Through a new ambassador program, Farmers Bank and Trust Company in Princeton, Ky., mentors local high school students through connections with employees and community service projects.
By Judith Sears
On the first Saturday after Labor Day, Princeton, Ky., celebrates the Black Patch Heritage Festival. The town of roughly 6,100 marks the festival, which the Princeton Optimist Club has sponsored for the past 47 years, with a parade, games and food.
This past year, some of the festivities took place on the extensively upgraded grounds of Big Spring Park, a city-owned park in the middle of Princeton. The upgrades were due in part to work by the high school student members of the Farmers Bank Ambassador Program, sponsored by $135 million-asset Farmers Bank and Trust Company.
The Farmers Bank Ambassador program, now just a year old, is modeled on a similar program pioneered by Paducah Bank and Trust in Paducah, Ky. The programs aim to develop leadership and a sense of community service in young people. “It takes community involvement and leadership for towns like ours to continue to be successful,” says Jeff McDaniels, president and CEO of Farmers Bank and Trust.
The 10 student ambassadors were chosen from students recommended by faculty at the local high school. The community bank first gave the students the popular DISC personality assessment tool to help them learn about themselves. Farmers Bank and Trust then paired the students with an employee with a similar profile to see how and where their particular strengths might fit in the workplace.
“We want to invest in young leaders,” says Tiffany Massey, Farmers Bank and Trust’s director of human resources and marketing, who supervises the ambassadors. “We want to expose them to different aspects of leadership, such as serving others and learning about yourself.”
The group’s first task was to meet with Dakota “Kota” Young, Princeton’s mayor, to clean up Big Spring Park. With Young’s permission, the team painted picnic tables, cut down limbs, pulled weeds and stained sidewalks.
“We made such a difference in this park,” Massey says. “It was amazing what we got done and the difference it made.”
Young enthusiastically agrees. “It was absolutely fantastic. Big Spring Park is a signature space in Princeton, a place where the community got its start,” he says. “In small communities like ours, these community banks are often the most well-established and longstanding institutions. They’re vital in building this community, and Farmers continues to look for ways to give back.”
After the successful cleanup, the ambassadors were eager to find more ways to contribute. They decided to start a mentoring program that paired each ambassador with a student from Caldwell County Elementary School.
Farmers Bank and Trust now sponsors an after-school meeting each month for ambassadors and their mentees. The first meeting, held in November 2019, included a Thanksgiving meal with a turkey provided by the bank and side dishes from bank employees. The December meeting was a family game night. The bank also had surprise gifts for the elementary students.
Massey says the community bank’s ambassadors are taking the initiative to invite their mentees to informal get-togethers, such as local sports events and movies. Sidonia Nichols, a high school senior and one of Farmers Bank and Trust’s ambassadors, says she planned to see a movie with her mentee. “I just want her to see that there [are] people in the community that care about her,” she says.
Nichols says she’s grateful for the opportunity to serve as an ambassador. “It’s got us out in the community and put us with families and people you would never see yourself on a daily basis,” she adds.
Malissa Thomas, principal of Caldwell County Elementary School, says her students are thrilled to be included in the program. “They have connected well with their mentors,” she says. “It’s early in the program, but I think it’s going to be a great way to provide our students with a chance to make a connection that can serve as a vision for their future.”
A new generation of customers
Word of the program is spreading and winning new fans. Massey says a parent of an ambassador who had not been a customer reached out to the bank for a construction loan.
“The customer said that she wanted to go through Farmers because her son had such great things to say about the program,” she says. “I believe that as long as you do good things in the community, you will get rewarded.”
The program is introducing the bank to a new generation of customers just as they’re entering young adulthood. “These young people really get to know us,” McDaniels says. “We’re not just a sign or a name; they get to know the bank and some of our key people. This is a relationship business.”
“These young people really get to know us. We’re not just a sign or a name; they get to know the bank and some of our key people.”
—Jeff McDaniels, Farmers Bank and Trust Company
Judith Sears is a writer in Colorado.