Eastern Bank Honored at the Shorty Awards for LGBTQ+ Community Engagement

By Ranelle Porter,

By Lorelei Erisis | August 1, 2019 | 3 Minute Read

The past several years have been a tumultuous time for the LGBTQ+ community. It has often felt like we’re constantly fighting uphill only to be pushed back down whenever we’ve made significant progress. Yet as an out, queer, trans woman who has been deeply immersed in the fight for over a decade now, I know we’re making progress. We continue to score important victories.

And a big part of these successes are the allies who have helped us achieve them—like Eastern Bank. If LGBTQ+ rights are under attack, you can find Eastern Bank rallying behind our cause in support of their customers, colleagues, and communities.

Eastern Bank’s tireless support was recognized at the 2019 Shorty Awards when they were honored as a finalist in the LGBTQ Community Engagement category, where they received the Audience Honor for the most public votes within that category. This recognition further demonstrates the impact their work has had on the movement and individuals everywhere.

Join Us For Good and The Shorty Awards

The Shorty Awards is an annual award show that recognizes impressive work done through social media. This year, Eastern Bank was nominated for their Join Us For Good campaign, which focuses on social justice issues and particularly on spreading awareness and support for the LGBTQ+ community.

As a longtime ally, Eastern Bank has teamed up with local advocacy organizations, businesses, and activists like myself to promote action on key issues. And when transgender rights were being questioned on the Massachusetts ballot in the 2018 midterms, Eastern Bank knew the election results could have a profound impact on the LGBTQ+ community.

I was deeply humbled when Eastern Bank invited me to be a part of the “Good Votes” digital campaign, which was meant to target awareness of question three on the ballot. They felt that using my image alongside the quote “‘This is a person. Not a political argument.’ offered a unique insight into just how important the question was in the midterm election.”

It takes a community of people each doing their part to make sustainable forward progress and when I asked Eastern Bank why they felt the need to be so involved, they said, “It was our duty to step up, speak out, and protect transgender people from discrimination in public places,” adding, “Eastern Bank has dedicated over 200 years to doing what’s right and smart for our customers, colleagues, and communities, and supporting LGBTQ+ rights is one of many social justice causes we are passionate about and wholeheartedly believe in.”

What Progress Looks Like

The most important thing about “Join Us For Good” is the results. With Massachusetts voting 67% in favor of question three, we knew the campaign was a success. The last-ditch attempt by opponents of the LGBTQ community to repeal our hard-won transgender rights in Massachusetts was defeated.

With such a solid success, what’s next for Eastern Bank? “We won’t waiver from our commitment to the LGBTQ+ community and from standing up for what we deem is right and smart,” they said. “The public’s response to this campaign serves as affirmation that we need to and will continue to be an ally for LGBTQ+ individuals.”

Join Us For Good and celebrate Eastern Bank’s recognition at the Shorty Awards for their work in support of the LGBTQ+ Community!

Boston’s Plastic Bag Ban: What You Need To Know

By Ranelle Porter,

By Lorelei Erisis | December 14, 2018 | 3 Minute Read

On December 14th, the City of Boston will begin the implementation of a citywide plastic bag ban on single-use bags. In doing so, Boston will be joining towns and cities across Massachusetts as well as countries around the world in the fight to save our environment from the overwhelming amount of plastic waste.

According to ReuseThisBag.com, “The average bag you pick up at the grocery store, or carry your takeout in, has a lifespan of about 12 minutes.” Multiply that by millions of people around the globe, and it’s easy to see how this disposable habit has become an ecological crisis-point. This torrent of plastic waste—that can take 1,000s of years to degrade—pollutes waterways, clogs sewers, disrupts entire ecosystems, and threatens the lives and basic health of many species of fish, birds, and other wildlife.

In fact, so much of this plastic has found its way into our oceans that there’s a number of floating “plastic patches” covering vast amounts of territory. The most famous being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Though difficult to measure accurately, some estimates have placed this patch as being the size of Russia.

