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Commerce Bank supports the leaders of tomorrow through its work with SAAB.

Commerce Bank places a priority on being involved in the communities it serves and making a positive impact. One of the ways the bank does this in the Springfield, Mo., area is through its work with SAAB, a nonprofit that provides support for high school and college students of color to help them in school, in their careers, and beyond.

Commerce’s involvement with SAAB comes to life in several ways. One is a mentoring program that pairs Commerce team members with local high school students. The program offers students hands-on business experience and job shadowing opportunities, helping them gain exposure to the financial services industry and the potential career paths it offers. Students who complete the program are also provided a $1,000 scholarship.

“I have a lot of passion for this project,” says Nikki Hampton, a senior talent management consultant at Commerce who helps to coordinate the mentorship program.

“I truly believe in the benefit of it for the students who are part of this program. I’ve had the chance to develop personal and professional relationships with the mentees we’ve worked with, and that’s been so rewarding.”

As Hampton notes, the benefits for the students often go beyond learning about banking and the business world. “Some of these kids have really been through a lot, so just helping them with a research paper or having someone to talk to can be really helpful,” she says. “The mentors and mentees in this program develop strong relationships, and that means a lot to these students. They really become part of the Commerce family.”

Dr. Tyrone Bledsoe, SAAB’s founder and CEO, says the mentorship the students receive is important since many of them have grown up without a positive male role model in their lives. “When they have a chance to develop meaningful relationships with people at Commerce, it can help create awareness about different life perspectives than they might have known before,” he says. “And it helps them to know that someone cares about them. That’s very important for a lot of these young men.”

Doug Neff, a senior vice president and Commerce’s executive director of community markets, believes it’s important for the bank to support organizations like SAAB. “It’s incredible to have the opportunity to work with a program that helps youth — our future leaders — to build skills and navigate their lives to the point where they will be productive citizens and have a future,” he says. “A lot of these kids just need a little mentoring, as well as some hope and understanding.”

The relationship between Commerce and SAAB was jumpstarted by Javeon England, a senior commercial banking associate who has been involved in SAAB since he was 15 years old. “It’s been a journey and has helped me throughout my life,” he says.

“Being in SAAB helped encourage me to finish high school and go to college. I’ve met so many great people through the organization — people from different cities, different countries, different cultural backgrounds.”

England began working at Commerce while he was still in college and joined the bank full-time after graduating. When he learned in 2020 that SAAB was planning to relocate its national headquarters from Toledo, Ohio, to Springfield, he encouraged Dr. Bledsoe to meet with Neff. “Doug is always looking for more ways to engage Commerce with the Springfield community,” England says. “It only made sense to set up an introduction.”

As all parties describe it, the mutual interest was strong right away. “It was evident to us that this was an organization that really had the ability to help young people achieve more in their education and eventually in their careers,” Neff says. “The young men who have passed through this program often choose to be connected to SAAB for life. It’s really impressive.”

Hampton adds that the more the team at Commerce learned about SAAB, the more they wanted to find a way to get involved. “The impact they were making on these kids’ lives was incredible, and SAAB’s values — the things Dr. Bledsoe teaches — are so aligned with our culture that we thought there was potential for a great fit,” she says.

The relationship began with a sponsorship, followed by the establishment of the mentorship program. In time, Commerce also became involved with other programs as well. They are one of five Springfield-area banks to participate in monthly financial education events for high school students, held in conjunction with SAAB and Springfield Public Schools. During the events, students tour the hosting bank, have lunch, and participate in presentations that help them learn the fundamentals of finance.

Commerce is also active with SAAB Saturdays, monthly events at which all the SAAB students in Springfield gather. Team members from the bank give financial literacy presentations at these events as well. “We focus on what Dr. Bledsoe thinks will be the most beneficial to the kids,” Hampton says. “It’s about providing financial education resources for them and giving them knowledge they’ll use for the rest of their lives.”

The relationship has worked so well in Springfield that Commerce and SAAB are exploring options for working together in other cities. “We have every intention of starting a mentoring program in St. Louis,” says Neff.

“It’s in its infancy, but with the experience we have had so far — the caliber of the young people who are a part of SAAB — we know that this is a great opportunity and that in time, the program can really grow.”

Dr. Bledsoe says he’s appreciative of the support SAAB has received from Commerce. “It’s been incredible,” he says. “It also helps to keep good talent in our community. We invest in what we care about. When Commerce invested in these programs, they also invested in these young people. It makes them feel that they’re valued in the community.”

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