Paola N. Fernandez is vice president of community development at Centreville Bank. She’s responsible for building, planning and implementing initiatives that increase community engagement, strengthen community advocacy efforts and drive community transformation at the grassroots level.
She also oversees strategy development and implementation of the bank’s Charitable Foundation, including setting annual philanthropic priorities, building relationships and managing the grant-making process.
Prior to joining Centreville, she was director of public policy and government relations at United Way of Rhode Island.
PBN: Community engagement at Centreville Bank has grown in recent years. What prompted this and how has the bank handled this increased effort?
FERNANDEZ: As an independent, community bank, giving back has always been a vital piece of who we are. Whether it’s in the form of grants, donations, sponsorships, volunteering or some combination thereof, Centreville Bank has a rich history of making itself an integral part of the communities we serve.
In the past few years, though, and especially in 2019, the bank has worked to refocus our community-engagement initiatives to maximize both the impact they have and involvement from an employee and community standpoint. From the Charitable Foundation to employee-giving opportunities, every facet of community involvement has been reassessed to better respond to current needs in our state, and I think we’re now seeing the fruits of that labor in the form of an increase in activity internally, as well as our external presence in the community.
PBN: Is there a connection between promoting community-giving projects and strengthening the bank’s connections to customers?
FERNANDEZ: We are deeply committed to our goal of empowering customers to achieve financial success and a key part of that goal is developing strong relationships. Strengthening our connection to our customers through investment in their communities is a priority for us because we know these contributions can help build those relationships and make a positive impact in the lives of the people we’re seeing and talking to on a daily basis.
One of our key goals is to promote employee volunteering through purposeful financial contributions and partnerships with community-based organizations. Our customers are paying attention and often will let us know they see the work we’re doing and appreciate how we are involved in the community.
PBN: With the holiday season upon us, what are some examples of the bank’s community-engagement activities this time of year?
FERNANDEZ: Our focus during the holiday season is to continue to engage employees and provide them with opportunities to give back in a variety of ways. This year we held a Thanksgiving Food Drive in our branches. … And our annual Toys for Tots Toy Drive is currently being held at all our branch locations and continues to grow every year. After the drive ends, our employees will volunteer on two separate days to help with donation sorting and gift matching … as the [U.S.] Marines prepare to distribute the toys.
PBN: During the holiday season people are asked to contribute in so many ways, are you ever concerned about customers feeling pressured to give something?
FERNANDEZ: Centreville Bank customers are incredibly generous and always welcome opportunities to give through us. While we are mindful of making sure we don’t overwhelm them with requests, they often comment about how important it is to give back and appreciate our community commitment.
PBN: How involved do employees get with the bank’s community activities?
FERNANDEZ: The holiday season is a time when we see a real outpouring of generosity across the bank. One activity that stands out is our annual Adopt-A-Family initiative, in partnership with Westbay Community Action in Warwick. WCA provides us wish lists for many of the families they serve, and our employees, often by department, will “adopt” a family to provide them with the items they’ve requested. Our volunteers love taking part in this initiative. … It’s displays of employee involvement [such as] this that not only reinforce our culture of giving internally but strengthen bonds amongst co-workers, customers and communities.
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