• Fred Romero (left) discusses his volunteer leave at a prison inmate re-entry program based in Hayward, California, 1977. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.

Making time for the future

Posted on March 13, 2019

In 1976, Wells Fargo made history by becoming the first major bank to offer team members paid leave to volunteer in their communities in programs of their choice.

Created by committee

On November 6, 1975, the members of Wells Fargo’s Corporate Responsibility Committee (started in 1972) gathered for their bi-monthly meeting to evaluate the bank’s commitment to being a community partner for positive social change. Past meetings brought lively discussions around evaluations of the bank’s affordable housing and minority owned small business loan programs. Recommendations for more inclusive employment forms, donation policies, and club memberships also emerged in past agendas.

Corporate Responsibility Creed, 1973. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.

Corporate Responsibility Creed, 1973. Photo Credit: Wells Fargo Corporate Archives.

At this meeting, an idea for a new program was introduced by the committee’s Administrative Assistant Lou Cosso. He shared his research on an innovative program that another business had established that offered paid leave for service to the community.

Questions immediately emerged from other committee members. How long should a paid leave last? How many leaves should be granted at one time? What criteria should be used to evaluate the candidates? The one thing that was never questioned was if Wells Fargo should try it. Every member was in universal agreement that it would be a benefit to community partners who often needed personnel more than they needed money. The advantage for employees was also clear as many often contacted the committee asking to take active roles in helping the bank solve social problems.

By July 1976, the Social Service Leave program was in motion with bulletins in offices throughout the bank recruiting candidates. While a few other businesses had started similar programs, Wells Fargo became the first major bank in the nation to offer a paid leave for employees to help out at organizations of their choice.

Fred Romero from Wells Fargo’s Data Processing Division was the first employees selected to serve. Fred was born in Nicaragua, and had spent his early life in Costa Rica before attending City College in San Francisco. He started working for Wells Fargo while attending classes, and had been an employee for 10 years when his application for Social Service Leave was accepted. Fred had been volunteering his as a tutor at the San Francisco County Jail in San Bruno. He used his six month paid leave as an opportunity to develop a stronger tutor programs at the San Bruno jail and to work with a Hayward based prison inmate re-entry program.

Since 1976, the program has evolved. The length of paid leaves has shifted as the number of employees awarded a leave has expanded. Even the name of the program has changed. Today, employees around the nation have the opportunity to make a unique impact in their community through Wells Fargo’s Volunteer Leave Program. Employees have helped out at camps for children with HIV, worked with cancer survivors, mentored refugees, and more.

Learn more about Wells Fargo’s Volunteer Leave program and its other community support programs.


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