“When I first moved to the United States from Iraq in 2020, I knew very little English, and it was so hard to communicate with people. My sister and I moved to be closer to my dad, but I knew I would need to find a job quickly. I was doing odd jobs for six months when I discovered BankWork$. The program was exactly what I was looking for, and I couldn’t believe my luck,” said Omar.
Omar studied accounting in Iraq and knew he was very skilled at math, but learning English was far more of a challenge. While enrolled in the class, he would practice English at night and take the course during the day.
“When I started BankWork$, I was so worried about my accent; it’s quite different than how people talk in Pittsburgh,” said Omar. “However, I was surprised to see many other cultures represented in my class! We had people with many different accents and languages. My instructor, Tanya Bashor, taught me how to talk to others professionally and even invited me to meet her family for dinner to learn U.S. customs.”
After graduating from BankWork$ in March 2021, Omar interviewed with Dollar Bank and First Commonwealth Bank and got offers from both. However, he chose Dollar Bank because it is closer to his home. Currently, he works as a Senior Operations Analyst and is preparing for his upcoming promotion to Wire Transfer Supervisor.
Omar describes his current role as “behind the scenes.” He prefers helping customers without needing to speak face to face. “In my role, I process wire transfers and help customers on the phone. This spring, when I finish training, I will be promoted to Wire Transfer Supervisor and help lead others,” said Omar.
Omar highly recommends BankWork$ to anyone considering applying. “My friends always ask me how I got to my job, and I tell them about this program,” said Omar. “It helped me get my job and improve my professional skills. I’m grateful for all the doors it has opened in my life. Last month, I bought my dream car with the earnings I made from Dollar Bank. None of this would have been possible without BankWork$, and I can’t recommend it enough.”
To AJ Schwerdtfeger, a career in banking always felt like a pipe dream. After helping run his father’s business in Wisconsin for years, AJ moved to Arizona in 2021 for a fresh start. Despite his desire for a career in financial services, without previous relevant experience, he struggled to find an opportunity. While working as a pool cleaner in the summer of 2021, AJ discovered BankWork$ at A New Leaf in Phoenix, Arizona. Today, AJ has been at Bank of America for over a year and enjoys helping customers every day.
“During my time cleaning pools, I was desperate to find a career at a bank,” said AJ. “I found BankWork$ on Indeed and instantly applied. After I got accepted, my managers allowed me to adjust my pool schedule so I could take the program. They knew how much I wanted this opportunity, and I’m grateful for their support.”
Lorraine Alvarez, Business Services Supervisor at A New Leaf, first met AJ when he applied for BankWork$. “AJ was a role model student in Instructor Cheri Foschi’s class,” said Lorraine. “I asked him why he wanted to leave the family business, and his reply was, ‘look at my hands; the pool chemicals are damaging my hands. I can’t do this anymore.’ He always arrived to class early and didn’t miss a single day, earning him the Perfect Attendance Award. He started out as a timid young man during the first week of class, but was leading group activities by week six,” said Lorraine.
“Before starting BankWork$, I kept to myself a lot,” said AJ. “I didn’t talk to people all that much and preferred to blend into the background. Now, I talk to people on the phone daily. It’s crazy for me to remember that wasn’t always the case. Joining Cheri’s class was one of the best decisions I ever made because it jumpstarted my career in financial services. She taught me how to break out of my shell and become a more confident speaker. We still keep in touch today, and I’m grateful for her guidance and advice.”
After graduating from BankWork$ in November 2021, AJ interviewed with multiple financial institutions in Phoenix. Soon after his graduation ceremony, he enthusiastically accepted an offer from Bank of America for a General Distributions Representative role. In November 2022, AJ was promoted to Distribution Escalations Specialist.
His daily responsibilities include moving money between accounts, helping with paperwork, and talking with customers on the phone. “Sometimes people are frustrated or upset with their financial situations, and I enjoy helping walk them through solutions to their problems,” said AJ. “At Bank of America, we’re always trying to figure out how things could improve, and I’ve always loved helping people—so it’s a great fit. I can’t wait to continue my career here for a long time.”
