The ABA Foundation has named Paola Fernandez, senior vice president of community development for Centreville Bank in West Warwick, R.I., the winner of its 2023 George Bailey Distinguished Service Award. Fernandez was recognized for her dedication to building and leveraging relationships to support underserved communities throughout Rhode Island and northeastern Connecticut. She will be honored on Oct. 10 at ABA’s Annual Convention in Nashville, Tenn.
Now in its ninth year, the George Bailey Distinguished Service Award recognizes a non-CEO bank employee who demonstrates outstanding initiative, commitment to their customers and community, and the ability to inspire others. The ABA Foundation selects the winner after reviewing nominations submitted by banks of all sizes across the country. It is the Foundation’s highest individual honor for a banker.
Fernandez joined Centreville Bank in 2018 and was single-handedly tasked with developing a formal and strategic approach to community giving. She successfully launched the institution’s long-term philanthropic program and has since directed multi-million-dollar investments to underserved communities from the bank’s charitable foundation.
One of her key accomplishments has been the support and enhancement of student scholarship programs and investment in community programs that support the success of school-age children through Centreville Bank. The program helps facilitate financial assistance to deserving individuals and opens doors to higher education for those who would have otherwise faced barriers. Her commitment to education and this program has enabled countless students to pursue their academic dreams.
“Paola has been a tireless advocate for underserved communities and has made it her mission to create access and opportunities for those who need it most,” said Rob Nichols, ABA president and CEO. “The impact of her work at Centerville Bank will be felt for many years to come, and we congratulate her for this well-deserved recognition.”
In addition to her scholarship program efforts, Fernandez also spearheaded a partnership with Read to Grow, a youth literacy organization based in Connecticut. Through her advocacy and the support of Centreville Bank, Read to Grow was able to launch a bookmobile that has traveled to every county in the state and distributed more than 6,000 books to children at Title 1 schools, in housing projects, food pantries and other community agencies.
Fernandez’s passion for community engagement has encouraged others throughout the bank to embrace a culture of volunteerism and “going beyond the check.” In 2022, bank employees completed 3,100 volunteer hours and as of October 2023, they have already logged more than 2,500 additional hours with 350 non-profit organizations. Since the inception of the Centreville Bank Charitable Foundation in 2008, more than $8 million has been invested into the community with focus on education success, economic security, and capacity building.
“Paola’s vision and commitment have instilled a strong sense of purpose and social responsibility among employees,” said Hal Horvat, president, CEO and chairman of the board of Centreville Bank. “Staff now contribute to multiple initiatives and through these collective efforts, Centreville Bank has become a catalyst for positive change.”
Fernandez has more than 20 years’ experience in community development, nonprofit management and government relations. Prior to joining Centreville Bank, she served as the director of public policy with the United Way of Rhode Island, where she was charged with development and coordination of public policy and government relations strategies with the local, state and federal governments. Chief among her work are the formation of a statewide afterschool network and coordination of two successful ballot advocacy campaigns, which secured $75 million in bond dollars to support the development of affordable housing.
In addition to the George Bailey Distinguished Service Award that goes to an individual bank employee, the ABA Foundation also recognizes banks annually for their commitment to their communities in seven different categories. For a full list of the 2023 Community Commitment Award winners, as well as honorable mentions, visit aba.com/awards.