By Deanna C. White
Like most high school freshmen, Edwin Bernardez, a student at the Business of Sports School in Manhattan, started his day on May 17, 2013, with a bright but somewhat indistinct vision of his future.
He knew he wanted to go into the medical field. He thought he "might" like to be a nurse practitioner, and he knew he'd have to do well in school and somehow afford college in the future to get there.
But by the time the school bell rang at 3:30, Bernandez had a more expansive idea of career possibilities available to him and the beginnings of a plan to get there.
That's because Bernardez was one of more than 2,500 New York City (NYC) students who learned financial literacy, entrepreneurship, college, and career-readiness lessons from Ernst and Young LLP volunteers on the third annual EY Connect Day in NYC May 17.
More than 450 Ernst & Young employees participated in this year's EY Connect Day, fanning out across the city and Long Island to deliver financial and life lessons to K-12 public school students.
Their volunteer service day ended with a celebratory bowl-a-thon event to raise $40,000 to benefit Junior Achievement. Ernst & Young collaborated with Junior Achievement of New York (JA New York) to conduct the event.
The EY Connect Day is Ernst & Young's annual day of volunteer service. In 2012, Ernst & Young employees logged 60,000 volunteer hours and celebrated EY Connect Day in sixty locations in the Americas.
The NYC EY Connect Day was originally scheduled for November 2, 2012, but was rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy.
"We are grateful to Ernst & Young employee volunteers for giving their time and energy in such a generous way to help New York City youth learn critically important lessons", said Joseph Peri, president of JA New York.
Peri said Ernst & Young's annual EY Connect Day is an extraordinary act of generosity and sets an example of corporate citizenship for other NYC institutions to follow.
"We are especially grateful for our partnership with Ernst &Young, a company that leads by example", Peri said.
Irina Khouade, audit manager in financial services, was one of the Ernst & Young volunteers who served as a mentor to students on EY Connect Day. Khouade and her fellow volunteers spoke to more than 200 high school freshmen and sophomores at the Business of Sports School in Manhattan where they shared their own college and career stories.
The Ernst & Young volunteers also led small group discussions about higher education, college financing, maintaining a personal budget, and a developing a four-year college prep plan.
While Khouade said it's difficult to quantify the individual impact the day had on each student, she's hopeful Ernst & Young volunteers "reinforced the desire of some students to pursue higher education and eased their anxieties and fears as they progress in high school."
Khouade said the experience left a significant impact on her as well – reminding her of the importance of diversity of thought and "experience exchange" among people of different backgrounds.
"The experience of working with students from diverse backgrounds made me realize that I cannot expect their dreams, fears, and concerns to be the same as my dreams, fears, and concerns", said Khouade. While the students and volunteers might not be able to relate to each other's experiences, she believes there's value in facilitating this type of experience exchange. "A variety of cultures and backgrounds means a variety of ideas and experiences is shared, and the best ideas will emerge through creative collaboration", Khouade added.
Bernardez said "creative collaboration" and exchange of life experiences have dramatically altered the way he thinks about preparing for college and the career options available to him. He's now planning long term for his future; more "realistically" assessing the cost of college and the critical role his success in high school will play in helping him achieve those goals.
He has also upped his game plan in terms of career goals, now thinking he might like to become a physician's assistant – a career he hadn't considered before EY Connect Day.
"I feel like after Connect Day, my perception has changed, and I realize there are more options for my future", Bernardez said. "As a freshman, I have gained knowledge of what type of decisions I will have to make in the next three years in high school to become successful."
Ernst & Young's support for JA New York spans thirty-one years. Each year, over 300 Ernst & Young employees volunteer with JA New York to reach approximately 2,000 NYC public school kids. JA New York is the local affiliate of Junior Achievement USA® (JA), the world's largest organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their future, and make smart academic and economic choices. For more information, visit the JA New York website.