Jaquan Menefee was a 10th grader in high school when he landed his first job.
A year later, working the same job, he realized he had found something else.
“I realized that not only did I like being here, I had a chance for a career here,” Menefee said.
Menefee graduated from Holy Family Cristo Rey, a Catholic private school in Birmingham, Alabama that combines academic rigor and a corporate work-study program to empower students.
Eight students a year – two from each class, beginning with freshmen – work at Regions’ Lakeshore Operations Center, following a regular schedule and working alongside professional bankers processing millions of financial transactions daily. It’s a demanding job for even the most experienced because of the sheer volume of work.
For the students from Holy Family, it’s a fast-paced transition to the real world that some make look seamless.
“What’s unique about Holy Family is the culture,” said Mike O’Brien, a Loan Operations Manager. “It’s akin to a high-dollar education. As a result, you have kids who are self-motivated, with a strong work ethic. They arrive here ready to go.”
Part of the culture at Holy Family Cristo Rey is the work-study program. All students must work, and the earnings offset the cost of tuition.
Jobs are provided for students from big and small businesses across Metro Birmingham. Regions involvement started years ago. Matt Lusco, Regions’ Chief Risk Officer, is a member of the Holy Family board of directors.
“It has been extremely rewarding to have been involved with the school over the last several years,” Lusco said. “The renaissance that is ongoing through new leadership under Jon Chalmers is providential. My experience with Holy Family is like that of many of the school’s Corporate Work Study employers; in interacting with these wonderful students you get so much more than you give.”
Holy Family’s relationship with Regions is unique.
“We have great relationships with our corporate partners across the board, but our relationship with Regions goes beyond simply participating in our work-study program,” said Kirk Mitchell, The Corporate Work Study Program Director for the school. “Regions puts our students in a professional environment and demands the same of our students as it does with associates who have been there for years.”
At the sprawling Lakeshore Operations Center campus, students arrive for work each morning – after checking in at school – on buses that transport students to their job assignments. Students work at least one day a week for a normal shift in their designated department.
“Over the years that we’ve been associated with this program, every student who has worked in Enterprise Operations has been motivated to work hard and succeed,” said Human Resources Manager Greg Gravlee, adding that he consistently receives positive feedback from students. Regions’ commitment isn’t limited to job sharing.
Two other members on Regions’ Lakeshore HR team, Latrise Kennedy and Jake Thomas, support Holy Family by conducting Financial Literacy and Identity Theft sessions at the school.
“Ultimately, this relationship benefits not only the students and the Cristo Rey program, it benefits Regions and the community at large,” Gravlee added. The Regions-Holy Family Cristo Rey partnership is truly a win-win combination.”
Holy Family senior James Thornton said that he became aware his new job was not a typical teen’s task his first day.
“My biggest surprise was being treated as an entry-level employee at the start,” Thornton said. “It made me feel more comfortable. The other employees don’t see us as just high-school students. They see us for our potential to do great things.”
Holy Family Cristo Rey actively seeks new employment partnerships, noting that students will be trained for office tasks before they report for the job. While the school seeks entry-level positions, it also seeks “progressively more challenging jobs” for its students.
“Every kid wants to be successful,” Holy Family’s Mitchell added. “Our kids are driven and we make an asserted effort to channel the desire to succeed in the right direction. They are being exposed to career opportunities that they didn’t know existed.”
Jobs aren’t taken for granted. Supervisors must evaluate their students every semester. Rare is the Holy Family Cristo Rey student who doesn’t arrive prepared in all phases.
“Based on the feedback from supervisors, 95 percent of our students routinely meet or exceed expectations. Peer accountability also plays a role, as students understand the expectations. At Regions, for instance, we have kids who have been here three or four years. They own their jobs and do their best to outperform classmates.” said Mitchell.
Mariluz Perez, a Loan Operations Supervisor for Regions, manages students daily.
“Their mannerisms, their professionalism, the way the come dressed and ready to work just sets them apart,” Perez said. “I think Holy Family invests more. Every year, they have a Summer Bridge program and they bring us in to teach financial education and, in my case, business etiquette. It’s year-round training.”