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Woodbury business executive mentors at-risk students

Patrick McEvoy teaches his last session Friday, April 15, at Risen Christ Church. (Riham Feshir/Woodbury Bulletin)

When Patrick McEvoy wore a suit and tie to his first volunteer session at Risen Christ School in Minneapolis, it wasn't because he was trying to be flashy, he was just being respectful.

The president and CEO of Woodbury Financial Services is one of the first to volunteer for "Imagine the Possibilities," a program aimed to help at-risk students overcome tough times and become successful in the future.

McEvoy said dressing up and treating every single person you work with like a prospective client was the first lesson -- simple enough, but something the seventh graders appreciated learning about.

"The purpose is to really provide an opportunity to mentor and to show the benefits of making sure education is a cornerstone in these kids' lives," McEvoy said.

Growing up in an underprivileged neighborhood in Bay City, Mich. -- similar, McEvoy said, to the Powderhorn Park area of Minneapolis where the school is located - he said he relates to Risen Christ students on a personal level.

As a child, his family didn't have the material goods many others were fortunate enough to have. He served in the U.S. Army and put himself through college until he was able to start a career in finance in the early 1980s. McEvoy said he was able to climb the ladder with hard work, honesty and dedication to become CEO of Woodbury Financial Services.

"I know that I struggled back then ... and I see these kids and I think if they can get a little lift from somebody who's been down that path maybe they'll see that they can do it too," he said.

Imagine the Possibilities was created as part of a strategic plan Risen Christ adopted in 2009 to raise awareness of the school as well as give students various options to see what their future may someday look like.

"We wanted to broaden the horizons of our students. We wanted to make sure that they could meet and interact with people who could give them ideas, or possibilities about their future," said Fran Rusciano Murnane, director of advancement at the school.

McEvoy's class consists of five seventh graders who are passionate about different career choices, but they all have one thing in common.

When he asked them if they could wave a magic wand and wish for a career choice, some wanted to be sports stars, others wanted to be doctors or engineers.

"But everyone of them wanted to take care of their parents," McEvoy said. "And I find that incredibly profound given where they are today and the tough life that they have."

More than 90 percent of Risen Christ students come from families living either at or below the poverty line, according to school officials. Many of them will become first-generation high school graduates.

Because they have limited interaction with the business world, McEvoy and other executives meet with all eighth graders and one group of seventh graders on a monthly basis to teach them about the different industries they can get involved in.

McEvoy's students started off by learning about interest rates.

"By the time they were done they were able to articulate how a bank makes money," he said. "I don't think there is many seventh graders who can do that, I know I couldn't when I was a seventh grader."

They continued learning about the finance industry by differentiating between stocks and bonds, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the different companies involved.

Other kids in the Imagine the Possibilities program are now aware of what it takes to become an electrician, a marketing director, a civil engineer or an architect.

"(Business executives) wrote their own curriculum, we provided some guidelines to them and they either followed it closely or used it as a stepping stone," Rusciano Murnane said.

The program has 11 executives and includes participation by all of the eighth graders at the school in addition to the seventh graders who McEvoy leads.

In its first year, Imagine the Possibilities started out with just eighth graders last fall. But since McEvoy came aboard in January, he was able to lead the one group of seventh graders.

Next year, a new group of eighth graders will participate in the program, but McEvoy gets to work with the same students, which is something he's looking forward to.

"I just love being around kids and I love the spark in their eye when you make them feel like they're something special," he said.

After giving his last session Friday, April 15, he said he hopes between now and next fall the students accomplish some goals they've set to better their lives. He hopes they'll continue to be involved in church, sports and other activities to make it easier for them to stay out of trouble.

"This is a sensitive age for these kids, this is when things can go wrong," McEvoy said. "I hope that some of the conversations that we had about their personal growth and their personal integrity stays with them."

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.