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.

Living Innovations: Empowering Those with Disabilities

By Ranelle Porter,

By Michael Givens | June 3, 2019 | 2 Minute Read

With two parents who were devoted to community service, Neal Ouellett—founder and CEO of Living Innovations—grew up in a household where the importance of serving others was always encouraged. He became a Big Brother in his youth and always gravitated toward helping people, particularly those who are differently abled.

“Given the right support and opportunity, people with disabilities have as much to offer as any citizen,” Ouellett said. This way of thinking was the impetus for him to start Living Innovations in 1996 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Its mission of supporting people with disabilities to have a good life at home and within the community has been a staple of the organization for the last 23 years.

“Doing good in the community means helping everybody have an opportunity to take part in the community—to contribute, to have fun, to have a good home,” he said. “That’s what doing good is and that’s what we’re all about.”

Since its founding, the organization has branched out to Connecticut, Maine, and Rhode Island with 14 offices.

“I could see there was a need to help people with disabilities [to really be a part] of the community, rather than just talk about the community,” said Ouellett. Seeing this need and opportunity to get more differently abled people involved in the communities they live in, Ouellett set about building an organization that fully integrates those living with disabilities with jobs, support services, and happy and healthy social lives.

Services provided by Living Innovations range from case management and shared living to job support. One of the organization’s core values is dedicated to strengthening communities. “Where others see a disability, we see potential,” he said.

Eastern Bank has proudly partnered with Living Innovations and helped the organization fulfill its mission. The partnership has remained strong over the years, especially when it comes to supporting others. When a particular state said that it wouldn’t be able to compensate the organization for the services it was providing in a timely fashion, Eastern Bank stepped in.

“We know you, we have you covered,” Ouellett recalled what his Eastern Bank relationship manager had said to him. From providing loans to lining up mortgages, Eastern Bank has proudly bolstered the partnership and Ouellett is deeply committed to the relationship.

“They’ve met our needs. They’ve been responsive. They’re fun to work with. It’s a winning formula for both parties.”

Learn more about Living Innovations and how this New Hampshire-based organization has joined Eastern Bank to do good.

Making Affordable Homeownership Opportunities a Reality in the Greater Boston Area

By Ranelle Porter,

By Michael Givens | April 29, 2019 | 3 Minute Read

Thanks to the leadership and vision of Eastern Bank, Asian American communities across Massachusetts are gaining access to affordable homeownership opportunities through the bank’s Community Development Lending (CDL) program.

The CDL was established to invest much-needed revenue into low-income communities across the Bay state—from affordable housing projects to economic revitalization programs that strengthen local communities. Yongmei Chen, Senior Vice President at Eastern Bank, says that it’s getting difficult to build a life in Boston due to major, high-priced real estate developments.

“Gentrification is a major issue, not just in the Asian American community, but in a lot of minority communities in [Boston],” she said. “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.”

Though Boston is a prime location for a lot of CDL’s work, Chen said that gateway cities like Quincy and Lawrence also receive CDL funding to build affordable housing. However, Boston is a city where the impacts of gentrification and wage inequality are incredibly dramatic and visible. For example, according to a 2013 report by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), from 2000 to 2009, the average household income for white Chinatown residents leaped from roughly $40,000 to $84,000. During that same period, the average household income for Asian Chinatown residents dropped roughly from $15,000 to $13,000. In 2010, just 46 percent of Chinatown was composed of Asians, a drop from 70 percent in 1990.

With statistics like this, it’s vitally important that resources be invested in minority communities to address income inequality and gentrification.

“Most recently, we finished a project in Roxbury that brought 50 plus units of affordable housing and a social service center that can work with those families,” Chen said. “In Chinatown, we financed 88 Hudson Street, which brought 51 affordable homeownership opportunities, something that is very rare nowadays with all of the development that’s happening. Most of the condos are selling at a very high price, so this will allow working families to live in the city.”

Other successful projects include the Chinatown Community Education Center, the Oxford Ping On Apartments (with 67 units of affordable housing), and the Greater Boston Chinese Golden Age Center.