More locally, it’s easy to see how single-use plastic bags mar the beauty of our city. They fly through our streets, clog our gutters, fill up abandoned lots, and hang from our trees. Through this plastic bag ban, the City of Boston hopes to curb trash on our streets, protect the marine environment and our waterways; and do our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste.

Enforcement of the ban will roll out in three major stages. First, only the largest establishments of 20,000 square feet or more will be affected. Establishments of 10,000 square feet will need to follow the new rules by April. By next summer, all stores in the city will need to be up to speed with the new law.

But how will this affect you? Remember to bring reusable bags when you’re out shopping or running errands. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to pay a fee of 5 cents per bag for a thicker, compostable plastic bag or a paper bag made of recycled materials. If you’ve done any shopping or gotten takeout in Cambridge, Newton, Brookline, Somerville, or any number of other surrounding towns, you may already be used to similar measures.

The plastic bag ban in Boston will relieve pressure on our landfills and ease our waste management services, while also beautifying our city. And in joining our efforts to those of quite successful plastic bag bans already in place around the globe, we can begin to mitigate many of the harmful impacts to our environment and to the wildlife we share the planet with.

We can all contribute to making a real difference in the state of our environmental health. And here in Boston, we have often been trailblazers—people who are not afraid to take on a challenge when we believe we can do good in the world. Through our support of this plastic bag ban, we can set an example, so that others may join us for good.

Join the City of Boston as we step up the fight against plastic pollution with the new plastic bag ban.

LGBTQ Ally, Nancy Stager, Urges All to Vote “Yes” on 3

By Ranelle Porter,

By Lorelei Erisis | October 29, 2018 | 3 Minute Read

During the fight to protect and support the Yes on 3 Massachusetts 2018 Campaign, it’s important to have allies. An ally that I’ve known for many years in the struggle for full transgender equality is Nancy Stager, Eastern Bank’s executive vice president for human resources and charitable giving.

Her passion and dedication to working for good in her community is nothing short of inspiring. “I am—and have always been since I was a little kid—a fairness monitor, and a vocal voice for making sure that people are treated fairly.”

Stager joined the human resources’ division of Eastern Bank in 1995. Despite feeling hesitant about leaving the tech industry to join a bank, she felt that she could help evolve the culture. Luckily, Stan Lukowski, the chairman of Eastern at the time, was especially committed to the concept of community banking. And in a theme pointing toward her present work on the Yes On 3 campaign, joining Eastern Bank made Stager think more about other missions that the organization could support within the community.

Her commitment to the work she does is both infectious and uplifting. “It isn’t an ad campaign, it’s our DNA,” Stager said about the culture at Eastern Bank. “And for it to really be authentic and real, that takes effort every day.”

And the work that Stager does in the community, as a representative of Eastern, often intersects closely with areas that she is passionate about. For example, Eastern donates 10 percent of their net profits to charity every year to more than 1,600 organizations. In addition to donating millions of dollars, Stager—along with other employees of the bank—volunteer more than 60,000 hours of their time every year. It’s a perfect illustration of how Eastern Bank’s commitment to their values is really at the core of the company as well as its employees.

Stager’s work and support extend to issues affecting people across the world. Just recently, she attended a board meeting at Manomet, an international science and outreach-focused nonprofit, based in Plymouth that does research to, “come up with practical solutions for climate change issues.”

As far as the Yes on 3 Massachusetts 2018 Campaign goes, Stager urges everyone to vote. “I see the Yes on 3 question as one of the critical civil rights questions of our time,” she said. “It’s about respect and dignity, and allowing people to be who they are.”

She spoke passionately about her belief that transgender people should have the opportunity to simply be who they are, without stigma and with their basic rights protected. Then all of the energy they spend having to hide, or even just survive, could be turned toward more positive pursuits. They could be better able to work for the good of their families and their communities.

After learning more about what happened to the transgender community in North Carolina with the bathroom bill, Nancy Stager and Eastern Bank have been working especially hard, urging all to support the transgender community and vote yes on 3 here in Massachusetts.

