Lighting the Tunnel
The image of a toddler perched high atop a couch that is being hoisted across the threshold of a new home says it all.
This family has found a home, and the little boy has already found comfort and security on a velour love seat that is his – all his. This is where he is staying. No more borrowed toys, living out of a suitcase, or dreaming about his own bedroom and backyard.
Another video captures a second tale of triumph. A woman is surrounded by a line of well-wishers who hug her with emotion after it is announced that she will soon be moving into a new apartment.
These are two of the success stories featured on the website of Family Promise of Southwestern PA, and brought to you in part by Brentwood Bank of Allegheny County.
Brentwood Bank’s involvement in combating homelessness and creating independence with dignity inspired its most recent PACB “Grow Your Community Award,” and a host of other state and local awards.
CEO Tom Bailey, who has been one of the leading faces of Brentwood Bank for 30 years, said he may not be skilled at swinging a hammer for noble nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity, but the bank has found a better way to utilize their collective skills to build homes.
“Pounding nails isn’t my forte,” he joked, “so we decided to use the strengths we have and hopefully benefit the areas we serve.”
Brentwood Bank employees started teaching classes in financial literacy to residents at the local family shelter, run by Family Promise, an organization with 180 affiliates across the nation.
Nationwide, more than 6,000 churches and 135,000 volunteers do hands-on ministry work to help children and families experiencing homelessness.
In the Pittsburgh area, the network consists of 10 to 13 hosting congregations, which provide space for up to four families, typically 14 individuals, mostly children, to stay for a week at a time.
Volunteers reside at the heart of the program, cooking meals, moving beds, and playing games with children. Each participating congregation plays host four or five weeks out of the year.
During the day, families who are not out on the job are at the day center, where the Family Promise professional staff works to find housing and employment to advance them toward self-sufficiency.
Church volunteers drive the Family Promise van to transport workers to jobs, and to and from the day center and the congregations.
Social service agencies partner with the network to help families striving for independence.
Carrie Havas is one of those Brentwood Bank employees who dove right in, Bailey said, and “took it to the next level.”
Havas, who has served as the bank’s Assistant Vice President of Loan Administration for the past two years, helped to set the Family Promise partnership in motion, after the bank’s Chairman of the Board was approached at church and told that Family Promise needed banking professionals to provide financial education to guests.
A business card then found its way to Carrie’s hands, and she soon met over coffee with the dynamic Executive Director of Family Promise, Laura Vincenti.
With Vincenti acknowledging that one of the main stumbling blocks for families to secure an apartment was a credit score, she sought periodic training for the clients, who often had no credit or bad credit.
Havas modified the FDIC’s free training modules on credit reports, and began teaching them.
Other employees at Brentwood Bank also join Havas in conducting trainings, teaching residents how to review their credit reports, improve their scores and dispute errors.
The bank has offered four sessions thus far.
“The first time I did it, I didn’t know what to expect,” Havas said. “I was apprehensive, but I really enjoyed it.”
“I got great personal satisfaction. I loved meeting the clients.”
She was amazed at the nature of the homeless, which shattered all stereotypes. For most residents, a mere turn of events – a stroke or a streak of bad luck – landed them there. It was a “there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I” moment.
Unexpected job loss, a relationship break-up, sudden eviction, military discharge – all can send a family of means into a tailspin.
When most families arrive, they’ve lost everything, organizers say.
Family Promise emphasizes that homelessness is “a situation.” It’s not who you are. One out of every four homeless is a child. More than 40 percent of the homeless population is families.
Often, it is impossible to tell the guests from the volunteers.
The bank has gone beyond teaching to give Family Promise $1,000 each of the past two years and is currently working out a date to collect donations of cleaning supplies, toiletries, and other household necessities.
When families finally secure an apartment or house, Family Promise tries to outfit them with everything they need. Its “Home Again” program collects and stores gently used furniture and household goods to help with the enormous expense of furnishing a home.
Havas recognizes that most philanthropic businesses choose to do their good works and charitable giving at the holidays, so the bank is committed to helping all year.
They plan to help more this spring through volunteering and continuing their work with Women in Crisis, spearheaded by the United Way. If a woman is on the verge of being evicted, needs a car immediately, or is facing other urgent needs, the United Way will help with free counseling and financial education classes. They give residents money to open a savings account at the bank, and the bank matches a portion of it if they save it.
The bank’s branch manager also does trainings on identify theft at local retirement homes.
Community service comes naturally to Bailey.
A University of Pittsburgh graduate, he came to Brentwood right after college.He had also interviewed with “a big bank” but decided that “a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.”