Brett Moore was sure that a career in financial services was right around the corner after graduating college with an economics degree. However, he struggled to get interviews due to his lack of banking experience. After searching Indeed for job opportunities, Brett discovered BankWork$ at Goodwill of Colorado in Denver, Colorado. With only a few days until classes started, Brett quickly applied. Now, five years after graduating from BankWork$, Brett is a Branch Service Manager at Vectra Bank, where he oversees tellers and helps customers daily. “Signing up for that class started my career as a whole. I have no idea where I’d be without it,” said Brett.
When Brett started BankWork$ in October 2017, he was in Instructor Candice Sporhase-White’s class. The professional environment of the program was a new but positive experience. “When I was in college, everything was on beach time,” said Brett. “Candice’s class was much more structured; she would call people out who weren’t actively listening, which helped me pay close attention. She didn’t want us to make careless mistakes.”
For Brett, financial skills came naturally, but professional social skills were a greater personal challenge. “Candice taught me how to interview correctly. I used to answer questions immediately without thinking of a good response, but now I’m much better. While I was initially attracted to the career potential this class provided, I’m thankful for the social skills it taught me. We did weeks of interview practices, social skill lessons, and training exercises. Without BankWork$, I don’t know how I would have sold myself to convince people to hire me,” said Brett.
After graduating from BankWork$ in December 2017, Brett, like all BankWork$ graduates, interviewed with local financial instructions (all BankWork$ graduates are guaranteed interviews with each employer partner). Shortly after graduating, he accepted an offer from Vectra Bank for a junior teller position. “My family was thrilled to see me get hired so quickly!” said Brett. Currently, he trains new tellers and helps clients with various financial services issues. His favorite aspect of his career is feeling like part of a community where everyone wants each other to succeed.
Kelly Hargrove, a current Manager and Banking Instructor for BankWork$ at Goodwill of Colorado, was inspired by Brett’s story and has invited him to speak at several events to offer advice to current participants. “From the first moment Brett reached out to me, he was eager to share the huge impact the program had on him and how it helped him get a career with Vectra Bank,” said Kelly. “Brett has generously come to speak to students at my classes and was also an inspiring alum speaker at a recent graduation. His story motivates others students to believe in their dreams. It makes a huge difference for them to hear a story from someone like Brett, who has been where they were and is now where they want to be!”
Brett’s advice to anyone considering BankWork$ or CareerWork$ Medical is to figure out if it will help you reach your career goals. “The instructors will help you define your goals and figure out if it’s a good fit. There’s much to learn and gain from that class besides just banking,” said Brett.
Created in Spring 2021, the Marc Hill Rising Star Award, presented by CareerWork$, recognizes a graduate of BankWork$ or CareerWork$ Medical who has shown significant personal growth and transformation since starting class. After receiving nominations from instructors across the country, the CareerWork$ team selects one recipient each quarter. During a surprise ceremony, often joined by colleagues, coworkers, and friends, the recipient receives a certification and cash award to enhance and enrich their new career. This award honors Marc’s legacy of supporting those around him and helping them achieve their best.
“Marc Hill had a way of looking for every opportunity to educate and empower applicants who had the odds stacked against them,” said Ruby Sloan, Program Manager at CareerWork$. “Hundreds of graduates’ lives are forever changed because Marc believed in them when the world would have counted them out. His legacy will live on through the Marc Hill Rising Star Award.”
In 2012, Ruby enrolled in Marc’s BankWork$ class (co-instructed with Mercedes Rippel) at YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish. Feeling mentally stuck, Ruby wasn’t sure a career in financial services was attainable for her, but thanks to Marc’s guidance, she developed her confidence and self-worth. “Marc saw my potential when I couldn’t see it in myself,” said Ruby. “He showed me that I didn’t have to stay stuck in my situation. Lesson by lesson, he taught me how to dig out of my darkness and despair. He showed me how to be successful by simply looking for opportunities to help my clients and coworkers.”
