Corporate Social Responsibility: A Look at the Citizens Bank 3 Month Community Service Sabbatical ProgramBy Dan Eldridge |
Kevin Ferroni at Mighty Writers in South Philadelphia.
Kevin Ferroni still remembers the very first day he showed up to work as a volunteer tutor for Mighty Writers, the Graduate Hospital-based nonprofit where elementary and high school-aged kids learn to improve their writing skills. Many of the children live in low-income urban areas, and nearly all arrive of their own accord — usually once the school day ends — to participate in free workshops with names like “Comic Book Club” and “Documentary Poetry for Beginners.”
“I guess my expectation was to just jump right in, and start helping the kids with writing and reading and homework, and things like that,” says Ferroni, who works as an assistant manager for a Citizens Bank branch in New Jersey. “But I was really surprised: They were just as interested in hearing about what I would consider my normal suburban life, as I was to learn different things about their cultures, and about things they did.”
That was back in early-2012. Ferroni eventually went on to spend three months as a full-time Mighty Writers volunteer, with the full blessing of his employer. In fact, not only did Ferroni’s superiors hold onto his job during his interim stint as a kids’ writing coach, but they also continued paying his full salary, complete with benefits. Citizens Bank even sent out a press release, fawning over his decision to temporarily trade in a finance career for a makeshift schoolhouse in South Philly.
Competitive Community Service
There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation, of course: Ferroni was participating in an unusual Citizens Bank program known as the Community Service Sabbatical. The 18-year-old program allows Citizens employees to take a three-month leave of absence, during which they work full-time at a community-based nonprofit. Since the program’s inception in 1994, says Henri Moore, Citizens’ director of public affairs, the program’s participants have clocked more than 48,000 hours of volunteer work for various nonprofits. Along the way, they’ve collectively saved those organizations roughly $1 million in payroll expenses. To date, 100 of the bank’s employees have participated in the Community Service Sabbatical. Ferroni, as it happens, was the 100th.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the sabbatical program is hugely popular among Citizens employees, who continue receiving full salaries and benefits during their leave of absence. But there is a catch: Throughout all of Pennsylvania, only one Citizens employee is accepted into the program each year; a total of eight are chosen nationwide, and the competition is steep. The application process involves an essay about the importance of community service, as well as an in-person interview for each of the eight state’s three finalists.
As Moore points out, it takes a unique sort of person to compete for a program that will likely involve a good deal of no-nonsense hard work. “Sometimes [your regular job] is easier than volunteering in a place that might have kids, and energy, and a whole bunch of other stuff going on,” she says. “I just think [Kevin Ferroni] is unique, you know?”
According to Moore, he’d received word of his winning sabbatical application just prior to his annual Super Bowl party. But instead of asking friends to arrive bearing six-packs and finger foods, as they normally would, he instead requested they bring school supplies that could then be donated to Mighty Writers. “To me,” says Ferroni, “that just meant that his heart was really into it. It made me proud that we hire those kinds of people.”
Putting Their Money Where Their Mouth Is
The history of the Community Sabbatical Program, in fact, is full of stories — heartwarming, endearing, and just plain life-affirming — that are surprisingly similar to Ferroni’s. Ernestine Bustion, for instance, is a former Citizens Bank employee who won the sabbatical award in 2008. She volunteered with Philadelphia’s Career Wardrobe, a nonprofit that offers professional work attire to economically disadvantaged women attempting to re-enter the workforce. According to the Career Wardrobe’s executive director, Sheri Cole, Bustion’s free labor and executive-level skills couldn’t have been offered at a more opportune time: The organization wanted to expand by opening a retail store, but no one on staff had the time — or the energy — to sift through the city’s available retail real estate.
“Ernestine,” however, “was just fantastic,” says Cole. “She dove right in.” And today, the decidedly upscale Wardrobe Boutique sits on the corner of 19th and Spring Garden streets, where it sells new and used women’s clothing five days a week.
As for Ferroni, once his sabbatical ended and the time came for his bankers’ hours to resume, he actually chose to stay on at Mighty Writers, part-time. Today, he tutors neighborhood kids there every weekend. “I never in a million years would have thought I’d win the sabbatical award, and that the company would be happy to send me there, and that they’d support me the entire time,” he says, clearly still in awe of his good fortune. “But Citizens has always put its customers, its colleagues and its community first. For lack of a better term, whenever anyone asks me about the program, I tell them this: They put their money where their mouth is.”blog comments powered by Disqus