“People who are transgender just want to live their life fully, and authentically,” Stager concluded. “Taking [the law] away will only impact a very small population. But if you start taking away civil rights from one small population, you can start taking them away from others. And that’s a really dangerous precedent.”

Join Nancy Stager and Eastern Bank for Good and vote Yes On 3 this November!

MTPC Channels Community Empowerment to End Gender Identity Discrimination

By Ranelle Porter,

By Lorelei Erisis | October 12, 2018 | 4 Minute Read

MTPC Executive Director Mason Dunn

This November, Massachusetts voters will be asked to vote on ballot question 3. This is an attempt to repeal the recent law that protects the rights, safety, and dignity of transgender people in public spaces. Supporters of transgender rights, including various Boston transgender support groups, hope you will vote “Yes” on 3 to preserve the current law. This will maintain and support the community empowerment work that activists and allies have fought for over the years—often spearheaded by staff and volunteers of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC).

Through my association with MTPC and other Boston transgender support groups, I’ve seen the advocacy needs of the transgender community grow and change. I’ve been proud to watch visionary MTPC executive directors Gunner Scott, Jesse Begenyi, and Mason Dunn guide the organization in growing and adapting to meet those needs.

Describing their mission, Dunn said, “MTPC works to end discrimination and oppression on the basis of gender identity and gender expression in Massachusetts.” He continued with a brief history of the organization, “MTPC was founded in 2001 with the goal of being transgender-led and transgender-focused in our work and advocacy.”

From its founding, MTPC has successfully advocated for nondiscrimination laws and ordinances across the state. Their first success was in 2002 with Boston’s nondiscrimination ordinance. By the time I became involved with the organization in 2009, MTPC was working to pass the first state-wide nondiscrimination law protecting transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary people from discrimination in housing, employment, schools, and in credit and lending. The law was finally approved in 2011 and went into effect in 2012.

After that initial success, MTPC worked to expand the law to cover the public accommodations that had been dropped at the last minute in order to ensure the passage of the first law. In 2016, the hard work of MTPC and their allies paid off with a law that provided full protections for transgender people in public places.

“I think it’s important to have an organization that is working for the transgender community and led by the transgender community,” said Dunn. “Representation matters—in our leadership bodies and on our staff. Furthermore, our advocacy work is critical to ensure [that] we have the legal protections we need to prohibit discrimination in our lives.”

Though much of the work MTPC is focused on right now is the critical Yes On 3 campaign, they are always looking ahead and working on a variety of projects. “We are working closely with the RMV/DOT to start issuing nonbinary gender markers on Massachusetts state IDs and driver’s licenses by the end of 2018. MTPC is also continuing our work in healthcare advocacy, to ensure all transgender people can access essential healthcare, including insurance coverage for transition-related care.” MTPC also stays closely tied to the community it represents by helping to organize events like the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance observances.

Speaking to what the future looked like for MTPC, Dunn mentioned, “That decision is up to the community. As always, MTPC is about giving voice and power to the transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary communities. After the November 2018 election, we’ll engage in strategic planning and conversations with our community to determine our direction and focus going forward.” Summing up, Dunn offered this perspective, “So much of MTPC’s advocacy and education is about demystifying and humanizing our lives as transgender people. I hope that, through this work, people will see our community as an integral and beautiful part of the human experience. Trans rights are human rights.”

Learn more about the important work being done by the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition to empower transgender people, protect their rights, and educate our communities.

Local Small Business Owner Keeps It in the Family and Brings Sweet Treats to West Roxbury

By Ranelle Porter,

By Miriam Schwartz | July 15, 2018 | 3 Minute Read

Ria Café in West Roxbury is redefining family business. The charming gelato café was built with family love and it caters to families looking to create new memories. For owner Pamela Bardhi, it’s a place to strengthen local families by giving back. At Ria Café, family—in all its permutations—comes first.