Rebecca Lee, who sits on the board of the Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC) with Chen, spoke highly of her work to support the Asian American community. “She is passionately committed to community development and social justice, which is evidenced by her professional work and commitments in the community,” she said.

One strength of Chen’s leadership is her ability to see how affordable homeownership opportunities intersect with the economy. “We’ve already put a lot of resources into providing access to capital for small businesses to grow,” she continued, highlighting Eastern Bank’s Business Equity Initiative (BEI), a program designed to provide resources for minority-owned businesses. “It helps with more jobs, prosperity, and, in turn, it will allow families to have a higher income to stay and grow in their communities,” Chen said.

The work that Yongmei Chen and Eastern Bank are doing to improve the lives of everyone in Boston doesn’t end with affordable housing. Tied closely together are early childhood education, youth and workforce development, and even healthcare. Affecting and improving one creates a ripple effect that impacts the others, something Eastern Bank is committed to in order to improve the lives of every Boston resident—no matter who they are.

Learn how Eastern Bank’s Community Development Lending (CDL) program is addressing the issue of gentrification in Boston and beyond.

Chapman Construction: The Woman-Owned, Veteran-Owned Business Lighting Up Boston

By Ranelle Porter,

By Nicholas Conley | March 18, 2019 | 4 Minute Read

At first glance, Chapman Construction Group, Inc. (CCGI) looks like many other businesses in the Boston region. And as a small company built on hard work, dedication, and experience, Chapman Construction understands that the only thing that truly matters in this industry is results. What’s unique about CCGI—other than their proven track record—is that they’re a woman-owned company in one of the most male-dominated industries.

The “Chapmans” are Vicki Chapman, the founder and president, and Sue Chapman, a veteran who joined in as CEO in 2009. Together, they’ve built a tough brand that breaks stereotypes and helps new apprentices get into the field.

The Only Woman on the Job

When talking about her decades of experience in the construction industry, Vicki is quick to point out that while construction isn’t an easy job for anyone, it’s especially challenging for women. “You have to be extra strong as a woman in this business,” she says. “Number one, it’s physical, and number two, it’s mental. . . it’s like working with all your brothers. You have to deal with them, you know.”

When Vicki first started, the union had barely started to admit women into its ranks, and she wasn’t accepted by her male coworkers. “It was very hard. . . [and] there were no bathrooms for us.” Explaining further, she says, “They didn’t want to show you the work because they didn’t want you to get paid the same amount of money as them. . . they didn’t think you could do the same job as them. So, they would hide stuff from you or not teach you anything. Every single job you went on, you had to re-prove yourself.”

Vicki was usually the one woman on the job. “When I got into the apprenticeship, there were five girls in my class. I’m the only one left. And I’ll tell you, out of those girls, some of them quit because they couldn’t take it anymore. They couldn’t get out of bed and go to work at a job that they hated, and where they would always constantly be put down.”

Chapman Construction Group, Inc. is Born

Nonetheless, she stuck through it, and in 2002 she started her own business. Though women being in the industry was rare, and female owners were even rarer, Vicki calculated that the worst case scenario would have been going broke, closing up shop, and returning to work for someone else. Thankfully, that didn’t happen—the company held up even through tough times, and she loved her newfound freedom. In 2009, her original partner departed, paving the way for Sue Chapman to enter the fold as the company’s CEO.

However, Sue’s first career track was in science, after which she joined the military as a way to finish college. From basic training onward, she regularly found herself elevated to leadership positions. She believes this to be a side effect of growing up as the oldest of five kids. If her unit hadn’t disbanded, she might still be in the service today. “I feel like I’m more disciplined because of it.”

Since Sue and Vicki started working together, both women have combined their individual strengths to push the company to new heights. A big moment, as they tell it, was when Eastern Bank approved them for their first loan. Their support in Chapman team has encouraged them to continue using their services today.

Moving Forward

As they march into the future, the Chapmans have kept their love and dedication for their company and loyal workers well in sight. They’re remarkably humble about how groundbreaking their woman- and veteran-owned business is. “[Being a woman-owned business] opens more doors, but you [still] have to go through them.” The industry has continued to evolve since CCGI first started, in ways that Chapman Construction see as positives.

