Opinion: A Pathway for Baltimore’s Student Leaders

Bank of America Twitter photo. #BofAStudentLeaders

We share common experiences in life that connect most of us. Getting our first job. Starting to take responsibility for making a difference in our community. Beginning to build the skills and network to establish a rewarding and meaningful life and career.

I remember trying to find my first job as a student at Western High School in Baltimore City during the 1970s. It was a tough time for a kid to find work, but eventually I did. It gave me confidence. It taught me the importance of commitment and perseverance. I can draw a straight line from my first day on that job to my job today as the Baltimore area market president for Bank of America.

That’s why the bank’s Student Leaders program is personal to me. This year, four students from the bank’s Greater Maryland market joined nearly 300 other young people from across the country in gaining work experience with local nonprofits. They were mentored by our Bank of America team. And in July, they came together at the National Student Leader Summit in Washington, D.C., which focused on building the skills to create a more civically engaged society.

Our student leaders recently finished their internship at Strong City Baltimore, a local nonprofit that focuses on building up people and communities through its Adult Learning Center and 29th Street Community Center.

Every week, hundreds of Baltimore residents participate in adult basic education and English as a second language classes, as well as after-school, summer and employment opportunities. Over the course of the summer, we also helped our student leaders gain a better understanding of their personal finances, as they earn a paycheck, through the bank’s Better Money Habits financial wellness and education platform.

Our four student leaders were juniors and seniors in high school. Despite their youth, what is as impressive as the work they did this summer with Strong City is their commitment to their communities, which brought them to our attention in the first place.

Laya, who is from Reisterstown, founded a nonprofit called All Hands Baltimore, raising more than $10,000 to help more than 1,250 homeless people with blankets, food, hygiene kits and backpacks filled with essentials to help cope with hot summer conditions. She also established a children’s library at a domestic abuse shelter. She learned about our Student Leader program when she received an award for her community service work at the same event where the bank was honored for its philanthropy.

Our other student leaders are equally as impressive.

Sha-Shonna, who is from Baltimore, participated in the Black Girls Global Exchange in South Africa, sharing cultural and service experiences with girls in that country. Zion, from Columbia, channeled his love for soccer into more than 100 hours working with a soccer team for students with physical and learning disabilities. Faith, who also is from Columbia, has overcome her shyness to become a youth leader in her school and church, spending many hours tutoring younger children.

By making this investment in Greater Maryland’s students, each year, we are planting seeds for a better future – for our region and for our bank. Laya, Sha-Shonna, Zion and Faith are civic-minded young people, who are role models for other students.

Our expectation, based on 15 years of experience, is that they will steer other young people toward serving our community. And through mentoring, our team builds lasting relationships – which could lead to the students’ future employment as colleagues.

Since 2004, the bank has connected more than 2,500 student leaders with employment, skills development and service across the country. They learn to compete in the marketplace, taking advantage of and building upon the talent they’ve already displayed. And they take responsibility for an important role in bringing businesses, nonprofits and governments together to create social change.

For some of our student leaders, this summer was that first job they’ll always remember – just as I remember mine. And while I can’t go back to that summer in the 1970s, thanks to my job, I get to relive the excitement of that time every year as we welcome our new class of student leaders.

— SABINA KELLY

The writer is the Greater Maryland market president for Bank of America.

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