Social Justice in 2019: A Year in Review

By Ranelle Porter,

By Michael Givens | December 31, 2019 | 4 Minute Read

From Massachusetts becoming the 16th state to ban a harmful mental health practice to the progress that was made on a bill that can help immigrants stay in the United States, social justice in 2019 has seen many impressive strides forward. As we get ready for the first chapter of 2020, the Join Us For Good campaign and Eastern Bank want to acknowledge the progress we’ve made.

An End to Conversion Therapy in the Bay State

On April 8, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed HR 140 (An Act Relative to Abuse Practices to Change Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Minors) into law. The controversial practice of conversion therapy has long been used by a small number of mental health providers to attempt to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ youth through harmful practices that target physical and mental health.

Over the last several years, the practice has become condemned by a number of professional organizations, including the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others. Numerous studies have shown that attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ youth can cause depression and increased thoughts of suicide and lead to more instances of illicit drug use. Massachusetts joined California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington in legally condemning the practice. Just a month later, governors for both Colorado and Maine signed similar bills into law, with Maine becoming the last New England state to ban conversion therapy.

Providing a Clear Pathway to Homeownership

In 2019, Eastern Bank continued its commitment to social justice by working to provide Boston’s low-income families and families of color with the opportunity to own their own homes.

The Eastern Bank Community Development Lending (CDL) program has an impressive track record in this area, investing millions of dollars into affordable housing projects and community revitalization initiatives. Earlier this year, Eastern Bank Senior Vice President Yongmei Chen was honored for her work to ensure that Asian American families have greater access to housing opportunities in Boston.

“Gentrification is a major issue, not just in the Asian American community but in a lot of minority communities in [Boston],” she said at the awards ceremony. “In Chinatown, particularly, with all of the development that’s going on, the pressure of affordability, of people staying in the city and working in the city is getting tougher and tougher.”

Neighborhoods in Boston like Roxbury and Chinatown saw dozens of new homes built specifically for working families. Eastern Bank didn’t stop at affordable housing—it also invested heavily in its Business Equity Initiative (BEI), which provides capital to small business owners. It’s a great way to encourage entrepreneurship within communities of color.

Climate Strike

Climate change was one of the dominant conversations for social justice in 2019 and it’s an issue that affects every single one of us. On September 20, youth around the world participated in climate strikes to call attention to their deep concern about climate change and its impacts. From Belgium to South Africa, Afghanistan to Japan, thousands of young people took to the streets to discuss issues like greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide levels, oil and gas exploration, rising seas, soil erosion, and the ever-fading ozone layer. In the United States, cities like Denver, San Francisco, New York, and Boston saw thousands of youth congregate in public spaces with colorful signs to demand a healthy future for our planet. The mobilization of so many young people across the world is powerful evidence that 2020 and beyond will see lots of social justice activism.

Dream and Promise Act

No year in review would be complete without discussing advancements in immigrant rights. The Dream and Promise Act passed the House of Representatives this summer. If approved by the Senate and signed into law, it will provide a clear path to citizenship for thousands of immigrants living across the nation. Specifically, this act will support immigrants who came into the United States as minors and provides them with conditional permanent status for up to 10 years. It was a major development in social justice in 2019.

As 2020 begins, the passage of bills like the Dream and Promise Act will ensure that our nation will continue to welcome immigrants who are seeking a better life.

Join the movement of doing good things to help people and communities prosper.

Pamela Feingold: The Journey to Rebuilding Communities in Boston

By Ranelle Porter,

By Michael Givens | June 25, 2019 | 3 Minute Read

Pamela Feingold has dedicated her career to rebuilding communities and working at the intersection of banking and social progress. As the Senior Vice President and Group Director of Eastern Bank’s Community Development Lending (CDL) program, she’s committed to investing resources into revitalizing communities, supporting families, and helping others live up to their potential.

“We have financed thousands of units of affordable housing, emergency shelters, and permanent housing,” she said of Eastern Bank’s work. “We have helped to finance charter schools within the inner city and surrounding communities, [and] we have financed projects for social service agencies that support people with physical and mental challenges.”

Eastern Bank’s CDL initiative has also invested funds in substance abuse clinics and community health centers. The investments in these projects have had the singular objective of developing strong, healthy, and vibrant communities in Boston and across Massachusetts.

Feingold’s career in banking and rebuilding communities began in the early 1980s when she enrolled in a bank credit training program in order to earn enough money for veterinary school. However, while in the program, she fell in love with community banking. She started working for Wainwright Bank in 1992, and gradually, she began to understand the power and potential of addressing social issues through banking.

