It was a strange, contradictory day for Bank of America last Wednesday. Early that day, the Occupy movement stormed the bank’s Oakland branch. Also, after creating a public-relations nightmare by attempting to add new debit-card fees, the bank reversed and withdrew the planned action. But it was also Wednesday when a small, but very happy local crowd gathered at the new wing of the Crocker Art Museum to celebrate Bank of America’s 2011 Neighborhood Excellence Initiative winners.
Inside the Crocker, which, by the way, received considerable funding from BofA, bank officials were presenting beautiful awards and much more beautiful donation checks to two Sacramento nonprofits, five local heroes and numerous student leaders. Since 2004, the Bank of America has donated $3.6 million in Sacramento and $150 million nationwide, through this program alone.
And what a fine program it is! Earlier this year I was part of the eight-member local committee that chose the two regional nonprofits that would each receive $200,000 in unrestricted funds as well as excellent leadership training. We also selected five Sacramento-area individuals to be recognized for their public service. They received a $5,000 check to be given to the nonprofit of their choice.
Having selected the local heroes from their written biographies and recommendations, it was a real treat for committee members to meet them in person. David Axthelm was recognized for his 40 years of work with Big Brothers Big Sisters. The chipper 84-year-old Jessie Chambers was honored for a lifetime of work with numerous charities, including St. Vincent de Paul Society of Roseville. Ron Javor was chosen for his tireless activities as a homeless advocate. And the youngest person in the group, Catalina Rodriguez, has been raising money for United Cerebral Palsy after the loss of her 18-month-old son.
But the big awards went to two very cool organizations, Sacramento Regional Conservation Corps and Sacramento Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children. By giving $200,000 in unrestricted funds and leadership training to relatively small nonprofits, the bank will help them to take their organization to the next level.
Knowing a little about CASA, whose staff works one-on-one with Sacramento-area foster kids, I expect this grant will result in a significantly expanded organization that is able to serve many more children. The Sacramento Regional Conservation Corps grant will help it offer real jobs to youth while recycling building supplies.
The Neighborhood Excellence Initiative Awards are not only generous, but also smart. While the protesters are raising real issues that need to be considered, that doesn’t take away from what Bank of America did in honoring some real local heroes and nonprofits.