“He had a way of teaching lessons in a memorable and meaningful way,” noted Ruby. “He was transparent and honest about expectations in banking, and it helped us prepare for the reality of the careers we were all pursuing. Marc was a funny guy, full of cliché sayings and dad jokes, and was consistently his authentic self in an unapologetic way. To be in his presence meant you were either laughing or learning. He dropped nuggets of wisdom in everyday conversations that I still draw on today.”
In 2016, after several promotions in banking, Ruby returned to the YWCA as a Career Navigator, where she became colleagues with Marc. Shortly after, she joined the CareerWork$ national team, where she supports instructors throughout the country. Like Marc, all of our instructors continue to inspire, encourage, and train participants who are looking to enter the workforce.
Dion Willis, fellow Program Manager at CareerWork$, who also worked alongside Marc during his time at the YWCA, was deeply inspired by his impact. “I learned so much from him,” said Dion. “Marc genuinely cared about all of his students. It’s hard not to shed a tear thinking about what he meant to the Seattle community and all the lives he touched.”
Ruby believes the Marc Hill Rising Star Award honors Marc’s legacy by “allowing our instructors to nominate and share the stories of graduates who have overcome obstacles that others may have otherwise not known or seen. It recognizes all the effort behind closed doors that many of our graduates have to put in just to have a chance at a career with growth potential. Some of us don’t just start from the bottom; we start in a hole with no way out until someone like Marc throws us a shovel and brings us hope, giving us a way out. The award also allows the graduate to feel seen and celebrated. It’s a reminder that this is just the beginning, the sky is the limit, and they are a Rising Star.”
As of January 2023, four recipients have won the Marc Hill Rising Star Award—Dynasty, Alexis, Deepa, and Delaney—each with unique stories of overcoming adversity while pursuing their career dreams. We look forward to celebrating more recipients of this award in the months and years to come!
After working as a pharmacy technician for six years, Jatia Hall wanted to pursue a new opportunity. She learned about BankWork$ at Philadelphia OIC and was extremely interested upon learning that all graduates get interviews with companies hiring immediately. With no prior experience in banking, she knew pursuing an entirely different career would be challenging, but applied for the program and has never looked back.
“At that point in my career, my only background was in medical customer service,” said Jatia. “I knew that good customer service skills could transfer into the financial services industry, but I didn’t know anything about banking itself. I also knew that finding a new pharmaceutical role would be easier, but I wanted to try something different and exciting.”
Jatia attended Shantelle Faison’s BanKWork$ class at Philadelphia OIC. “Shantelle taught me how to be as professional as possible in the workplace. I would have never thought about standing up to shake hands if she hadn’t shown me. She also taught me to dress for the position I want, not where I currently am. I still use her teachings daily, and I’m grateful to have her as part of my support system,” Jatia said.
After graduating from BankWork$ in May 2019, Jatia interviewed with multiple financial institutions at the hiring fair that immediately follows any BankWork$ or CareerWork$ Medical graduation ceremony. “On graduation day, I loved how you’re able to connect with recruiters from all types of places,” said Jatia. Shortly after graduating, she enthusiastically accepted an offer for a teller role at TD Bank.
After two years at TD Bank, in 2021 Jatia was promoted to her current role of Customer Experience Coordinator, thanks to her consistently excellent customer feedback. She provides customer services, including opening accounts, teller operations, building bank relationships, and mentoring new tellers. She feels appreciated on her team. “I can help things run smoothly on busy days,” said Jatia. “I love helping people, and when customers appreciate my service, it warms my heart. It’s the most rewarding feeling.”
Jatia is enjoying her career at TD Bank and making a difference in her community. As she looks ahead, she wants to go into either a Finacial Advisor or Financial Service Representative role.
