Partner Spotlight: BMO Harris Bank

By: Nick Colbert, Program Coordinator

Penn Elementary student reads with her mentor from BMO Harris Bank in the Mid-Day Mentoring program.
Penn Elementary student reads with her mentor from BMO Harris Bank in the Mid-Day Mentoring program.

WITS is built on the values of community, consistency, and empowerment. Through two programs with WITS, BMO Harris Bank invests in the students of North Lawndale and empowers their employees to give back as volunteers. Since 2007, students in the Mid-Day Mentoring and Workplace Mentoring programs have met on Wednesdays during the school year with their mentors from BMO to read and work on their homework.

This year, 73 BMO employees serve as Mid-Day Mentoring or Workplace mentoring volunteers. These WITS program sessions promote positive company culture at BMO by offering employees the opportunity to meet and interact with colleagues through a shared commitment to Chicago Public Schools students. This culture of directly working with students has been infectious throughout the company as volunteer participation has grown each year.

A WITS student and her mentor from BMO Harris read together in the Penn Elementary School library.
A WITS student and her mentor from BMO Harris read together in the Penn Elementary School library.

Jaime Freeman, WITS Associates Board member, volunteers at Penn Elementary with the Mid-Day Mentoring and appreciates WITS because “I am able to see the impact, growth and a range of students…kids see adults prioritize them.” During her eleven years of volunteering, Jaime has seen the many sides of WITS. Jaime has read one-on-one with students, worked as a Corporate Coordinator for BMO, and served as Vice President of the WITS Associate Board.

The current Corporate Coordinator, Mary Paxson, volunteers each week because it enhances and strengthens the relationship she has with her student.

Workplace Mentoring student Brenyla poses for a picture with her mentor Alexis at BMO Harris.
Workplace Mentoring student Brenyla poses for a picture with her mentor Alexis at BMO Harris.

When asked how WITS has helped her in school, Brenyla, 5th grader from Lawndale Community Academy says “WITS is a good program that helps with my reading. I read faster and more confident[ly].” The Workplace Mentoring program held at BMO’s office hosts 4th through 7th grade students from Lawndale Community Academy. Brandy McMahan, School Coordinator, sees the relationship between student and mentor grow every week. “I appreciate being able to work with WITS” says Brandy “the kids love the program and [the mentors] take care of Lawndale students with love.”

A Workplace Mentoring student decorated her activity journal to say "I love WITS."
WITS student J’la personalized her activity journal to read “I love WITS.”

Through a community of consistent volunteers, BMO Harris Bank empowers the students of Lawndale and Penn by building positive relationships and a passion for reading.


For more on the WITS partnership with BMO Harris Bank, check out the March Student & Mentor Spotlight featuring James Benjamin, BMO Workplace Mentoring Corporate Coordinator, and his student Jaylon Davis, a seventh grader from Lawndale Community Academy.