Cristo Rey Jesuit and United Way of Greater Houston have been united for 10 years in the Cristo Rey Jesuit mission to prepare students to succeed in college and lead their communities as men and women for others. United Way is one of 10 founding partners that has supported Cristo Rey Jesuit students since the school opened its doors in 2009. During those 10 years, the list of Corporate Work-Study Program (CWSP) partners has grown to 170.
Anna M. Babin, who has been United Way of Greater Houston’s President and CEO since 2005, first became aware of Cristo Rey Jesuit’s Corporate Work-Study Program about 11 years ago when she attended a breakfast hosted by Jesuit Southern Provincial Fr. Fred Kammer where Cristo Rey Jesuit was introduced. Fr. Kammer, who had previously been the President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, an agency where Babin served as a board member and chair, introduced Cristo Rey Jesuit’s unique concept of high school students working one day a week at major Houston corporations to the group of business leaders, including Babin, hoping to get them involved.
“I immediately thought this [CRJ Corporate Work-Study Program] would be a good program to lift up hardworking, low-income families, and would change the trajectory of those families,” Babin said. “Parents have hopes and dreams for their children, but they don’t always have the guidance or resources necessary to achieve those dreams. Cristo Rey Jesuit allows for those dreams.”
The CWSP has been mutually beneficial for the students and United Way. “Cristo Rey Jesuit students have transformed our workplace. The benefits far outweigh the cost of the investment,” Babin said. “United Way has been a consistent Cristo Rey Jesuit partner for 10 years because students enriched the lives of our staff each day.”
Babin, who has a strong Catholic background, often connects with the students as they are leaving the United Way Center to see how they are doing academically and to give words of encouragement. “I want the students to know that they are supported and that there are many caring adults in their lives. Students are transformed in a nurturing environment; that’s the culture of United Way. We have a caring workplace here. Their teachers are also caring adults in their lives; their teachers believe in them.”
At United Way, students are given an opportunity to engage with others and participate in true workplace experiences, working in various departments. Freshmen duties often include working on surveys, data entry, helping volunteers, preparing donated books for libraries, etc. As they become upperclassmen, they are given more responsibilities. Many of the United Way employees who worked with CRJ students keep in touch with them after they graduate.
“Cristo Rey Jesuit is life-changing,” Babin continued. “Personally, I get the satisfaction that we are investing in our future; investing in children that would not otherwise have a chance.”
Kenya Patterson, Sr. Human Resources Generalist with the United Way, has been supervising students for the 10 years that United Way has been a partner. “When students come to the United Way as freshmen, they are like [flower] bulbs, and then we watch them bloom. These precious lives become part of our team. By their senior year, they have the confidence that they need as an adult to be successful.”
United Way goes beyond helping Houstonians in need. By employing Cristo Rey Jesuit students, they are teaching them the value of helping others, forming them into men and women for others.