“When I was in BankWork$, I had such a great introduction to this industry. Shantelle continues to be a resource and friend, and everyone at Philadelphia OIC wanted me to succeed. My advice for anyone considering BankWork$ is to never limit yourself and stay vigilant. I knew nothing about banking before applying, and now I oversee tellers every day. If you have the drive to succeed, you have all the opportunities you could need.”
After graduating high school in 2017, Andrew Wilson—like so many—knew he needed to work but wasn’t sure what he wanted to do professionally. A friend had recently graduated from BankWork$ at YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish and, after seeing Andrew’s discouragement following multiple rejections for lack of experience, pushed Andrew to consider BankWork$.
Andrew was primarily drawn to the general career preparation that BankWork$ provides. “When I started BankWork$, I didn’t know what to expect,” says Andrew. “My instructor helped me learn to be detail-oriented and focused. She understood that I needed to learn the basics of banking, and we started there. One day in class, we did an exercise where we pretended to be tellers. While I was doing a transaction, my fellow teller got robbed—nobody noticed. It helped me learn to be aware of many different things around me.”
Mercedes Rippel, Andrew’s BankWork$ Instructor, continued to stay in contact with him after graduation and still offers her support today. “When I first met Andrew, he was timid and unsure of himself,” says Mercedes. “Once I interviewed him, I knew he would make an excellent Banker! Here we are today, and I could not be prouder of his success!”
Upon graduating from BankWork$, Andrew, like all graduates, attended a hiring fair where he interviewed with local financial institutions. He accepted an offer as a Backup Teller at Columbia Bank. Through diligent work and excellent customer service, he was promoted to a Full-Time Teller within a year.
Now, five years after graduating from BankWork$, he has been promoted to Exceptions Officer; he helps customers check for corrections daily and ensures deposits go to their correct accounts. He loves advancing his career at Columbia Bank.
“My family has always supported me and knew I would find a successful career. I have that now at Columbia Bank. I enjoy my role and want to stay with Columbia for a long time,” said Andrew.
“Before BankWork$, I had trouble finding any job. I didn’t know how to present myself, and I had terrible confidence, but the program taught me the fundamental skillset of banking and changed my mindset around my self-worth. Many of us in the class were in tough spots, but we all had a supportive mentality. It was an extremely welcoming and encouraging environment. Had I not stuck around, I’d be completely different.”
Columbia Bank is a proud employer partner in Seattle, South Puget Sound, and Portland with our partners YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish, Career Path Services, and SE Works respectively, with a robust history of hiring BankWork$ grads. Like Andrew, graduates across the country continue to thrive in new careers thanks to BankWork$.
When Gabriela Martinez first learned about BankWork$ at A New Leaf from her cousin, who was a BankWork$ graduate, she was working as a waitress in Phoenix, Arizona. “As a waitress, I was trying to help my mom with bills, but it wasn’t enough, so I knew I needed a career change,” said Gabriela. She wanted a more stable career to support her family and more fulfillment for herself.
Although her cousin assured her that BankWork$ would help her succeed in financial services, Gabriela was still nervous about beginning class and credits her instructor for helping her feel prepared. With only slight familiarity with cash handling from the food service industry, having a program like BankWork$ in which she learned about both the industry and possible roles helped her understand her professional options and find a path that felt right. “I had no idea what working as a teller would entail, but my instructors taught me so much about the role, and the more I learned, the more I realized it’s what I wanted to do.”
Gabriela feels immense gratitude towards Cheri Foschi and Lorraine Alvarez, BankWork$ staff at A New Leaf, for their encouragement and guidance. “They changed my life forever, but more importantly, they helped me not to think of myself as someone who didn’t deserve respect. I was very insecure as a waitress, and they helped me push through that,” said Gabriela.
“When I did my first mock interview, I felt blindsided by the questions, but the more my instructors coached me, the more I felt confident in my answers. On the day of my actual interview, I was incredibly sure of my responses and felt like I did a great job,” said Gabriela.