His first day on the job, it snowed. “They told me ‘The shovel is downstairs,’ and I thought to myself, ‘What did I get myself into?’”
But that first day reflected for him “the mentality of the bank:” rolling up your sleeves and hitting the pavement to get involved.
Of Family Promise, he stated simply, “It’s certainly a need out there. We sometimes take it for granted.” While the bank’s footprint serves many more affluent suburbs encircling Pittsburgh, pockets of poverty darken the landscape throughout.
“That’s our background. We understand finance and there are so many people who don’t understand finance,” Bailey said.
Another staffer works with Women of Southwestern PA, helping ex-offenders and abused children and women.
Bailey is proud that his employees “rolled up their sleeves” for 501 c (3)’s that mean something personally to them.
He is well aware of the parallels between himself and his namesake, banker George Bailey, in the cinematic Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life.
It was an advertising executive who initially pointed out the link to him.
Having never seen the movie in its entirety until recently, Bailey never realized the parallels. But Brentwood is very much like Bedford Falls, he said.
Some of the town’s business superstars are “ol Brentwood boys,” he said.
“We are like a big family; we never move far.”
“In Brentwood, everybody knew everybody, and you did the right thing because your parents would find out if you didn’t.”
“People knew each other and watched out for each other. The South Hills is like that, too.”
“What’s great about a small bank is you get to see the impact in the community and you get to know the people.”
“Our projects may be small, but they are good. Employees can see the fruits of their labor,” Bailey said.
Exhibit A: Family Promise.
In its 19 years of life, Family Promise of Southwestern PA has helped more than 400 families, including 800 children.
While most shelters are at full occupancy, or they separate families by gender – moms and daughters pulled from dads and sons – Family Promise keeps the family intact.
The “Interfaith Hospitality Network” also gives churchgoers a chance to live their faith. Churches and synagogues can truly feed the hungry and spend time with the needy without embarking on a costly mission trip.
So far, 21 families moved from Family Promise to a home of their own this year, reflecting an 80 percent success rate.
Since Home Again started in 2011, homes for 52 families have been outfitted.
Combatting homelessness is a good fit for a bank with an equally inauspicious start.
The bank has been operating for 90 years and counting. First called “Tunnel Building and Loan Association” because of the South Hills streetcar tunnel built in 1904, the bank itself also lacked a permanent home when launched in 1922. It would rotate among the various businesses and shops that supported it, from Kaufmann’s department store to Pointview Hotel to a local barber shop.
One night, they found themselves totally homeless. Bank founders borrowed a bridge table and some orange crates and held a meeting on the sidewalk. They ascended to remarkable growth and stability from that open-air enclave.
In 1935, the name was changed to Tunnel Federal Savings and Loan Association, with assets of approximately $450,000.
In 1939, the name changed to Brentwood Federal Savings and Loan Association.
In 1941, as they grew, they purchased a building, which today is the site of their drive-through services. The present building at 3635 Brownsville Road was erected in 1953.
In 1999, the name changed to Brentwood Bank, and they opened a third branch in the South Park Shops.
Capitalizing on progress and success, Brentwood will soon open a fourth retail branch location in the new Crossings at South Fayette shopping center located off the Bridgeville exit of Route 79. It will be the first new location since the South Park Shops branch opened in 1999, and will be straddled by such crowd-pleasers as Starbucks, Chipotle and Jimmy John’s.
It will have a drive-thru window and ATM, along with that age-old customer focus, combined with state-of-the-art technology.
With three offices in Brentwood and Bethel Park – and soon four, the bank also has a mobile branch that takes the bank to customers in local independent living communities.
It is consistently recognized as the best bank in the South Hills by Trib Total Media and one of top community banks in the region.
Its mission is to be the bank of choice for families and small- and medium-sized businesses in South Hills and surrounding communities.
But beyond the business realm, they also want to give food and a roof to the homeless. Buoyed by Family Promise staff, they help to give the needy a plan of action and a timeline, helping families overcome obstacles that prevent them from securing housing.
And when that borrowed “housing” becomes a beloved “home sweet home,” that investment is priceless.
“Home is heaven for beginners,” wrote Charles Parkhurst years ago.
It seemed that way to another pint-sized boy at Family Promise, who shrieked with unmitigated joy when his dad told him he just got a job.
Making an instant logical connection, the little boy screamed, “Then I’m going to my new house!” followed closely by a bear hug and an “I’m proud of you, Daddy.”
This Community Bank Profile can be found featured in the April 2015 issue of Transactions. Not a subscriber? Visit the Transactions page on this website or call PACB at 717-231-7447 to start receiving the magazine.