Mr. Mario is the real life hero of the Childhood Development Center

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Mr. Mario, a musician that regularly performs at the Child Development Center (CDC), at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 10, 2021. Jasmine Reyes/TheOccidental

Every Wednesday, Mario Hidalgo ‘80 brings his spirit and his guitar to the college’s Childhood Development Center (CDC) on Gilman Road where he sings to children from 2–5 years old, according to CDC Director Laura Drew. For the past 20 years, Hidalgo, known by children and staff as Mr. Mario, has continued to be a highlight of the week and a hero for the children, Drew said.

“One year, the theme for our spring program was ‘Real Life Heroes’ and Mr. Mario brought in a bunch of songs to teach the children about everyday heroes, firefighters, and parents,” Drew said via email. “The Oxy CDC teachers and I surprised Mr. Mario by singing to him about the fact that he was our hero.”

According to Drew, Mr. Mario introduces children to the world of music in a welcoming way, and they are always happy to see him.

“He makes the music fun and accessible for all of the children by bringing various instruments and teaching the children about how they sound,” Drew said via email. “He’s someone they trust and someone they know cares about them.”

Mr. Mario said in addition to engaging with the children’s genuine personalities, his favorite part about singing to them is playing pretend with them.

“We make characters such as when we sing about the ‘Muffin Man’ and we will go to an island when we sing ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat,’” Mr. Mario said.

According to Drew, Mr. Mario strives to foster each child’s interest in music, helping them to write their own songs, develop creativity and send the message that music is for everyone. Each year for the Oxy CDC Graduation, the children perform modern pop songs he adapts for them.

According to Mr. Mario, it is rewarding to watch the kids grow and freely express themselves.

“I try to encourage them to not be afraid to sing and to have fun learning songs,” Mr. Mario said.

Drew said that Mr. Mario’s positive attitude always brings the CDC community together.

“Mr. Mario is such a force for good in the world and a wonderful role model for the children,” Drew said via email. “He is always upbeat, cheerful, willing to listen and help out however he can.”

According to Drew, even during the pandemic, Mr. Mario stayed devoted to the CDC by holding virtual singing sessions with the children and their families.

“That’s just the kind of generous, selfless person he is,” Drew said via email.

Now back to singing in person, Mr. Mario said he returns to the CDC each week with not only a love for teaching music but his experience in the industry too. According to Mr. Mario, his career in music took off after graduating from Occidental as a music major when he formed a band and started touring with them.

Mr. Mario, a musician, sings at the Child Development Center (CDC) at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 10, 2021. Jasmine Reyes/TheOccidental

Looking back on his time as a student, Mr. Mario said while only classical music was taught at the time, Occidental gave him valuable life skills.

“My music training at Oxy was very focused and strict but it taught me a lot about breaking things down,” Mr. Mario said. “Whether it was learning a new instrument or putting together shows, Oxy showed me that if you focus your mind on something you could accomplish anything you want.”

After meeting Mr. Mario right before the pandemic, CDC student assistant Julia Koh* (senior) noticed his positive impact on the children.

“For the younger kids, it’s one of the first times they get to see someone playing instruments live and [teaching] them songs that they can sing every day,” Koh said.

Koh said she appreciates Mr. Mario’s willingness to consistently come back to Occidental and help out.

“It is really cool to see how Oxy made such a big impact on someone’s education that they want to give back and help the younger generation,” Koh said.

Even after all these years, Mr. Mario said he still loves singing at the CDC.

“I would still do this even when I retire because it’s my favorite day of the week,” Mr. Mario said.

*Julia Koh is an illustrator and social media manager for The Occidental.