Finding a personal passion to #GiveTime to the community

December 21, 2021

U.S. Bank employees share impact of their involvement with Home Start in San Diego.

In Fernanda Colston’s first year serving on the board of Home Start, a San Diego nonprofit that provides services to help strengthen families and prevent child abuse, she racked up more than 130 hours in volunteer time – and barely even realized it.

“What drove me to keep volunteering is realizing what a huge impact Home Start has for moms, dads and children, and how much more need is out there,” said Colston, assistant vice president and manager of two U.S. Bank branches in coastal San Diego.

Home Start’s mission has personal resonance for Colston. She grew up in a household shadowed by domestic violence and, after she left home, ended up in a relationship that repeated the pattern. She eventually learned how to break that cycle in her own life. It’s what makes her so passionate about Home Start’s efforts to provide individuals and families with the resources to do the same.

One of Home Start’s programs – all of which are offered in English and Spanish -- is individual therapy for children under 18. The program teaches children effective ways to respond to their thoughts and emotions related to trauma, and teaches parents techniques to improve their child’s behavior.

Melissa Casanova, a U.S. Bank mortgage loan officer based in North San Diego, was referred in 2015 to Home Start by her then 3-year-old son’s preschool teacher to help find a way to manage his behavioral challenges in the classroom. Casanova and her son, Joseph, volunteered to participate in Home Start’s Parent-Child Interaction program. For a year, they would play together while they were observed through a one-way mirror by a Home Start therapist, who would give Casanova advice through an earpiece on how to constructively redirect her son.

Casanova and Joseph both emerged “confident and empowered” from the yearlong program, which gave her tools she still successfully uses and shares with her son’s teachers and camp counselors. She describes the work that Home Start does as “a matter of life or death” for the difference it can make in a child’s success in school and elsewhere in life.

At the end of the program, “Joseph is still Joseph; he didn’t change,” Casanova said. “But now I have a system that works, and I am in control of the system and he responds to the system..My first-time parent confusion and desperation have gone away. I felt trained to start a new generation way of parenting.”

Joseph had such a positive response to the program that his attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder went unnoticed until he was diagnosed at age 8. Today he’s a “thriving, happy and extraordinarily gifted” 10-year-old under the specialized care of an individual education program team at his school, Casanova said.

While Colston and Casanova work in different areas of U.S. Bank and have never met, Colston is keenly aware that Home Start impacts the lives of colleagues, neighbors and so many others in the San Diego community. Last year, the organization helped more than 28,000 families through programs ranging from the behavioral health sessions that helped Casanova and her son to housing for homeless mothers and their children. U.S. Bank is a longtime sponsor of Home Start and has provided grant support for its Bright Futures Candles & Thrift Boutique Social Enterprises program, which creates employment and training opportunities for formerly homeless young and expectant moms.

“We don’t always have the opportunity to see the full impact of our volunteer and philanthropic investments in the community,” said Rockette Ewell, vice president and community affairs manager at U.S. Bank in San Diego. “It’s truly a gift to know that those investments made such a positive difference for our own colleagues.”  

As a branch manager, Colston makes a point of talking about her volunteer efforts with her employees, encouraging them to use their company-provided 16 hours in paid time to volunteer. In late November, U.S. Bank launched its annual #GiveTime campaign, a weeklong campaign dedicated to using volunteer time to support community partners. U.S. Bank also partnered with VolunteerMatch for the fifth consecutive year on its annual campaign to help promote volunteerism on Giving Tuesday.

“It’s really important that my employees see that they can take something they are really passionate about and get involved to make it better,” Colston said. “There are so many people out there who need help, and from the top down everyone here is really invested in giving back to the community.”

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