Oakridge Neighborhood Services
Once upon a time, there were 17 acres of park-like land in urban Des Moines waiting to be put to good use. Those acres became the Oakridge Neighborhood, a donor-funded organization providing affordable housing to families needing a secure, safe place to live. The intent was always to move these families toward self-sufficiency and self-reliance, but to meet that goal the neighborhood required more than just places to live. It needed a basis for cultural adaptation, childcare and education for all ages from preschool through adulthood.
And that’s how Oakridge’s Neighborhood Services came to be. The foundation it has been building since the mid-1970s has made Oakridge a true community where, as Chief Executive Officer Teree Caldwell-Johnson proudly states, “Families thrive and children succeed.”
Like many other urban communities, the Oakridge Neighborhood includes people from many countries, many backgrounds and varied expectations. “Nearly 80 percent of the residents of Oakridge come to us from countries where life is very different from life in this country or this city,” said Caldwell. “These newcomers want to succeed here, but they benefit greatly—as would we in their situations—from help in taking first steps toward their dreams.”
Bankers Trust is in the business of helping our neighbors and friends move toward their dreams. We know that young people striving to succeed in high school and in college will one day be the people who become bankers or entrepreneurs or corporate executives. Many will want to buy real estate, borrow funds for business transactions or plan their retirement—and all such aspirations are good for bankers and for our communities.
These are good reasons for our nearly 20-year partnership with Oakridge Neighborhood Services and, in particular, our support of its Youth Summer Employment Program (YSEP). We are the major funder of Oakridge YSEP, a ten-week summer youth employment experience that involves young people from middle school through college by engaging them in academics, employment, career exploration, community engagement and self-directed service learning.
Mondays through Thursdays, participants engage in classroom enrichment activities in the morning and work experiences in the afternoon. The work experiences are paid, and they are designed to provide strong models, deepen participants’ belief in their own potential, and help them begin realistic paths toward a rewarding future. Fridays are reserved for widening horizons and deepening understanding of what it means to be a lifelong learner and a good citizen.
Bankers Trust personnel offer relevant instruction in social expectations about money and hands-on help with learning how to manage a paycheck, pay for continuing education and save for the future. These are hard lessons for everyone, but they are particularly challenging for young people whose families have had no disposable income.
We have been well rewarded for our investment in education at Oakridge. Caldwell-Johnson credits us with helping to equip more than 500 young people to succeed in our community, and several Oakridge YSEP graduates have returned from college to intern at Bankers Trust.