College-bound high school students in Massachusetts were asked to complete essays about the intrinsic value of community banks for a chance to win a scholarship from North Easton Savings Bank.
By Paul Sisolak
The testimonials written by local high school students were worth their weight in gold to North Easton Savings Bank.
“I believe these banks, who dedicate their work towards the economic prosperity of a singular state or county rather than the profits of an international corporation, possess an immensely vital position,” one student wrote. “They allow their customers to not only invest in themselves, but in their neighbors, too. They help a community to work towards a common goal of bettering everyone’s lives, which is a quality many larger banks lack.”
“We get really insightful answers about how they got their first bank accounts as kids, or how they used it to save their babysitting money or from working at Marylou’s [Coffee].”
—Aileen Zec, North Easton Savings Bank
This is just one excerpt from an essay contest sponsored by North Easton Savings Bank in South Easton, Mass., which recently invited local high school students to answer the question, “How do community banks benefit society, and how have they impacted your community?”
Students who sought college scholarships this year through the $1.4 billion-asset community bank were required to write the essay as part of their application. North Easton Savings Bank’s scholarships totaled $40,000, and students from 14 area communities were eligible.
Little things make a difference
“We’re so proud of the program,” says Aileen Zec, North Easton Savings Bank’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, adding that 2022 was the program’s fifth year.
The scholarship application committee, which has grown from two members to six, first considers what applicants intend to major in, with “more weight if they’re going to study business, or marketing, or something in the business realm,” Zec says. But the committee also places much importance on applicants’ essays about their experiences with community banks—sometimes as far back as early adolescence.
“We get really insightful answers about how they got their first bank accounts as kids, or how they used it to save their babysitting money or from working at Marylou’s [Coffee],” Zec says. “Sometimes the essays will reflect attending the [Norton High School] Credit for Life Fair or talk about when they were young and going to the bank with their mom and getting a lollipop. It’s really those little things that make a difference.”
Honoring the wordsmiths
Zec recalls that in 2021, the community bank had funds earmarked and ready, but because local high school classes were not in person, the bank had some trouble getting the word out to students. Zec and her associates therefore decided to send school guidance counselors bank-branded water bottles, “just so we could be top of mind to encourage students to reach out to us.”
This year, she says, produced a much better showing of applications now that on-site classes have resumed.
The pandemic also meant an awards ceremony was not possible for 2021’s scholarship recipients, so students videotaped virtual thank-yous for the bank. However, says Zec, “this year, we got to see everyone in person, which was a special treat. We got to see [which colleges] everyone was going to. It allows you to get to know them and put a face with their application.”
Rich Spencer, North Easton Savings Bank’s president and CEO, reflected on the chance to meet with the scholarship recipients this summer. “Every year, I eagerly look forward to meeting with local students at our scholarship presentation ceremony,” he says. “Learning from the next generation empowers us all to keep growing, studying and achieving.”
Zec says the essay contest is always gratifying, because it enlightens the community bank about a younger generation’s point of view on community banking. “Getting a perspective on how banking is in the opinion of someone who is a teenager—how the bank is impacting the community—is a good way to gauge if what we do is resonating with people,” she says.
In their scholarship essay, one student essay winner discussed North Easton Savings Bank’s dedication to and financial support for local nonprofits, including the Mansfield Hornets Youth Football and Cheer, where they are a volunteer student coach.
“[The community bank’s] monetary sponsorship has allowed the organization to secure necessary items and equipment, such as protective football helmets and new uniforms for the cheerleaders,” the student wrote. “I am now aware of what it takes to run a nonprofit organization of this magnitude, and the generosity of North Easton Savings Bank certainly makes it easier and benefits our local neighborhood and youth.”
Paul Sisolak is a writer in Minnesota.