Cheri remembers Gabriela as a star student in her class. “She had perfect attendance and has always been goal oriented,” said Cheri. “With a focus on assisting others, she is a natural leader and leads with integrity and sincerity.”
Wells Fargo, a long-time supporter of the BankWork$ program, was hiring tellers for a branch close to Gabriela’s home. After graduating from BankWork$ in September 2021, Gabriela, like all BankWork$ or CareerWork$ Medical graduates, attended a hiring fair with local financial institutions and connected with the Wells Fargo hiring team.
“When I learned how close the Wells Fargo position was to my house, I wanted it so much,” said Gabriela. “A day after my interview with them, they gave me a call and offered me a position. I ecstatically accepted! Now, my coworkers are like one big family to me, and I can’t believe I get to work with them every day.” In her role as a teller at Wells Fargo, she enjoys assisting her customers and providing a positive experience to anyone in her branch.
Gabriela feels thankful for the people in her life who encouraged her to reach for a financial services career with stability and opportunity, including her mother, who has always been her biggest inspiration. “My mother works harder than anyone I know and has given me many opportunities; I want to do my part to give back to her. She gives me the energy to keep going every day.”
Gabriela encourages anyone considering getting into the financial services industry to try BankWork$. “When I was a waitress, I never thought I’d have the kind of career that I do now. I’m much more financially stable, I don’t have to deal with long commutes, and I can give back to my family. No matter your background, with BankWork$, you can find a way to succeed.”
Renease Little, a Chicago native, always knew she wanted to work in the financial services sector, but didn’t know how to get started. After an eventful few years—a health scare that meant she had to leave her job, having a second child, and navigating the COVID-19 pandemic—she was ready for a career that could support her growing family. At the beginning of 2022, her New Year’s resolution was simple: try something new. After seeing a Facebook ad for BankWork$ at Association House of Chicago, Renease knew she had found an opportunity to move forward and revitalize her career.
“I wanted to work in financial services, but I could never get an interview because of my lack of knowledge about cash handling,” said Renease. “September 2021 was when all my unemployment funds ended, and I was back to living at home with my mom and kids. I felt so lost. When I saw an ad for BankWork$, I thought that it might be able to help me finally launch my dream career in financial services.”
Renease remembers beginning class as a new experience in professionalism. “At first, I was surprised I had to dress up for class. I had never done that for any role before, but I knew this would lead to a career to support my family so I went along with it. Slowly, I began to understand the culture of banks and the importance of being professional in class made more sense. I needed that character development,” notes Renease. “BankWork$ laid a foundation for me to start building myself back up again.”
One of Renease’s biggest challenges in class was overcoming her nervousness. “My instructor never made me feel like I was asking a dumb question. She also taught me to slow down when I’m talking. I felt like she really cared about me as an individual and wanted to help me turn into a better version of myself.”
BankWork$ instructors are used to supporting participants who are balancing the program with the realities and challenges of life, and who need support and encouragement to graduate. When Renease ran into a few hurdles while enrolled, Sherri Richardson, Renease’s instructor at Association House of Chicago, was ready to help her.
“Only a few people knew I was doing the program. I kept it very quiet,” said Renease. “They knew I was chasing after a better life. I had support from my instructor, but my personal life kept blowing up. I’m so glad Sherri encouraged me to finish strong in the last couple of weeks. I want to thank her for seeing something in me that I didn’t see in myself. It felt great to have someone who can see your possibility and wants to push you to go there.”
Sherri Richardson speaks highly of Renease as a participant. “She was a great fit for the BankWork$ program,” said Sherri. “She always showed up to class with a positive attitude, ready to learn and participate, and support her classmates. She gave her best and put into action the tips and advice shared by her instructors and guest bankers. Renease’s desire to succeed and her willingness to work are two important traits that contributed to her success. Though she started her banking career a short time ago, she has already begun to give back to the program by sharing tips and experiences with other participants.”
