As Career Online High School approaches 2,000 graduates from McDonald’s Archways to Opportunity, we’re spotlighting Owner/Operators with top participation levels in the high school program. This month, the Trefz Organization celebrated their 21st COHS graduate, Mercedes Licona, a 25-year employee of their organization. Licona was recognized at the age of 52 in front of Trefz leadership, friends, family, and coworkers in Wappingers Falls, NY.

We interviewed her restaurant’s third generation Owner/Operator Josie Trefz and father Paul Trefz on why and how they generate such significant participation in Archways to Opportunity. “It’s no secret that it is very difficult to keep employees,” Paul Trefz shared. “It’s especially hard when you’re in a location like ours where every fast food competitor is within a mile of us…. Having Archways to offer our employees gives us a great retention tool—our turnover is very low.”

Daughter Josie Trefz understands that Archways is also a people development tool. “I am a strong proponent of helping women rise up and take on that next role.” She promotes Archways to all her employees stressing: “We want them to go after their dreams—go after the things they put on hold.”

Having a dedicated Archways advocate in Sharon Rayo, Trefz People Development Manager, is a critical piece of the puzzle. Rayo reports that of their 21 graduates, 18 still work for the organization. For the Trefz Organization, COHS is a path forward for employees.

“A lot of our people come from different countries and when they come here, they are thrown into adult life—working, building families, often running a business,” said Paul Trefz. “Rayo’s job is training and removing barriers to growth. A lot of [our people] want to continue their education and to do that in this country, you need an American diploma. Rayo helps employees achieve this goal.”

“Archways is something we want employees to do, and it is at no cost to them,” said Rayo. She encourages her employees to take up the opportunity, telling them: “It is a privilege; take advantage of it.”

To increase participation, Rayo hosts Archways Days in either a restaurant lobby or at an education fair at the Trefz office where employees can learn about the program alongside her on laptops. She checks in with participants to keep them motivated and hosts graduation events. Rayo recognizes the events inspire other employees to participate.

“It’s inspiring. People think, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’”

Licona, who put her education on hold for work and family, now plans to study accounting. All three of her children also worked for the Trefz organization at some point—and now they’ve witnessed the restaurant transformed into a graduation stage.

Josie Trefz thanked Licona. “We are so proud and thankful, and so happy that all three of your kids are here to see you.”