With Ria Café and her bustling business ventures, Bardhi is living the dream her parents came to this country in search of. “What inspired me to open Ria was my journey to the United States. I came here when I was five-years-old with my parents. We came with nothing and built our way up,” she says. Bardhi’s parents, who immigrated from Albania, opened West Napoli Café—the family restaurant—with a loan from a friend. And Bardhi knew that one day she would start a business of her own.

It’s no accident that Ria Café in West Roxbury is right next door to her parents’ restaurant, where she started helping out as a child. “I always want to remember my roots in small business, I started my way in a small business,” Bardhi says, adding that the pressure of being next to her parents is there, but so is the reward. “It feels amazing. I feel very proud to be next to my parents—it symbolizes where we came from. It’s a thank you and an emblem.”

But Bardhi’s “small” business didn’t stay small. She expanded her entrepreneurial reach to include real estate development, with a redevelopment group focused on residential, single, and multifamily homes, with a special focus in West Roxbury. In many ways, this is also a family business—rebuilding and modernizing houses for eager families looking for a new place to call home. “It’s been one of the most rewarding things, to bring a place back to life and have a family come in and fall in love with it,” says Bardhi.

Ria Café and real estate are only a small part of Bardhi’s legacy. Speaking of her residential redevelopment efforts, she emphasizes the impact that great homes and families can have on their surroundings. “It helps the businesses around, [and] helps the neighborhood.”

Being a small business owner, even for a dynamo like Bardhi, comes with a particular set of challenges, especially when launching a brick-and-mortar business. “It’s a double-edged sword. Retail is a tough space because you need walking traffic, so there are a lot of barriers. You have to build your brand and create walk-in traffic, and get people to the shop,” says Bardhi. Being a woman business owner has additional barriers. On average, women receive less funding than men, and only 15 percent of women entrepreneurs are able to raise more than $100,000 to start their business, compared to 28 percent of men. Not only that, but women are more likely to put in a “second shift” at night, working after work. Bardhi is in the good company of more than 11.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States, which generate $1.7 trillion in revenue.

Eastern Bank was a natural partner for Bardhi and her entrepreneurial streak. “I remember when they opened a branch in West Roxbury just down the street from me. Their customer service was unbelievable, you could talk to them about anything. They believed in me from the very beginning,” she says. “Before real estate, I only had my store, and they pulled all the things together to help me, and they gave me my first business loan, and that was the spark plug…Eastern Back gives back, and they’re fully dedicated to giving back.”

In addition to her business, Bardhi also finds the time to give back to West Roxbury by serving on multiple boards with a special focus on community and business development. More than that, she talks to young, aspiring entrepreneurs, empowering them with advice. “I was given so much encouragement, I want to be able to give back as much,” she says.

What’s next? Bardhi is eager to find out. “If I can get up every day and help somebody achieve a goal, that’s success. Business is one thing, relationships are forever. Every day I think there’s something new to learn.”

Visit Ria Café at 5 Bellevue Street in West Roxbury.

Woman-Owned Small Business, Always in Bloom, Brings Bright Flower Arrangements to Customers

By Ranelle Porter,

By Miriam Schwartz | July 13, 2018 | 2 Minute Read

The Always In Bloom flower and gift shop is so much more than it seems. Having spent more than 35 years as a flower design professional, owner and operator, Sharon Monteiro, is a pillar within the Marion, Massachusetts, community. Aside from being a place to pick up a bouquet, Always In Bloom is a gifting destination welcoming loyal customers and new faces. Monteiro’s unique touch is everywhere, as she personally curates the shop’s tasteful selection of gifts—from jewelry to home decor items.

Monteiro, along with four full-time and four part-time employees, services the south coast Massachusetts area, and was voted the number one florist in Marion, Rochester, and Mattapoisett. Even for someone with nearly four decades of experience, running a successful flower business in the era of online-based flower brokers is tough. “Our industry is dying—it’s hard to find a good, old-fashioned flower shop,” says Monteiro. “But our growth has been amazing. We get referrals from Cape Cod to Boston and Rhode Island.”

