Focused Community Outreach Can Change Futures

By Deb Stewart

What makes a great community? What drives a vibrant local economy? How can a small community bank be a major driver for both?

BayCoast Bank, located in southeastern Massachusetts, has an answer for that question through its commitment to supporting education in the communities it serves. “We believe that education is a primary driver of both community and personal success. It’s our responsibility as a community bank to focus on this issue and to encourage the involvement of other businesses and individuals”, says Nicole Almeida, CMO for BayCoast Bank.

It all began with a bus.

Nearly three years ago, BayCoast wanted to draw attention to critical school funding issues in the Massachusetts South Coast region. Specifically, the goal was to encourage voters to support initiatives funding local schools. To do that most effectively, bank staff decided to go where the voters were—to community events, libraries, schools and other public locations. So, they bought a bus, wrapped it up in bright blue graphics, outfitted it with iPads, a flat screen TV and couches, and took it on the road. Dubbed “Get on the Bus,” the initiative was launched in the spring of 2017, in concert with a wider Bristol County Chamber of Commerce initiative focusing on education. They knew it was going to have to be a three-pronged approach—reaching students and their parents, assisting teachers and raising awareness to the general public.

“The bus started as a marketing tool, selling the importance of education and our schools, and it worked. Attending events and handing out swag—creating buzz in a fun and unique way—was successful at raising awareness of the importance of our schools,” Almeida explains.

The program continued to expand. BayCoast started collecting video stories from students and other members of the community about why they feel education is important. Two of these stories were turned into television spots.  One featured a return visit to students by a successful Durfee High School alum who now owns a production company in LA. The second highlighted an 11-year-old girl with her mother, who shared the story of her educational journey that started in Mexico and led to becoming the dean of a local community college. Both of these spots are meant to inspire kids and parents to focus on education and think, “You can do this too.”

The next phase began with BayCoast asking students and teachers the question: “What would you do if you had money to put toward education in your school?”  In a BayCoast video contest, schools told their stories for the opportunity to win $2,500 for a project they chose. Five schools received grants through this contest.

The Get on the Bus program also has several elements that provide teachers with continuing education opportunities. For example, BayCoast co-sponsors an annual SouthCoast Education Summit for over 300 teachers region-wide. Focused on social and emotional learning, the summit is organized through a collaboration of area school districts, funded and supported by the business and nonprofit communities along with BayCoast Bank and the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Another recent event for teachers, an early childhood symposium, focused on the incredible impact that early childhood education programs have on a child’s academic achievement and the region’s future economic stability.

Learning that many students had never been on a college campus, BayCoast began funding and escorting seventh and eighth graders on field trips to local colleges. These tours were followed up the next year with a youth summit at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. To reinforce the value of the tours and summit, the next step will be outreach that explains to parents how their children can make their college goals happen.

Classroom learning also supports development of financial literacy from a young age.

BayCoast participates in school banking programs at various elementary and middle school locations, collecting deposits and rewarding saving for the students involved. FDIC Money Smart and ABA financial literacy tools are also used in elementary grades.  At the high school level, Everfi financial education content is being supplied to 14 area schools. In addition, the bank organizes nine Credit for Life fairs, which are a highly interactive financial literacy program that teaches the basics of spending, saving and credit. BayCoast also has 20 to 25 paid college interns working at the bank annually—an impressive number, considering this is a bank with only 20 branches.

And they’ve only begun…

What is in the works?

  • Online financial education – A financial literacy element is being developed for BayCoast’s website, providing access to financial literacy modules and tools for the local community and beyond.
  • Voter information – They will continue to build awareness of ballot referendums that support education and are hopeful that voters in the community will continue to support them.
  • Continued evolution of the bus program – “This year the bus takes a stronger financial literacy focus,” Almeida says. “We’re developing materials for all ages—early childhood through college prep. Adult materials will target parents with kids entering college and others. We are pulling content from the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Everfi, and working with partners to utilize resources that are already available. Our new web redesign will also include all of these.”
  • Educator resources – Teachers will be encouraged to use the bus and related equipment including iPads. The bank hopes it will be seen as a mobile resource for education.
  • Geographic expansion – The program began in the Fall River and New Bedford area. It is now expanding to Rhode Island, eastern Massachusettes, and ultimately, the bank’s entire market area.
  • Involvement of other businesses – This is a business community endeavor. As such, BayCoast wants to see more companies joining in—educating their employees and involving them to permeate the community with a commitment to education.

Can other banks do this?

“It is a large undertaking,” Almeida says. “All of our 450 employees feel this at its core. We learned to be agile. We had never bought a bus before, let alone wrap one and trick it out! You need to take your time, roll up your sleeves, learn from trial and error, be nimble, be open to new ideas and evolve. It’s expensive. At the end of the day what drives you is commitment to the cause. And once you start digging in, you’ll realize the need is even greater than you thought. It’s the best part of what we do—and it is the right thing to do,” she concludes.

BayCoast would love to talk to other financial institutions interested in focusing on education in their communities. Please contact Nicole Almeida at [email protected].

Deb Stewart is a contributing editor to ABA Bank Marketing. Located in Charlotte, N.C., she is an independent consultant working for the financial services industry. Email: [email protected].