Bank of America honors community leaders

Published 9:45 pm Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Suffolk organization, two Suffolk residents and a Suffolk student were among those honored by the Bank of America Charitable Foundation this week.

The foundation’s Neighborhood Excellence Initiative annually recognizes organizations, individuals and students who have shown a commitment to improving their communities.

The Children’s Center, which has five locations that focus on serving children and their families through educational programs and pediatric services, was named one of two 2009 Hampton Roads Neighborhood Builders by the foundation. The other was Chesapeake Service Systems.

The two organizations will receive a $200,000 unrestricted grant. Executive Director Barbara Mease accepted the award on behalf of the Children’s Center. She plans double the money by using it to get matching federal dollars, and likely will use it to expand the Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

“This is just tremendous,” Mease said, noting that most organizations give grants only for a very specific purpose. “Most places that give money give for very specific things.”

The award also comes with free leadership training for the organization’s executive leader, as well as an emerging leader, which Mease said is worth more than the money.

“For most people in the nonprofit sector, training is something that’s very needed,” she said. “Very often, it’s hard to get the funding and the time to do it.”

Charles R. Henderson Jr., market president for Bank of America, said the Children’s Center was one of the top organizations that applied for the grants this year. The applications are reviewed by a committee made up of community leaders and bank associates.

“Their outreach efforts to the very young … have made a significant impact on hundreds of families in Western Tidewater,” Henderson said.

In the other categories of the program, Robert W. Harrell Jr. and Barbara McPhail were named 2009 Hampton Roads Local Heroes, and Erica R. Fiel, a senior at Kings Fork High School, was named a 2009 Hampton Roads Student Leader.

“He is just very giving of his time,” Henderson said of Harrell. Harrell has served on the board of the Suffolk Salvation Army for 26 years, and also is a co-founder of the Liberty Spring and Suffolk Ruritan clubs. In addition, he has been involved with his alma mater, the College of William and Mary, through the college’s School of Education development board.

McPhail, Henderson said, has been instrumental in the renovation of downtown buildings such as the old Suffolk High School (now the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts), the train station and others.

Local Heroes get the opportunity to direct a $5,000 donation from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation to an eligible nonprofit of their choice. Harrell chose to give his to the Suffolk Salvation Army Corps, and McPhail chose the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts Foundation.

Erica Fiel, the Hampton Roads Student Leader, completed an eight-week internship with the Suffolk Family YMCA this summer, as well as a week-long Bank of America student leadership summit in Washington, D.C. to learn about civic engagement, financial education and partnerships. She was chosen as a leader because of her desire to learn American Sign Language and use it to help others, as well as her involvement with the field hockey team and other clubs at the school, Henderson said.