DETROIT — After a salesman for a simulated wood grain supplier wrote the final college tuition check for his youngest child in 2007, his worldview shifted.
Michael Khoury left his auto supplier job at Avery Dennison to work at a new high school in a low-income Detroit neighborhood. He was in his late 40s, a career peak for the average person, but he was ready for a change.
When his daughter, the recent college graduate, had looked for volunteer opportunities, she came across Cristo Rey High School in Pilsen, a predominantly Hispanic, low-income neighborhood on Chicago's lower west side. She asked her dad to look through the website and let her know what he thought.
"I said, 'Maria, if they opened a school like that in Detroit, I would go work there. You should go,'" Khoury said.
The Cristo Rey Network now is made up of 32 high schools nationwide that are partially funded by a work-study program. Each student works at least one full day per week in an entry-level position at a local business. At Detroit Cristo Rey, job partners include automakers, suppliers and other local businesses.
Right after Khoury's daughter started working at Chicago's Cristo Rey, Khoury's wife was on a retreat and saw a flyer announcing that Cristo Rey was opening in Detroit and looking for job partners.
"My background obviously is not education, but I reached out to them. It took about six months. I kept calling them and sending them letters. I joke that after six months, they said, 'We can hire him or get a restraining order, but this has got to stop,'" he said.
Khoury, 58, has a huge photo of Pope Francis on his otherwise bare office walls and often tears up when he talks about his students and the opportunities the job partners provide them. But before working at Cristo Rey, "I was a slug," Khoury joked. He helped at a homeless shelter through his Catholic parish, but he said that was the extent of his community service.
He started working on Detroit Cristo Rey's finances and work-study program in March 2008.
The school officially opened five months later. By January 2009, the first president left, and Khoury replaced him.
"They made me the interim, and I refused to leave," he said.