“At Wainwright, we created a social agenda where ‘doing well by doing good’ was our motto,” she said. “We addressed the cutting-edge social issues of the time and used our visibility in the community to make a statement and make a difference. We merged with Eastern Bank in 2011 and our commitment to social issues has grown exponentially.”

That same year, Eastern Bank made a significant investment in Lowell that would help to transform the provision of medical care for many of the city’s residents. At that time, the Lowell Community Health Center was operating in several small and dated facilities around the city. Eastern Bank, along with funding from the state and city, invested funds into converting an empty mill into a state-of-the-art healthcare facility.

The project not only transformed the health center, but it also helped to expand its services to even more residents in Lowell. Today, the Lowell Community Health Center serves over a quarter of the city’s population, with 90 percent of the patients identifying as low income.

Another project that Feingold is quite proud of is the partnership between Eastern Bank and the Committee to End Elder Homelessness, now called HEARTH. The partnership oversaw the complete renovation of an abandoned building in Boston’s South End as it was transformed into housing for the elderly—who were at risk of becoming homeless. The partnership created 60 units of housing and led to other projects that addressed homelessness among the elder population.

Seeing the real-life impact of the CDL initiative on the people who benefit from the program has provided the greatest sense of satisfaction for Feingold, as she continues to help rebuild communities.

“All you have to do is attend the grand opening of a housing project and see the face of the single mom who used to live in a motel unit with her children . . . [they] now have a place to call home. Or a formerly homeless man or woman who now has a place to call their own,” she said. “It makes it all worth it.”

Feingold says that Eastern Bank’s approach to supporting the community goes a long way in transforming and saving lives.

Learn more about how the Community Development Lending program at Eastern Bank has led to building health centers, addressing homelessness, and supporting families.

Making an Impact in the Lynn Community with April’s Pub & Restaurant

By Ranelle Porter,

By Satta Sarmah Hightower | March 18, 2019 | 3 Minute Read

April’s Pub & Restaurant has been serving diverse dishes from fried green plantains and steak mofongo to corned beef hash and chicken marsala to the Lynn community since 1999. The restaurant, which has been a staple in this North Shore town, reflects the owners’ Dominican roots and their whole-hearted embrace of their adopted community. After emigrating from the Dominican Republic in 1989, brothers Roger and Julio Garcia worked together in Salem before eventually pursuing their own ventures in the restaurant world. They then decided to reunite and open their own restaurant in Lynn.

“Working with my brother has been a dream all my life, and it was my father’s dream,” Roger says.

Creating a Presence in the Lynn Community

Launching the restaurant in Lynn was a no-brainer for the brothers. They’ve lived in the community for nearly 30 years and recently, they’ve seen a resurgence in the area, with new development along the city’s waterfront and business corridor. “Lynn is a very unique city, and if you really notice lately, a lot of people are actually moving into Lynn. We have people from all over the place coming. It’s very diverse,” Julio says.

Thanks to a small business loan from Eastern Bank, the brothers were able to open their restaurant in a building downtown. “They opened up the door for us to be able to purchase the building and the whole process was very simple and easy,” Roger says. “[They] even checked on us to see how we were doing after we purchased the building. It makes you feel good, and it makes you feel that there is someone out there that actually cares.”

Fostering a Sense of Community

The brothers worked 17 hours a day, every day to get their business off the ground the first year. The restaurant is the embodiment of the Garcia brothers’ hard work as well as their love for their community and family. Named after Julio’s daughter, April, who has special needs, April’s Pub & Restaurant is meant to bring an essence of heart and joy to the community of Lynn—the same heart and joy that April brings to the family every day.

“She’s such a blessing and I believe that she brings us good luck. The thought of the restaurant is to bring people together,” Roger says. “We always try to keep the name up, and we want to make sure people recognize what [the restaurant is] all about.”

But that isn’t the only thing that makes April’s Pub unique. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—you can get buttermilk pancakes all day long or stop by around dinner for chicken broccoli alfredo. The brothers say that customers jokingly call the restaurant “the embassy” because it’s such a community gathering place. Roger says that its roots in the community is what has helped the brothers forge such a strong relationship with Eastern Bank. The bank’s Join Us For Good initiative, in particular, shows its willingness to help underserved groups and advocate for social justice causes.

“When you see a company like Eastern Bank doing that, it encourages us to do more for the community,” he says. “That’s what we all should do to be a better community.”

Visit April’s Pub & Restaurant in Lynn for a diverse taste of food and community members.