"Citizens Bank is committed to community service and the sabbatical program is a way for the bank to support colleagues like me who have a passion for volunteerism."
By Rhonda Miller PBN Staff Writer
Anita Israelyan is a senior advocate in the office of the chairman for Citizens Bank. Her responsibilities include working with customers to answer questions and resolve issues in a fair, consistent and timely manner. She has worked for Citizens Bank for seven years.
She is a mentor for a 17-year-girl through the Foster Forward program.
Israelyan is working toward a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, with a focus on corporate security, at Southern New Hampshire University.
PBN: You’ve had a chance to take advantage of something rather unique in the workplace – a three-month paid sabbatical. Did you know about the possibility of a sabbatical when you first started working at Citizens Bank?
ISRAELYAN: I recall hearing about the sabbatical program when I first started with the bank in 2006, among many other amazing opportunities that the bank has to offer. The fact that Citizens Bank has a tremendous focus on community definitely played a role in seeking out job opportunities here, as opposed to other institutions.
PBN: What did you have to do to be granted the paid sabbatical?Was it competitive?
ISRAELYAN: Yes, it is a very competitive process. Citizens Bank is committed to community service and the sabbatical program is a way for the bank to support colleagues like me who have a passion for volunteerism. All colleagues with a minimum of three years employment with the bank are invited to apply for a sabbatical. Finalists who have shown a true passion for volunteerism are then selected to meet with the public affairs department and Ned Handy, president of Citizens Bank and RBS Citizens, Rhode Island, to discuss their commitment to community service and the professional expertise they will offer a nonprofit organization.
PBN: The sabbatical is to do volunteer work in the community. What organization did you volunteer with? What kind of volunteer work did you do? Did you learn or experience anything that surprised you during your sabbatical?
ISRAELYAN: I volunteered for three months at Foster Forward, which was formerly known as Rhode Island Foster Parents Association. It’s a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting families who provide substitute care in the Rhode Island community. As the community contact for volunteer opportunities, I helped organize a “Door-Opener Workshop” that brought executives from the financial industry to meet one-on-one with clients for job-interview rehearsals. These workshops are important because the kids lack active parents who advise them about real-world skills, such as interview etiquette, attire and most importantly, exuding confidence. These skills will help them in life and when they enter the workforce. I also wore many other hats, from fundraiser to curriculum developer for a $2 million grant proposal. I stand taller after my sabbatical because I met amazing people who have inspired me to maintain a can-do attitude. I try not to complain about petty things because somewhere in Rhode Island there is a young person who has been dealt more hardship than anyone deserves.
PBN: Do you think the time volunteering added to your professional development? Did it give you any new skills or insights to bring back to your regular job?
ISRAELYAN: To say that the sabbatical experience has been life-changing is quite an understatement. Not only have I grown as a person, this opportunity has been a highlight in my professional career. Working in a customer-focused environment, the experience has made me a better employee and customer advocate. It helped me to be even more empathetic and understanding of people, which is essential in my role working with customers. It has also helped open my eyes to the trajectory of our youth and the importance of preparing them for the future.
PBN: What’s your opinion about the value of the sabbatical? If executives from other companies asked you about it, would you recommend it? What do you think may be some disadvantages? Some advantages?
ISRAELYAN: The advantages and disadvantages of the sabbatical program are one and the same. You are immersed in the world of a nonprofit organization for three months and become part of its family, advocating for a cause that you support. In the end, it is bittersweet returning to work after spending so much time at the organization. I have made life-long connections and brought back an experience to share with colleagues that will hopefully influence them to take the next step and do something for a cause they are passionate about, or perhaps inspire them to seek a nonprofit organization to support. I am utterly grateful to Citizens Bank for having been given this opportunity.