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“I like working at St. Vincent de Paul because of the people and the opportunity to help others who need help. I like knowing my job and my actions are making a difference,” says Iesha C.

Iesha is one of about 30 Providence Cristo Rey High School (PCRHS) students who volunteer weekly at the SVdP food pantry on 30th Street. The students volunteer as part of the school’s Corporate Work Study Program where they go to school four days a week and work one day. By the end of their high school career, students will have worked 1,000 hours.

The idea for the work study program came from Fr. Foley, one of the founders of the Cristo Rey Network.

“He saw the poverty of students and wanted to give them a chance to have different opportunities,” explains Cindy Thompson, Executive Director of the PCRHS Corporate Work Study Program. “He approached local business partners about hiring students. The students work for the companies who, in turn, help pay down their tuition.”

The work study model was adopted at all of the nearly 40 schools in the Cristo Rey Network. Students earn one-third of their tuition through this program. At PCRHS, about 75 companies or non-profits are partners in the work study program. Since non-profits like SVdP can’t financially contribute to the program, the school fundraises to help cover the tuition of students who work for nonprofits.

Getting Real-life Work Experience

Beginning freshmen year, students get a real-life work experience, from attending a job fair to interviewing with various companies. And as they work for a company, students have supervisors or mentors, weekly check-ins and bi-annual performance reviews.

“The program gives students the opportunity to see things they may not have been exposed to before,” Thompson says. “It gives them different perspectives and expands their view of what’s available and possible.”

Seeing the Immediate Impact of their Work

At SVdP, students do much of the same work that staff and adult volunteers do to keep the weekly operations of the food pantry moving seamlessly. Students sort items, package and box up food, greet clients and put the food in their cars.

“I like SVdP because they help you, and you learn things every day,” says Hector M. “It’s a hands-on experience. I like it because we work as a team and problem solve.”

SVdP is a great partner for the program because students learn the importance of teamwork and communication—plus, they can see firsthand the impact of their work and how vital it is to the community.

“Many of the kids who work at SVdP have told me that it’s been their favorite job,” says Allison Dethlefs, Director of Marketing at PCRHS. “They like it because they’re busy and interacting with others. They value the service aspect because they see the immediate benefit.”

Manna from Heaven

For SVdP, the opportunity to partner with the PCRHS work study program was “manna from heaven” according to Darlene Sweeney, Director of Volunteer Services at SVdP. The pandemic has greatly impacted SVdP’s volunteer base, so having 30 young, helpful and energetic young adults in on a weekly basis filled a great need.

Working together in partnership, these work study students and SVdP are improving countless lives. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.