RISING LEADER: Alexis Mendoza said that when she applied for the Bank of America Student Leader program, she didn't think she'd get it. | Photo provided

Austin resident, community volunteer and Schurz High School graduate Alexis Mendoza is one of the five young people in the Chicago area selected to be part of the 2019 Bank of America Student Leader program.

“Honestly when I applied, I didn’t really think I would get in. I set the bar really low for myself. I didn’t really expect it, and when I got the call I was like, ‘Are you sure?'” said Mendoza, who averages about 15 hours of community service each week and has been involved with non-profit organizations Junior Achievement, Build On and Upward Bound.

Launched in 2004, Bank of America’s Student Leader program offers high school students the opportunity to build on their leadership skills through a paid nonprofit internship and participation in a national leadership summit in Washington, D.C.

This year, the program has expanded to about 38 different financial markets and given awards to 283 students nationwide.

“It started out much smaller, but it has grown to this point,” said Steve Adamczyk, Bank of America vice president and community relations manager who’s been with the company 37 years.

How do students and others learn about the opportunity?

“It’s all done through outreach,” Adamczyk explains.” When [the application is] opens again on Nov. 1st, it’s open to current high school juniors and seniors, and those who are community-minded.”

With just a handful of spots available locally, the process of choosing who becomes a student leader is left to multiple committees that focus on factors like community involvement.

“She had a good variety of volunteer experience, but I think what was different about Alexis was [her] ongoing commitment to volunteering,” Adamczyk said.

She had a summer-long internship at Working in The Schools (WITS), Chicago-based non-profit that focuses on increasing childhood literacy – an opportunity she received through the Bank of America award.

“When I first met Alexis, we had some great conversations about her values,” said Kevin Hujar, a WITS program specialist. “Alexis really cares about this program and community. She’s a very goal-orientated person and very passionate about her education.”

Using one-on-one reading sessions and even crafting together a dramatic play, Mendoza helped build confidence and develop language and communication skills in students participating in an early childhood program at Sumner Elementary in Lawndale, Hujar said.

“She got to have more of that personal connection with our program,” Hujar said.

Mendoza hopes to learn more about urban planning, aldermanic responsibility, budgeting and property taxes – knowledge she liked to use to improve the West Side.

“I want to major in criminal justice … (and) to incorporate my degree into helping the Austin community,” she said. “Because I want to pursue a male-dominated field, I want to be the most-qualified person in the room.”

This fall, she begins her first year at Illinois State University.

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