CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
Every morning, students from Cristo Rey Jesuit High School head to 75 corporate work-study jobs from Oconomowoc to Mequon, Racine to downtown Milwaukee. While there, they not only earn money that helps to offset the cost of their private education at the school in West Milwaukee, they learn the ins and outs of accounting, human resources, marketing, IT, finance, office support and more.
It’s a model with proven results. Nationwide, the Cristo Rey Network has a 100 percent acceptance rate of their graduating seniors to two- and four-year colleges. And they’ll arrive at those colleges with four years of corporate work experience and impressive resumes that their peers could only dream of.
But the program only works if there’s someone to get the students from the high school at 1215 S. 45th St. to their work-study site — making the van drivers of the school’s fleet of a dozen nine-passenger vans the unsung heroes of the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School here in Milwaukee.
“This is such an important job in terms of our school and mission,” said Elise McNamara, associate director of the Corporate Work-Study Program at Cristo Rey Jesuit. “All of our students work one day each week at a job partner, and that doesn’t happen unless we transport them to and from their job site.”
Now that the high school has grown to include four classes and a student body of nearly 400, 12 drivers are needed every day — and next year the number might be even higher. Finding enough drivers has always been difficult, said McNamara.
“We’ve found our tried-and-true drivers who get behind our mission of Catholic and urban education, but we are always in need of more,” she said.
Currently, there are openings for both volunteer and paid driving positions. Stormy Walker is a paid driver and has been working for the school since it opened in 2015. What she loves most about the job is supporting the students, who come from families of limited financial means.
“They work so hard, and they’re getting opportunities like you wouldn’t believe,” she said. “They’re working corporate jobs, they’re bilingual — they’re amazing.”
Retired Marquette University High School teacher Mike Donovan decided to volunteer as a driver because he admires the mission of the school, and feels this is a “small way to support that.”
“For me, particularly, it’s a great experience having been at Marquette High for almost 50 years,” said Donovan, a parishioner at Gesu Parish. “I tend to feel that I’m making a contribution to an important part of their lives because if their education is going to continue at Cristo Rey Jesuit, they need to get to and from their work sites. It’s an obligation to live my faith and part of my faith is responding to God’s love for me by helping those who need help. Your responsibility to help others doesn’t end with retirement.”
Ann Reardon, a parishioner at St. John Vianney Parish in Brookfield, said she also felt compelled to volunteer her time. “I was looking for something where I felt like I was helping — like they really needed me. That’s why it appealed to me — I felt like this was something they really need,” she said. “Getting drivers has been a real struggle for the school, but it’s such a vital part of the work-study. If they don’t have drivers, they don’t have a way to get the students to their jobs.”
The position also affords the possibility to provide support, and even a little bit of mentoring, to the students, said McNamara. “The drivers are some of the first people the student sees in the morning, and they’re the first ones asking students how their day went in the afternoon.”
“I actually miss them when I don’t drive,” said Guadalupe Alba, a member of St. Rose Parish. “We talk about school, grades, college, parents, siblings, friends, girlfriends, boyfriends and everything else under the sun. I try to keep it light and somewhat humorous in the van. I have never had any trouble with the kids and they are respectful to me.”
Volunteers can give as little as two hours per week and up to 20; for paid drivers, the equivalent of part-time hours are available. Drivers can pick their days and shifts and can select from morning or afternoon hours, or both. Each shift is two hours.
A CDL license is not required for the job; the van handles much like a suburban or an SUV, according to the drivers.
“I love that it’s not a big, old, giant bus,” said Walker with a laugh. “I’d lose my cool points.”
A full job description is available online (click on “Join Our Team”).