commitment to service naturally, having come from a very involved family. His father, Chuck Cazalas, was a county commissioner for eight years, and Mark remembers the long hours his father would put in and the huge stacks of papers he would take home to study at night.

According to a long-time friend of the Cazalas family, Rep. Todd Hunter, “When a man returns to his hometown of Corpus Christi to raise his family and dedicate himself to a career of service, we should consider this a success for our community. The Cazalas family has contributed to making Corpus Christi a better place to live, and Mark is making a real difference in the lives of people with disabilities.”

What makes a person want to work in the field of disability services? Cazalas said he was searching for a career path in which he could help people, and one of his college professors steered him in the direction of working with people with disabilities. It must have been the right choice for him because he has devoted his life to this work. All his years of experience have made him an asset to the Living Center.

William and Barbara Blackburn are the parents of Brad Blackburn, who has been a resident at the Living Center for more than 40 years. They have seen Cazalas come up through the ranks. According to William Bradford, “We have been very pleased to have Mark Cazalas as the director, and we think he is doing a good job.”

If you live in Corpus Christi for long, you will have a hurricane evacuation story. But can you imagine evacuating hundreds of people with disabilities, many who use wheelchairs and have significant medical support needs? In 2008, the Living Center evacuated to the San Antonio State Supported Living Center because of the potential threat from Hurricane Ike.

An employee of the Living Center, Blanca Tamez, recalls the morning of the evacuation. “I remember that September day, seeing a flurry of car lights in the early morning as staff were coming in to assist with the center evacuation. I saw Mr. Cazalas going to the homes to assist with getting people into vehicles and loading essential items for the trip.”

And that is what Cazalas does. He is there when you need him, and he can be counted on to do whatever it takes to get the job done. We don’t want to have a hurricane heading our way, but if there is one coming, we can be certain that the people who reside at the Living Center will be cared for and protected from harm.

Corpus Christi is fortunate that Cazalas and his family call this their home. It is through the commitment of professionals like Cazalas that we have a strong and growing community that can attract and keep our best members, and even lure some of them back home.

For more information, contact Judy Lapointe at healthyushow@gmail.com.

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