Her expert eye for flower design has helped Monteiro launch her business, but it’s the personal relationships she has with her customers that have continued to propel Always In Bloom forward. “I know the industry very well because I’ve worked in it since I was 18, but I’ve had a lot of clients since the 1980s that are very loyal to me and I’m so grateful for that,” she says. Monteiro greets every customer and enjoys getting to know them by name.

Walking into Always In Bloom, you might think it’s a tiny shop, but wander through and you’ll find three different showrooms and a selection of hard-to-find flowers from all over the world. The shop also makes all of its own wreaths in-house, guaranteeing that customers will get something fresh and one-of-a-kind.

According to recent data from SCORE, a nonprofit resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the number of women-owned business is growing at five times the national average. There are currently more than 11 million woman-owned small businesses supporting nearly 9 million jobs and 1.6 trillion dollars in revenue. But there are still many challenges for women-owned businesses, including the ability to find sources of financing and cash flow. Men were 9 percent more likely to seek financing than women, and men were 3 percent more likely to successfully acquire loans or equity financing. The biggest differences in funding sources between men and women came from credit cards and equity from investors. Seven percent more women reportedly use credit cards as funding for their businesses as opposed to men.

“As a small business owner, I kept thinking when do I just get to sit back and go on vacation and just watch the business? I don’t. You have to be hands-on. I’m doing what’s in my blood. I love to design, but I’m busy running the business,” Monteiro says of her need to find a balance between creating the hundreds of wristlets and boutonnieres for prom season while running the day-to-day operations of her business.

“The struggle is real for women business owners. It’s seven days a week, it’s a lot of work,” says Monteiro. “I’m very proud of it. I have a couple of great mentors. I had to struggle to make it work after losing a partner in business, and I had lots of sleepless nights, and now I’m happy to say that I own everything and that I built this business.”

Support local, women-owned businesses and visit Always In Bloom.

‘Keep Massachusetts Beautiful’ by Cleaning up Our Community

By Kisha Tapangan,

By Michael Givens | May 11, 2018 | 2 Minute Read

With 11 chapters across Massachusetts, from Cape Cod to Springfield, Keep Massachusetts Beautiful (KMB) has spent the last four years prioritizing recycling, litter cleanup, and beautification efforts in Bay State communities. They’re calling on all Massachusetts residents and visitors to do their part and keep the commonwealth clean.

“At the time, in 2014, there was no organization that was focused on cleaning up and preventing litter in Massachusetts,” said Neil Rhein, founder and executive director of KMB. “I saw the great success and impact our local affiliate, Keep Mansfield Beautiful, had in Mansfield and decided that this model could succeed in towns and cities across Massachusetts.”

KMB’s three areas of impact are beautification and community greening, waste reduction and recycling, as well as litter prevention and cleanup. The organization’s staff and member chapters explore local communities to pick up litter, recycle waste, and implement small projects that clean up local public spaces such as parks, monuments, traffic-heavy roads, and wooded areas. Rhein said he saw a distinct need in the Bay State to reduce high levels of litter in public spaces while also ensuring Massachusetts’ beauty remained intact for families moving into the state as well as visitors.

“We need to change the culture here in Massachusetts that simply tolerates the vast amounts of litter and debris that can be seen along virtually every highway and roadside,” he continued. “Tourism is a big part of our economy in Massachusetts, and current visitors cannot be impressed by the trash they are seeing. A cleaner, greener, litter-free Massachusetts is good for our residents, businesses, and our economy.”

Along with community projects to clean up areas of concern in Massachusetts, KMB and its local chapters also educate the public on the importance of recycling, picking up litter, and creating green spaces. As part of this community outreach and education, Marsha Goldstein—chapter president of Keep North Attleborough Beautiful (KNAB)—recently spent a full week educating kindergartners at five local schools about the importance of recycling. Goldstein taught the children about the importance of using cloth bags over plastic bags. She also taught the students about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—the largest accumulation of plastic in the world that floats in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California. She discussed the impact of littering on land and sea animals like turtles and fish.

