They call it the 3 p.m. Power Hour, when VIPs gather at Gilley’s Dallas for “pre-event beverages” before Cristo Rey Dallas College Prep‘s annual NFL-style Draft Day event. One characteristic of Power Hour is that everyone is invariably upbeat, smiling and happy—hey, the pre-event libations couldn’t hurt, right?—and the one held on Thursday, August 1, was no exception.
Then again, Draft Day is always a celebratory affair, with the school’s incoming freshmen and sophomores learning (or “being drafted for”) their work assignments for the upcoming school year. Students at Pleasant Grove-based Cristo Rey Dallas—part of a nationwide, 32-member network of Catholic college-prep schools—earn nearly two-thirds of their college-prep high-school tuition by working one day a week at Dallas’ top companies and organizations. Among them: Hunt Oil, Deloitte, Southwest Airlines, At Home, City Electric Supply, Haynes & Boone, Vogel Alcove, and AT&T.
This year’s event marked the fifth annual Draft Day, and the first-ever with program alumni attending, Cristo Rey Dallas’ President Kelby Woodard explained during Power Hour. The Corporate Work Study Program now includes more than 140 partners who provide students with hands-on work experience in a real-world setting. “This year we had a record number of students, 350, applying for the 130 work slots,” Kelby said. “That’s up from last year, when we had 320 applicants. We’re also bringing on 13 new partners this year. Hospitals are becoming really big, with Parkland Hospital and Methodist Dallas Medical Center joining us, and new banks like NexBank are joining, too. Another new addition this year is Joeris General Contractors.”
Top executives attending the 2019 Draft Day event included Jack Fraker of CBRE, Don Braun of Hall Group, Pam Quarry of NexBank, Bill Sladek with Condon Tobin Sladek, Monsherra Odanga-Blank of Oncor, Molly Thornton of AT&T, Michelle Vopni of EY, Scott Moore of PwC, John Haplin of StructureTone and Tameka McKinney of Cornerstone Healthcare.
Soon enough, Kelby headed toward the Gilley’s stage, took the lectern, and looked out over the audience, where more than 1,000 people were sitting. They included the 130 or so Cristo Rey freshmen and sophomores who’d be receiving their work assignments today. Neatly clad in jackets and ties, the youngsters had filed into the room, accompanied by clapping Cristo Rey cheerleaders and peppy band music, after being welcomed by Melanie Ferguson of Matthews Southwest, the event’s presenting sponsor. “There literally is no other program like this in the country,” Kelby proclaimed, before reciting a prayer to St. Francis and then giving way to Teresa Woodard of WFAA-TV.
Teresa was subbing in for Rebecca Lopez, who’d been scheduled as the emcee but was pulled away at the last minute to cover breaking news. As usual, the Draft Day emcee was joined onstage by Erin Hartigan of Fox Sports Southwest; Mark Followill, who does the Dallas Mavericks play-by-play; and former Cristo Rey Corporate Work Study Director Gunnar Rawlings.
As in years past, Erin, Mark and Gunnar added banter to the long program as, one by one, each freshman and sophomore was called to the stage to be greeted by their 2019-2020 employer. (The employers themselves were summoned to the stage by industry: real estate, architecture, financial services, and so on.) Examples of the trio’s snappy patter: “She wants to be a teacher herself”; “‘Do we know what a physicist is, guys?’; ‘No, I’m still trying to pass physics class!'”; “She’ll have an awesome opportunity to learn about the industry”; “Math is Valerie’s favorite subject”; and, “He’s got a cool haircut going on there!”
Students attending Cristo Rey are economically challenged and represent all faiths. Those in the Corporate Work Study Program fulfill clerical and administrative roles in a wide range of departments, including accounting, human resources, finance, marketing, information technology, legal, records, mail and office services.
* Photo credit: Tamytha Cameron Smith