U.S. Bank

Robert “BJ” Roelike and Ryan Phillips. U.S. Bank

Without dedicated JAUM volunteers who give selflessly of their time and talents, thousands of students across the Upper Midwest would miss out on real-world opportunities to learn about financial literacy, entrepreneurship and career and college readiness. Robert “BJ” Roelike, senior vice president of U.S. Bank, and Ryan Phillips, vice president, are two of the many volunteers who provide that crucial link. Roelike and Phillips — along with numerous other U.S. Bank volunteers — work with JA to help young people find their talents. In just one example, the 180-person staff in U.S. Bank’s Direct Lending division has effectively “adopted” the entire Hope Academy school in south Minneapolis, and every year, bank volunteers deliver JA programs to each of its 475 K-12 students.

Roelike began working with JA and Hope Academy 12 years ago by signing up through the bank as a volunteer. His first experience was teaching third-graders. “It was a blast!” says Roelike. “Third-graders want treats, they want attention and they want to ask questions. I got Ryan involved the next year and we were able to cover four classes. Pretty soon, I said, ‘The Direct Lending portion of U.S. Bank is going to own this whole school.’”

Phillips says that as Hope Academy grew, U.S. Bank volunteers met the demand by continually filling available JA volunteer spots. “[School administrators would] come back to us and say, ‘We have two more classes’ and we’d add two more volunteers,” Phillips says. “I now teach multiple JA classes every year and also work to drive the JA volunteerism message to our employees. ‘Let’s do our part in the community, help some kids and have a lot of fun doing it.’ And every time one of our employees comes back from teaching a class, they talk about how cool it was, how great their experience was and how engaged the kids were.”

Phillips adds that the opportunity to make a true impact on students’ lives through JA has also been memorable. He recalls meeting a recent graduate of Hope who remembered him as a JA volunteer. The young man told Phillips that he’d decided to go into a trade after graduation, in part because of JA. “In our JA curriculum, we talk about the importance of trade jobs,” Phillips says of the conversation. “Going to college is great, but the trades are as important. That young man is now working for a welding company where they’re paying him to go to school for welding and he’s making really good money. He said he’d heeded the advice he’d gotten from JA and it’s paying off for him.”

Roelike adds that for both himself and U.S. Bank, the affirming messages JA provides to young people are critical. He also says the ongoing partnership between the organization and JA is incredibly strong. “As a bank, it is our great responsibility to teach financial literacy,” Roelike says. “We view financial education as an investment in our collective future. Volunteering with JA and going into the schools is at the top of the list of volunteer opportunities among our U.S. Bank employees.”