When it comes to beautification projects, volunteering not only provides a service to our communities, it also provides an opportunity to build and sustain relationships. Some community members decided to volunteer to enjoy the great outdoors and lend a helping hand for the beautification of their state. By doing so, they were also able to spend time with neighbors. Rhein said that the signature statewide event, the Great Massachusetts Cleanup, is often successful because of the dedicated volunteers who show up for events every year.

A local cleanup effort, Keep Massachusetts Beautiful, hopes to encourage community members to do their part.

“Our flagship program…attracted nearly 7,000 volunteers in 84 communities in 2017,” Rhein said. “These volunteers removed more than 136 tons of trash. The economic value of these volunteer hours exceeded $530,000.”

KMB’s board chair, Jane Peterson Ellis, started volunteering with her local chapter about 11 years ago and has been thoroughly engaged since. Her hope for the years to come is that KMB will grow across Massachusetts.

“I want every activist in Massachusetts working on clean and green initiatives to be aware of the resources and support [that] KMB can provide,” she said. “Eventually, I want to see a map showing KMB-supported organizations blanketing the state. That impact will create a cleaner, more beautiful, and healthier present and future for Massachusetts residents.”


Volunteer with a local chapter or with the statewide organization Keep Massachusetts Beautiful to do your part in creating a green future for the next generation.

Bostonians Are Eating Healthy with Help from the Urban Farming Institute

By Kisha Tapangan,

By Michael Givens | May 2, 2018 | 2 Minute Read

The Urban Farming Institute of Boston

Nestled in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood, The Urban Farming Institute of Boston (UFI) has spent the last six years creating a thriving and robust local farming economy. They’re producing healthy vegetables for Bostonians while also providing rewarding jobs for the city’s residents. Supporting the work of this enterprising business goes a long way in providing healthy, locally-sourced produce to Boston’s communities.

“[UFI] was created in 2012 by a small group of community residents with a desire and vision to build a healthier and more locally-based food system through public education and policy, urban farming training, land access, and access to fresh produce,” said Linda Palmer, UFI’s administrator.

From parsley, dill, and cilantro to string beans, peas, peppers, and so much more, UFI recruits Boston residents interested in urban farming, trains them, and supports their efforts to grow vegetables—which can then be sold and distributed throughout Boston. And there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.

Approximately 600 volunteers participate in the UFI’s farming work each year where they help with weeding, composting, planting, and watering. If you’re looking for something even more involved, you can sign up for an intensive nine- or twenty-week class or a summer program to learn the basics of urban farming.

“The most rewarding part of urban farming is having the opportunity to meet so many people and be able to share . . . the fruits of our labor,” said Tristram Keefe, a farm enterprise manager on staff with the UFI. “Whether it is chatting with our regular customers at the farmers market, or giving away produce to the neighbors living around our farm sites . . . the most rewarding part is being able to share with people something that you grew and nurtured from a tiny seed. Another rewarding aspect is being able to watch the transformation of an empty piece of land to a lush and productive urban farm during the course of the season and watching how that process brings people together.”

Though its primary focus is to provide healthy produce in the neighborhoods of Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan, the UFI’s board and staff are devoted to inclusion and building lasting relationships throughout all of Boston’s communities. “The organization has always been diverse, intentionally multi-racial, and welcoming to those born here in Boston, or elsewhere,” said Klare Shaw, president of UFI’s board. “We want to be the hub of urban agriculture in ways that promote ownership, jobs, inclusion, health, and caring in neighborhoods that have often been marginalized.”

“Our graduates also have broad community impact,” she continued. “There are over 100 of them now working in other nonprofits and businesses, the vast majority are people of color. The grads are in our ‘farm family’ for life; they may either work in the green/food industry at say a Commonwealth Kitchen or supplement their family’s food by growing healthy crops, by keeping bees, or even by growing flowers.”

With an unofficial slogan of, “We don’t just grow food, we grow people,” UFI is firmly rooted in the principle of seeing urban agriculture leaders grow and develop, “because of the affirming nature of working in the earth and planting things that give back,” Shaw said.

Volunteer at a local farm in Boston to support the mission of the Urban Farming Institute.