The ‘Key’ to Reconnecting Youth

By United Way of King County, on February 14, 2017 | In Helping Students Graduate

Banks thrive when the community they serve thrives. That’s just one reason KeyBank Pacific Region President Carol Nelson cares about giving back. KeyBank is a partner in our Reconnecting Youth work, ensuring students stay on track to graduate. Carol also has a personal stake in Reconnecting Youth – she’s seen nonprofits from both sides, as a board member and a recipient of services.

Image of Carol Nelson of Key Bank
Carol Nelson

What about being in banking drives you to give back?
Number one, it’s part of the culture of the industry, particularly in banks like Key where we have active volunteers and a foundation focused on  making a difference. But also, for community banks, I was part of running a community bank for many years – you are a success as a bank when your community is successful. And so you want to pitch in, you want to try to make that community successful. It’s part of the fabric of who you are as a banker.

What are the components of that fabric?

I put them in three different buckets. There’s an industry bucket. I want to continue to advance and grow as a banker, so for example, chairing the board of The Washington Bankers Association was an opportunity for that. The other bucket is professional development. When I was the CEO of Cascade Bank, I was on the board of Premera Blue Cross. It was a bigger company than mine and the corporate governance was interesting to me, so it was good professional development. Really helpful.

The third bucket is what I call “The things that make you feel good about being a human being.” For me, it’s health and human services. So, being on the board of Volunteers of America, or the Boys and Girls Clubs, or chairing the United Way campaign for Snohomish County. Those kinds of things, they make you feel good about the fact that, as a human being, you can give back to your community and really make a difference.

Why is that third bucket important to you?
That goes back to my upbringing. When I see kids coming out of a low-income minority background –  kids who have  struggled because they may have a single parent –  I see myself. Because that’s the background that I came from. My mom had seven kids, she was widowed when I was eight years old. She had these seven children from ages 2 to 12 that she needed to raise on her own and she didn’t have a job. How do you take a background like that and make it work? Was my family a recipient of United Way services? Sure we were.  It helped us become the people we are and productive members of society. We’re now turning around and giving back because we benefitted.

Why is Reconnecting Youth a key area for KeyBank to support?
We’re looking from education to employment. We really think this is how you break some of the cycles of poverty and help people move up the economic ladder. Really working to help kids get through high school. We don’t have the kind of graduation rates that I think we should in our state, I think it’s actually an embarrassment. But how do we get kids to graduate high school and then move them into some form of training that will get them into higher-paying job? Whether that’s vocational school, community college, or through a four-year university, those are things that we’re trying to do. But you have to start early, right? And you got to bring the kids up through that whole continuum. Those things are important to us. Programs like United Way’s are going to help increase the success rate for those kids.


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