By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

Ceondere Herbert allows himself to dream, envisioning a life as a parasitologist and possibly a singer.  

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Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School students recently gathered at LSU to learn where they would be working as part of the school’s Corporate Work Study Program. The Match Day brought tears from not only students but their parents. Photo provided by Cara Couvillion | Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School  

 

Although those dreams might seem a bit lofty for the Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School freshman, those seeds for success are currently being planted through the school’s Corporate Work Study Program.  

The innovative program allows students to earn a majority of their education cost, gain job experience and realize the relevance of classroom learning while performing job functions in Baton Rouge businesses. The program allows students, who come from some of the neediest families in the area to develop their personal, social, technical and professional skills that will help them advance in their careers.  

The corporate partners pay an annual fee to Cristo Rey. Students traditionally work at the job one day a week.  

“The program is very important because it gives us experience and more responsibility,” said Herbert, who is working at Gulf Coast Bank in Baton Rouge. “I hope to develop more communication and people skills so I can know how to talk to people without getting nervous. And it could help me in my future career.”  

Students recently met their corporate sponsors during the annual Match Day at LSU. Emotions ran high as the incoming freshmen were matched with their new employers.  

“I started dancing because I got the job I wanted,” said freshman Derrick Boyd, who will be working at Price LeBlanc in Baton Rouge and has designs on becoming a chemist. “It will be interesting and also help me in my future career.”  

Tears began rolling down the young face of Imani Brown when she learned she would be working at Phelps Dunbar. A self-proclaimed entrepreneur who operates her own business selling a variety of items via social media, Brown said the position at the Baton Rouge law firm is the job she was targeting.  

“I will be able to gain experience, helping me in ways to improve my business,” she said, adding that her mother also cried at the ceremony. 

“We are getting an education and we are getting job experience,” Brown added. “We are working in adult places, you are learning and being treated the way you always wanted to be treated once you hit puberty, once you hit maturity, and not like a little child.” 

The response from the corporate community was equally as enthusiastic. Troy Guidry, a sales manager for Baton Rouge Coca-Cola, said one of his company’s priorities is serving the community, and that after meeting with Cristo Rey officials, “we felt that this program allowed us to continue giving back to our community.” 

“Being able to work with four young, bright adults to teach them about what we do here at Coca-Cola and for them to gain business experience was important to us,” he said. 

Guidry added the students will work in sales, marketing, human resources and the print shop, performing such duties as receptionist, filing, assisting in setting up meetings, helping produce point of sale material and assisting with marketing programs. 

“We are teaching and mentoring the young adults to give them knowledge and experience of how business works, how to dress, act appropriately, work ethic, expectations, etc.,” Guidry said. “I do think it is a foundational program that will lead to future leaders. 

“We feel we are making a difference in the lives of these young adults and assisting them to be successful in their future endeavors.” 

Training for students begins even before they are sent off to work at one of the 46 corporate work study partners. During the summer, they are trained in basic business fundamentals such as how to shake hands, how to speak to adults and how to act in an office setting. Each student must wear his or school uniform to their job. 

“This will help us mature because you have to act like an adult,” said Cesar Rodriguez, who is working at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. “We will be getting taught like an adult and getting treated like an adult, not being treated like kids anymore. So you are being forced to learn how to act like an adult.” 

By her own admission, A’mya Chirse is quite shy but since starting Cristo Rey she has become more open, saying, “I used to talk to nobody,” 

She hopes her job as office coordinator at City Year in Baton Rouge, a nonprofit organization that helps high school students remain in school, will help her to continue to develop her people skills. 

“I want to (be able to) go to a stranger (in social settings) and greet them and tell them what I do,” she said. “I can definitely learn life skills.” 

The Baton Rouge office of Postlethwaite & Netterville is one of the founding Cristo Rey corporate sponsors. According to Missy Judice, who works in human resources at the nationwide accounting firm, the experience has been as rewarding for staff as for the two students who will be working at the downtown Baton Rouge location. 

“They definitely fit in and have made an impact on our lives by just getting to know them as individuals and trying to help them develop,” she said, noting the pleasure she has experienced in witnessing how a student in her department has blossomed. 

“It’s rewarding for me to be able to see (the student) do those things and succeed at those things (in areas which she has been instructed) such as spreadsheets, filing, etc. 

“It’s good for us as well as them.”