Growing up, Sister Lilly Fitzpatrick says she was never really that into clothes, however she was definitely a denim fan.
“The big thing was Levi’s 501 jeans. I loved that they lasted forever,” she reminisced (in a charming Irish brogue). She remembers trying to create the perfect fit and fade by hopping, clad in her drainpipe skinny jeans, in a bathtub brimming with hot water.
Today, she’s mostly swapped her Levi’s for the black and white habit worn by the sisters of her religious order, the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose. But the dots in Sister Lilly’s life have a funny way of connecting, and recently she’s formed a new relationship with Levi Strauss & Co. — one that, this time around, has little to do with fit or fashion.
Living Life with No Regrets
Throughout her life, Sister Lilly has always set, and usually achieved, some pretty lofty goals — goals such as traveling the world, running a marathon in every state (she’s finished 8 so far), and giving back to society (she worked with homeless youth for a year in New York City).
It was one goal in particular that led her to Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA).
“I was working at a high school in East Oakland, when ICA asked me to come manage their corporate work study program,” she said. “My goal is to have ‘no regrets’ printed on my tombstone, so I agreed.”
Dress Up, Show Up & Never Give Up
ICA is an all-girls private school in San Francisco. In 2009, the school was accepted into the Cristo Rey Network, a consortium of urban high schools provides low-income youth access to quality, private education. All students who attend a school within the Cristo Rey Network must participate in a corporate work-study program to help finance the cost of their education and gain real-world job experience.
That’s where Sister Lilly comes in.
As ICA’s corporate work-study program coordinator, Sister Lilly is tasked with recruiting companies to provide professional work opportunities for ICA students.
“The work study program prepares our girls for the future and gives them an early glimpse of what they might want to do, or not do and whether they want to work in an office,” said Sister Lilly.
Every ICA student has an entry-level clerical job with a sponsor company, where they work five full days every month. With these real world positions comes compensation (the money the girls earn is applied to their tuition) and a set of very “grown up” expectations.
Time cards are used to chart their hours and a supervisor evaluates their performance on a scale of 1 to 5 each day. A professional-looking uniform including white shirt and black pants must be worn (more on that in a bit). The girls create daily goals for themselves and reflect upon on how they met them. In addition to these on-the-job requirements, the girls also participate in a mandatory two-week training program that’s focused on “MAPS” — that’s motivation, attitude, professionalism and skills.
“Our girls are learning things as teenagers that most people won’t learn until they’re in their twenties. They really take ownership of their jobs, and learn to stick with something even when they’re having a tough time,” said Sister Lilly. “Afterwards, they often say they’ve come to appreciate that this is how life really is.”
In Giving, You Receive
When Sister Lilly started at ICA, many students ended up working at not-for-profit organization because there were no corporate positions available. Today, sponsor organizations work in a number of industries including healthcare, financial services, legal and media.
Sister Lilly attributes her success at attracting corporate sponsors to one simple thing: persistence.
“I call and call and call,” she said. “All I ask is that they just give our girls a chance. I tell them we will make sure the girls meet their expectations and if they don’t, we’ll replace them with a different student.”
This approach seems to be working — 94 percent of corporate sponsors renew after hiring an ICA student.
According to Sister Lilly, becoming a corporate sponsor offers a deeper level of engagement that companies find incredibly rewarding.
“Sponsoring a student goes beyond giving money. Our students are in the office seeing what they’re doing — or not doing. Corporate sponsors become co-educators with us and are a critical part of these girls’ education.”
Giving Back Never Goes out of Style
At LS&Co., we welcomed our first ICA student worker, Gianella, this fall, thanks to Sister Lilly.
“We chose to participate in the ICA work study because it aligns with our longstanding commitment to equality — specifically supporting opportunities for women and girls,” said Jason McBriarty, a director global corporate affairs for LS&Co. and the Levi Strauss Foundation, and Gianella’s supervisor.
The experience has been rewarding for everyone involved … And we hear Gianella was pretty thrilled that she was allowed to put a Levi’s spin on the corporate uniform in the form of donning black jeans to work.
“LS&Co. is committed to supporting programs like ICA,” noted Jason. “Equally important is that Gianella has been a huge asset in helping us to get important work done.”
While Sister Lilly may be living in her Levi’s a little less these days than she did when she was a young girl, she still embodies the values we hold dear: empathy, originality, integrity and courage. And for that, we think she deserves to have no regrets!