Upon graduating from BankWork$, Renease, like all BankWork$ or CareerWork$ Medical graduates, interviewed with local institutions looking to hire right away. “I had a friend who worked at JPMorgan Chase & Co., and she encouraged me to apply, although I had several other great interviews from the hiring fair, I ecstatically accepted their offer!” said Renease.
Renease has been a Client Service Analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co. since June 2022 and has recently moved into a new home with her family. “Waking up and being in my new place gives me joy, it makes me want to go forward and push through the day. My kids are my ultimate joy, they get me through the rough parts of life. There are so many things I’m happy for now.”
When thinking about the most rewarding part of her new job, Renease’s answer is simple: freedom.
“I’ve never had a job that made me feel equal. I already feel appreciated, I already feel like I’m needed and wanted there. It’s a great feeling to feel like you matter. So many jobs can make you feel replaceable, but it doesn’t feel like that here,” said Renease.
Looking forward, Renease is excited to continue her new role and develop her skills within the financial services industry. She encourages anyone considering BankWork$ to give it a shot. “My New Year’s resolution got me to try the program, so what do you have to lose? Why miss out on an opportunity that could change your life? We all get scared sometimes, but you don’t know where you’re going to go unless you try. If you want it bad enough, and if you’re hungry for an opportunity like I was, BankWork$ can change your life.”
BankWork$ connects young adults from under-resourced communities to lasting, stable careers in financial services through free training. We work with Training Partners around the country to recruit and train job seekers, and then directly connect graduates to employers in their community who are hiring. By creating partnerships focused on graduates’ success, we help communities, individuals, and families thrive.
Check out this video, and learn more about our program and our proven curriculum to ensure young adults have the skills, access, and coaching they need to succeed and grow in their careers.
A Pittsburgh native, Carmen is no stranger to the financial services industry; she first began her career as a teller. With 23 years of banking experience, Carmen ended her career in financial services by working at First National Bank for five years. She also has a heart for non-profit work and spent two years of her career as an Administrative Assistant at The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. When Carmen learned about an opportunity to be a Career Navigator for BankWork$ at The Energy Innovation Center, she thought it would be a great mix between her love of banking and non-profit work. In June 2022, Carmen was promoted from Career Navigator to Instructor to lead her first in-person class.
Carmen describes herself as a background dancer. “I like being behind the scenes! However, this year, I had the opportunity to step into a new role as a BankWork$ Instructor, which has been very rewarding. I was nervous to start this new role because I didn’t want to fail my students. On my first day, I asked my students to give me grace because it was my first time, but a week into class, they all thought I was a natural. Because I’ve been in banking so long, when students have questions that go off the daily lessons, I know how to answer them and give them the right resources.”
For Carmen, the highlight of her job is watching her students graduate. “I get weepy every graduation ceremony. We all connect so much during those eight weeks, and it’s such a rewarding experience. I try to teach my students that you can go down many different paths in banking. Even if you find that one role in banking is not for you, you can always come back to a new role that uses your skills differently,” said Carmen.
Carmen’s mentorship often changes her students’ perception of the financial services industry. “On my first day, one woman said, ‘I’ll do anything, but I don’t want to be a teller,’ but after we did the cashbox exercises, she wanted nothing more than to be a teller. Her brother was so confident she would never want to be a teller that he thought I bribed her!”
Carmen is especially proud of graduates whose long-term career goals have guided them since the beginning of class. “One of my students knew she wanted to work somewhere where she could transfer to a different city later, and she’s doing that! She told me from day one that she was moving to North Carolina, and now she finally did it. Another previous student is working at my old bank, and I get to brag about her and her promotions any time I go back to visit.”
We are grateful for Carmen’s leadership, knowledge, and compassion for her students. We can’t wait to see her bring her expertise to many more classes in the future!
The Energy Innovation Center is a Pittsburgh-based non-profit organization with a mission to align workforce development and education. BankWork$ is offered nationally, free of charge to students all across the United States. We at CareerWork$ are proud to partner with The EIC to continue to bring BankWork$ to the greater Pittsburgh community.