Local banks team to boost students’ financial literacy

Partners in Careers program provides work experience for youth through interviews & internships

Partners In Careers

How do you open a checking account? What’s involved in direct deposit? How do you set up a budget and live by it? How does a bank work? The answers to these questions are probably things we take for granted, but there are many students in Clark County to whom these are foreign concepts. Partners in Careers, a local nonprofit, and Clark County financial institutions are working to close that gap.

Partners in Careers is dedicated to getting people back to work and to keeping kids in school and giving them work experience. Sharon Pesut, Partners in Careers’ executive director, said that the organization started their youth programs about seven years ago.

“We identified a lack of education and connection with the community,” said Pesut. “We want to connect students with mentors and give them work experiences and soft skills such as dedication, commitment and teamwork.”

Using these skills, said Pesut, Partners in Careers participants can build the confidence to get more schooling, get technical training or go straight into the workforce.

“Partners in Careers serves a vital role in our community,” said Scott Miller, senior vice president/marketing director at Riverview Community Bank. “They provide job force training and job placement and help people find housing.”

Riverview, said Pesut, has been an active partner in this work for several years. For example, Riverview staff members help with mock interviews, teach workshops on a wide variety of financial literacy topics, host students for job shadowing and internships, and even help with professional clothing drives that gather clothes suitable for a job interview. Miller added that the bank also assists with Partners in Careers fundraising events, development strategy and creative design

“We put our talents to work to help them help others,” said Miller.

Pesut said that other banks, such as Umpqua Bank and Pacific Continental Bank, are also active team members. For example, Chuck Michael, Pacific Continental senior vice president, serves on the Partners in Careers Board of Directors, while company vice president Dominique Merriweather is an active member of the Partners in Careers Program Committee.

“Our bank has a major emphasis on supporting nonprofits,” said Michael. “Each employee is encouraged to spend a certain number of hours working with the nonprofits of their choice.”

Michael himself has participated in Partners in Careers mock interviews, which occur twice a year and involve six types of interviews over about two hours.

“The interview participants want to make a change and are hungry for information,” Michael said. “They are really grateful for our help and it’s rewarding to see them absorbing what we’re sharing with them and put it to use.”

“When students get to meet community members that don’t have to be there,” said Pesut, “they really appreciate it and feel part of a broader community.”

Teaching workshops is another way banks like Riverview are helping with Partners in Careers’ goals. For example, said Miller, branch managers teach workshops on topics ranging from online and mobile banking to savings accounts to financial responsibility and investing.

“We want to get the students fired up, get them emotionally involved in their own future,” said Miller.

Building on that success, some students go on to do a 90-hour internship at the bank. For example, Riverview is currently hosting a high school intern in their marketing department. She shadows Riverview employees 8 hours a day, learning about marketing and banking in the real world.

On the flip side, said Miller, the bank gets a fresh, young perspective on topics such as social media. He said the intern has offered advice, such as mixing up posts to include events, a financial tip, an inspirational quote, and so on.

“We have learned a lot from her as well, and it has been very enjoyable,” Miller said.

Pesut said that Partners in Careers depends on companies like Riverview and Pacific Continental to provide work experience information through interviews and internships.

“Low-risk jobs in the summer really don’t exist anymore,” said Pesut. “Students are in competition for real jobs where managers have high expectations. We help them start out with what they need.”

Riverview participated in a new “externship” program last summer, where a high school teacher spent 40 hours seeing first-hand what the financial industry looks like. Then, the teacher can take that real-world knowledge back to the classroom to share with students.

“This is one of the most exciting things we’ve done,” said Pesut. “The program really connects with the teachers, can now draw on these connections and invite businesses to come in to talk to classes.”

Miller said that one reason Riverview supports Partners in Careers is because “they are extremely passionate about what they do, and they care about these kids – we owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Michael echoed that sentiment, saying “the beauty of what Partners in Careers does is that they help people that are trying to better themselves. Partners in Careers makes a difference one individual at a time, and gives hope. Those are profound statements.”

Both Miller and Michael encouraged other financial institutions – as well as businesses in other industries – to join the Partners in Careers team.

“Seeing these people graduate, or get a job, is personally rewarding, and it’s great for our community,” said Michael.

“The more talented and educated our workforce is, the more resources we can provide them with, the better our economy and our community is going to be,” said Miller. “Don’t just write a check – get your employees involved.”

Partners in Careers closing the financial literacy gap

According to Sharon Pesut, executive director at Partners in Careers, local financial institutions such as Riverview Community Bank, Umpqua Bank and Pacific Continental Bank, have assisted with the following over the last three years:

  • Staff from financial institutions have taught nine financial workshops for youth, with 170 students total
  • Five internships were placed at financial institutions
  • Eight mentors have been involved with students
  • One teacher externship was placed at a bank

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Jodie Gilmore’s journalistic background includes more than 15 years of writing for the Vancouver Business Journal as well as other publications such as Northwest Women’s Journal, North Bank Magazine, American Builders Quarterly and The New American. A Master’s in Technical & Professional Writing and 20+ years in the trenches as a technical writer and online help developer round out her writing background. When not writing, she enjoys gardening and working on her small farm in the Cascade foothills.