Florence Bank to Reach the $1.05 Million Mark in This Year’s 16th Annual Customers’ Choice Community Grants Program
Event scheduled for March 21 at Look Memorial Park
FLORENCE—When Florence Bank presents the awards in its 16th annual Customers’ Choice Community Grants Program this year at an event slated for March 21, it will reach the $1.05 million mark in terms of grants made to community nonprofits over almost two decades.
Thanks to the 10,111 votes that were cast in 2017, 57 organizations from across the Valley will receive the funds. Representatives from those nonprofits will be present at the Garden House at Look Park from 5 to 7 p.m. to accept the grants, view photographs and displays from previous Customers’ Choice events and sample hors d’oeuvres by Seth Mias Catering.
Until the grants are announced that evening in a celebratory manner, complete with Champagne to toast the million-dollar-milestone, nonprofit leaders will not know the amount of the grants they will receive.
“We are pleased to reach this tremendous marker of giving in the Pioneer Valley,” said Florence Bank President and CEO John Heaps Jr. “We are honored to be able to invest in these organizations that benefit our employees, customers, neighbors, families and friends.”
This year, funds will bolster such initiatives as staff mentoring of new volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County, based in Amherst, so that 200 children on the organization’s wait list might be paired with a role model.
“I feel incredibly honored to be a part of the Customers’ Choice Community Grants initiative,” said Jessie Cooley, director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, noting that the bank has provided her organization with roughly $9,200 in funding since 2014. “Florence Bank is a great partner with us. This is a cool, community-based effort.”
Aline Gubrium, secretary of the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) at Pelham Elementary School, is likewise grateful that the PTO will receive a grant this year. “For a small school, with one class per grade, we face a tight budget,” she said.
The school is very community-focused, and funding from the bank will be used to support family events offered each month throughout the year as well as gifts that are made each holiday season to families in need, she said.
“The support that we get from Florence Bank really helps to boost the ongoing efforts to keep these events going,” Gubrium added.
The Customers’ Choice Community Grants Program is an annual offering founded in 2002, through which Florence Bank customers are invited to vote for their favorite local nonprofit in hopes it will receive a share of grant funding. In its early years, awards of $50,000, and later, $75,000, were offered each year by the bank; in more recent years, $100,000 in grants have been disbursed each spring.
To qualify for a community grant, organizations must receive at least 50 votes. For the first time this year, eight organizations that received between 40 and 49 votes will be invited to attend the event and be in a drawing for one additional $500 award.
This year, in addition to the Pelham Elementary School PTO and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County, there are 55 additional grant recipients. They are: Dakin Humane Society, Friends of Forbes Library, Friends of Williamsburg Regional Library, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Cancer Connection, Northampton Survival Center, Amherst Survival Center, Friends of Lilly Library, Easthampton Elementary Schools PTO, Jackson Street School PTO, New Hingham Regional Elementary School PTO, BARC, Inc., Northampton Senior Center, Northampton High School PTO, Emily Williston Memorial Library, Hospice of the Fisher Home, RK Finn Ryan Road School, Safe Passage, Friends of Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School, Belchertown Day School, The Edward Hopkins Educational Foundation, The Friends of Clapp Library, Amherst Regional Public Schools Parent Guardian Organization, Kestrel Land Trust, Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, Grow Food Northampton, Williamsburg Firefighters Association, Friends of the Amherst Senior Center, Tapestry Health Systems, Inc., Friends of M.N. Spear Memorial Library, Cooley Dickinson VNA & Hospice, Leeds Elementary School PTO, Hampshire Regional High School, Easthampton Community Center, The Hartsbrook School, Northampton Community Music Center, Easthampton Band Boosters, Northampton Community Rowing, Hitchcock Center for the Environment, ServiceNet, The Belchertown Police K-9 Unit, Hilltown Community Health Centers, Whole Children, Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Bridge Street School PTO, Cooley Dickinson Hospital, John F. Kennedy Middle School PTO, Mass Audubon Connecticut River Sanctuaries, Our Lady of the Hills Parish, CISA, Belchertown Firefighters Association, MANNA Soup Kitchen, Inc., Center for Women & Community at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Center for New Americans and Granby Senior Center.
Cooley, of Big Brothers Big Sisters, said her organization serves about 180 young people each year. While there are about 200 children on the wait list, there are no funds available to train the mentors who might pair with them.
“It’s very important for us to have funding and support from our local businesses and our community members. We really rely on that,” Cooley said, noting that she was recently notified that community block grant funding has been lost for this year.
“It takes quite a bit of funding to create and support a new mentoring match,” Cooley added. We need to recruit new mentors and conduct interviews and screenings with families and children so that we can make thoughtful matches and provide appropriate supervision. All of that takes a significant amount of staff time.”
The Customers’ Choice Community Grants program is a year-long initiative. Customers’ of the bank can vote via paper ballots at each bank branch location or online at https://www.florencebank.com/vote.
Florence Bank has branches in Amherst, Belchertown, Easthampton, Granby, Hadley, Northampton, Williamsburg and West Springfield, and it is headquartered in Florence.