The Chapmans make it a point to break down doors for other women to enter the industry. For example, when they call the union for new workers, they’re quick to hire women because they understand how difficult it can be to find work as a woman within the construction industry.

Learn more about how the Chapman Construction Group, Inc. is providing opportunities for women to enter a more male-dominated industry.

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.

Celebrating Small Business Saturday

By Ranelle Porter,

By Michael Givens | November 24, 2018 | 1 Minute Read

Did you know that for every $100 spent at a local business, approximately $68 goes straight to the community? The City of Boston has more than 40,000 small businesses that generate up to $15 billion in revenue annually and provide 170,000 jobs. This Small Business Saturday is the perfect time to support these businesses that sustain local families and contribute to the vitality of the Bay State. Discover what neighborhoods are home to the greatest concentrations of small businesses to plan your shopping trip.

Boston’s She-Village Caters to Women-Owned Businesses

By Ranelle Porter,

By Michael Givens | October 20, 2018 | 3 Minute Read

During the summer of 2018, we saw innovation take root in Boston’s Seaport District with the arrival of The Current, a “pop-up” village of small shops on Northern Avenue that will rotate every six months. The Current’s first theme of shops is She-Village, which brings together nine women-owned businesses, each of which has its own small retail space.

“For us, being a Boston-based business, this has been an excellent opportunity for us to participate in our city,” said Jay Adams, co-founder and co-owner of Brass, a chic boutique catering to the modern woman. “It’s been a great chance for women to come in and experience the brand in person.”

Adams said that the store’s brand focuses on helping women simplify their wardrobes so that they can focus on the things that matter.

“Women experience a lot of frustration and anxiety when it comes to what they should be wearing, what is the appropriate dress code, [and] what can they wear that makes them feel comfortable and powerful,” she said. “We really are designing with our customers in mind.”

Brass bills itself as a guide shop, meaning that clients come in, try on different outfits, make a selection, and have the items mailed directly to them in their correct size.

Take a stroll down the sidewalk and you’ll come across Monica + Andy, a She-Village retail store catering to mothers and mothers-to-be. Sarah Kuhl, a manager with the store, is sure to welcome you with a warm smile and plenty of enthusiasm about the unique services of the baby boutique.

“We are big into experiences,” she said. “It’s not just about coming in, shopping, and leaving. We have classes and events for expecting moms and new moms, so it’s kind of [similar to] building a community. It really draws people in to associate with the brand more.”

Other than selling products, Monica + Andy offer music and story time classes and provide shared spaces where professionals such as lactation consultants can come in to offer workshops on breastfeeding. With six locations across the nation, the store has plans to open three more shops this October.

If you’re in need of some accessories, pop into The Giving Key, a Los Angeles-based shop that offers fashionable accessories along with a philanthropic mission. Items such as necklaces and bracelets are emblazoned with words such as “Hope” and “Believe.” The store encourages customers to purchase an item, use it for as long as they need it, and then pass it along to someone in need. The 10-year-old store makes it a point to hire and employ those transitioning out of homelessness to help provide them with greater economic opportunity.

“Being in the retail sphere, you don’t normally get to work for people who have a really great mission,” said Colleen Behuniak, the She-Village store manager who’s been with the company for three months.

But fashionable clothing and accessories aren’t all She-Village offers. Orly Khon is full of beautiful botanical bouquets.

“At Orly Khon floral we specialize in botanical styling,” said the company’s owner and namesake, Orly Khon. “Everything from fresh-cut floral designs for events and flower arrangements and plants for weekly corporate clients and artistic styling services, to plant styling for homes. We do a lot of customized arrangements designed to reflect our client’s personal spaces and personalities, as well as their likes and dislikes.”

Khon said that she deeply appreciated being brought into The Current’s premiere pop-up project and that it’s a wonderful opportunity to show support of female business owners. “Women have stepped out in the last decade so much, showcasing talent, great ambition, and helping communities become progressive in giant steps,” she said. “We are lucky to live in a part of the country where I personally have never felt obstacles in owning a business.”

Visit the She-Village in Boston’s Seaport District to support women-owned businesses.

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.