by: Diane Sweeney
A ONE ON ONE APPROACH TO MAKING DREAMS A REALITY
Walk into a conference room at Jonestown Bank & Trust Co. (JBT) and you just might see Coni Russo-Ehrgood or Khristen Kleinfelter standing on a table building a tower with spaghetti, string, scissors, and, most importantly, marshmallows.
Not a typical activity of managers at a community bank, but one of many projects that has Coni, Khristen, and other employees at JBT stepping out of their comfort zones while mentoring local high school students.
“It was a strategy and team building exercise that was just a ton of fun,” said Coni, Client Resource Center Manager.
A UNIQUE APPROACH
Since 1873, Jonestown Bank & Trust Co. has been focused on “serving the needs of the people who share this community with us.” JBT’s 14 branches can be found throughout the Lebanon Valley and Northern Lancaster County.
Traditionally they have sponsored parades, blood drives, the annual Jonestown Block Party, participated in the United Way Day of Caring, and more. Employees are involved in all activities – and community service is as much a part of their culture as providing bank services is.
Their tagline, Bank with a Smile, is not just a marketing slogan, but the culture and standard employees are expected to live by. Each letter of SMILE has a meaning;
S – Sincere
M – Memorable
I – Integrity
L – Leadership
E – Expertise
JBT employees take pride in their unique one-on-one approach to make the dreams and aspirations of their Lebanon Valley customers a reality.
So, when Amy Rote, VP of Programs at Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region (BBBSCR), was looking for a new partner in their Beyond School Walls program, JBT seemed to be a natural fit.
A GOOD MATCH
Beyond School Walls is a national Big Brothers Big Sisters program matching Littles (students) with Bigs (adult mentors) in regional businesses. The professionals give the students a real-life look at what it is like to work in their environment and provide them with guidance on career choices.
“We knew Troy Peters, President and CEO of JBT, through his personal involvement in BBBSCR for many years,” shared Rote. “And we understood JBT’s commitment to the Lebanon County community. We were confident this would be a good match.”
For Peters, it was an easy decision. Involved in BBBSCR for 25 years, he had personally witnessed the impact of the one on one mentoring model.
“I’ve been a ‘Big’ to two ‘Littles’. My experiences have shown me the bad choices some kids make are only because they do not have a positive role model,” shares Troy. “How do you address it? By providing the role models. By listening. By earning their trust. That is what these children need. Someone to trust enough to ask the simple questions they are too afraid or embarrassed to ask at home or of their peers.”
Peters introduced the program to employees and shared his personal experiences with BBBSCR. When he asked if this was something JBT should be a part of, there was no hesitation. Everyone in the room said yes.
MAKING AN IMPACT
For the past two years, six students from Lebanon High School have come to JBT’s offices during working hours for biweekly sessions.
The Beyond School Walls program matches ‘Corporate Bigs’ to Littles for them to experience what it means to work for a corporation, learn business etiquette, and observe which educational requirements are needed to achieve professional success.
“We work together to impact workplace development,” says Rote, referring to the relationship between BBBSCR, JBT and the school district.
There is a vetting process BBBSCR administers to match mentor and mentee. Included are a series of interviews, background checks, and personality matching.
Lebanon High School counselors identify and recommend students to the program who may be in adverse situations, doing academically well, and who could benefit from an additional ally in their life.
The students share their interests and hopes for the future during interviews with BBBSCR staff. Corporate volunteers are interviewed as well, and where the administers see compatibility, a match is made.
Based on the corporate sponsor, the program is customized to benefit the community, the school district, and students’ needs.
For the JBT group, the first-year curriculum focused on building financial literacy and career placement.
Through discussion and activities such as card games, students learned how to manage money, the significance of saving money, and how to use credit wisely.
JBT employees shared their personal career path stories. They explained the journey they took from high school to the positions they hold today. Their stories showed students the path isn’t always straight and how your vision can – and will – change.
LEARNING LIFE SKILLS
Jaime Hansson, Bank Trainer went on to share, “Most kids thought banks only hired people for teller jobs. We introduced them to all the types of jobs needed in a bank. They did not realize there were careers in marketing, human resources, administrative positions, and IT.”
During the first year, each student created a vision board about what theywant to do with their life and then presented in front of the group.
“They are learning life skills,” shared Coni. “And developing self-awareness about their abilities. They begin to see paths for their future they could not imagine before. Only because no one told them they were there.”
The students eagerly returned for a second year matched with their same partners. This year the focus was on project management and team building skills.
Which was why Coni, Khristen, and Jaime were building towers of spaghetti and marshmallows on a JBT conference room table. The point was to learn to work together with the materials at hand to build the tallest standing tower. The kids challenged their mentors to help too!
Coni told us, “We encourage the students to step out of their comfort zone – and they do the same to us. This has been a super rewarding experience. The kids are driven and get excited about their projects. They teach us as much as we teach them. Honestly, it’s extremely humbling.”
An end of year event in May at the Quentin Carnival Grounds in Lebanon showcased the projects the students worked on this past year. The event was open to the public.
Projects were focused on healthcare, community impact, and BBBSCR impact. Students presented proposals and implementation plans.
A community book drive was created by one group. The students involved had a table with free books to share with the community and talked to attendees about it at their end of year event.
The healthcare group, all of whom attend the Lebanon Valley Career and Technology Center (CTC), presented a table at the event with samples and tips on dental health and healthy living.
Planning the event itself was one of the projects. Students had to create a budget, plan activities, and find vendors for music and food.
One student asked what would happen if the DJ didn’t show. Their mentor asked, “What’s your back up plan?” She could see the student make the connection to think about all the what ifs.
“We watched our Littles step into roles as visualizers, leaders and task-oriented team players. We were here to guide, but the students came up with the ideas, plans, and how to work together to get it done,” shared Jamie. “It was great to watch. And so rewarding to see their success.”
AN INVESTMENT IN THE FUTURE
In addition to providing the time, space, and employees to help with the program, JBT also donates $7,500 each year to the Beyond School Walls program.
Troy Peters looks at it as an investment in the future. “It’s easy to get behind kids in the community. I’m very proud of JBT’s involvement and of the employees who take time to work with these students. They are the future of our community. We are only as strong as the community we serve. Let’s help them grow, learn, and be excited to work right here in Lebanon County.”
The Littles are seeing the future in a much different light since being part of the Beyond School Walls program. One young woman told Amy, “I don’t want to limit myself to doing what I know I can do. My mentor helped me realize there are so many possibilities.”
JBT, BBBSCR and the Lebanon School District are building more than marshmallow and spaghetti towers – they are building the future of Lebanon County.