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There are few visible similarities between Kristian Hampton and flowers, yet they share the ability to blossom and spread beauty.
At age 18, Hampton, a senior at Christ the King (CTK) Jesuit College Prep, has written "a few" books he personally "doesn't think are all that good" and filled sketchbooks with images influenced by his love for the Japanese animation style of anime. He writes "any kind of realistic fiction, short stories - it's one of those things that I like to do in my spare time."
Nearly 6-feet-tall, Hampton carries himself with a quiet self-awareness and humility. When talking to those who know him, "blossom" and "open up" are words often used to describe the young man who, as part of the school's Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP), has worked at William Blair & Company five days a month since the second half of his sophomore year.
The time he's spent at William Blair has changed him.
"It has been such a joy to see how he has developed and grown and just blossomed," said Cecelia Brunetti, operations group manager at William Blair and Hampton's supervisor. "When he first came on board he was very, very guarded and shy and would not even look at you when spoken to... Today, he is a completely different person."
Hampton credits his corporate work study experience for helping him break away from a shyness that in elementary school kept him sitting by himself in his "own little world." His co-workers at William Blair helped most by engaging him: "the times when I was feeling really, really introverted, they would come up to me, ask me about school, how I like it around the company. Kinda got me talking," he said. "Eventually I got used to it and started starting conversations of my own."
Students are required to earn 75 percent of their $2,400 annual tuition. They do this through an innovative program pioneered by the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Pilsen, which employs each of the school's 300 students in entry-level clerical jobs with a corporate partner. The students work one eight-hour day per week, Tuesday through Friday. On Mondays they rotate so that in a month's time they have worked five days; the money they earn offsets their tuition, said Freddy Miranda, a CWSP program coordinator.
Hampton and four student interns from CTK's sister school, Cristo Rey High School, work with Brunetti in the Customer Accounts unit, which is responsible for scanning and indexing documents associated with client accounts so that they are readily available to internal sales teams.
"We handle invoices, and return mail for ... a lot of big name [companies]" he said. It's really interesting to see what kind of processes those companies go through to get things done. There's a lot of stuff that goes on with [big name] companies behind the scenes with their funding, donations, stuff like that - just to kind of be a part of that is really interesting."
From his supervisor's perspective, the biggest reward is seeing how Hampton has come out of his shell. "I, personally, and my department has gained a lot because we feel like we really played an integral role in Kristian's development, especially during these teen-aged years of his life," said Brunetti, who describes herself as a "very strong fan" of the program. "What he learned here he's going to take with him for the rest of his career."
She added that Tom Pace, William Blair & Company's operations manager, has spent a "tremendous amount" of time with the young artist who, come fall, plans to pursue either a degree in creative writing or graphic design at Monmouth College. Brunetti believes quality interactions such as these helped Hampton feel more secure when speaking to adults, so much so that he now initiates conversations with managers and other staff.
Strangers also have benefitted from Hampton's growing comfort around and conversing with adults. When a tsunami and earthquake ravaged Japan-"one of those places I always aspired to go" - in March 2011, Hampton discussed with Brunetti an idea he had for a fundraiser. "He talked to us about that and we gave him guidance about how he should go about doing that - for a kid that's really shy and guarded, that's incredible."
His idea was to take custom design requests for T-shirts. "It really took off around here," he said. "The people in the neighborhood really got behind the idea." So far, he has raised more than $700 for relief efforts to rebuild housing in Japan.
Last October, Hampton led a group of 15-20 seventh and eighth graders on a tour of William Blair & Company, describing the different departments and their functions.
With graduation just two weeks away, Hampton had sage advice for the students who will follow him into the Corporate Work Study Program. "Do what I did - go outside of your comfort zone everyday and get yourself used to kind of pushing your limits and how far you can go from there."