by: Diane Sweeney
In 1989, a group of entrepreneurs in Lycoming County was concerned about the state of personalized banking. Watching bigger banks merge and become corporate behemoths, they believed their region could benefit from a local community bank. They envisioned a bank with familiar faces and bankers who understood the nature and the needs of the people in the Williamsport area, one that would work to serve their customers.
They created Woodlands Bank, and named it to reflect the lumber heritage of the region. For 30 years, the focus has been on building personal relationships with each of their customers. With eight locations, over 110 employees, and $430 million in assets, they are proud to be known as the bank in the area “that is easy to do business with.”
Behind the “easy,” however, is a hardworking, dedicated staff committed to celebrating the spirit of this blue-collar Central Pennsylvania community. They call it the Woodlands Way – their unique way of community banking, one that embraces helping their community grow through the support of local businesses, charities, and individuals.
The Williamsport region, which includes Lycoming and Clinton Counties, is a destination for sports lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. This beautiful, forested area also has its place on the global stage each August when it hosts the Little League World Series. The Marcellus Shale rock formation, which brought the gas industry to the region, also brought more people to the local communities.
At the region’s heart, and the ones who are most important, are the nearly 158,000 people working, living, and supporting one another to live their best life in this closeknit, rural community. These are the people Woodlands Bank seeks to recognize in their Everyday Hero Service Award program.
For the last three years, Woodlands Bank has recognized, acknowledged and celebrated the efforts of individuals who provide a non-profit organization with unconditional support. The bank looks for unsung heroes living in the community who work endlessly “because it’s the right thing to do.”
An off shoot of their 2016 #Golocal program, where Woodlands Bank increased awareness of local non-profit organizations to their customers and community, the Everyday Hero Service Award focuses on the individuals who are the backbone for these causes.
“We want to recognize the ‘behind the scenes’ people,” says Jon Conklin President/CEO and incoming PACB Chairman. “Those who have a passion for the mission. The individuals who are willing to spend time, sweat equity, and money – and who do not want the accolades they deserve.”
In early April, Sara Kropp, who is the Marketing Officer, sent letters to 30-plus non-profit organizations and encouraged them to nominate a volunteer that goes above the call of duty. These organizations are asked to select someone who demonstrates the Woodlands Way – someone who helps the community to grow and thrive, and who makes it a better place to live.
“We try to make it easy,” said Sara. “Our form is web-based and easy to access. We ask the nominating organization to describe, and provide specific examples of, how the nominee demonstrates volunteerism, commitment and loyalty, and passion for their cause.”
Since 2017, 78 people have been nominated for the Everyday Hero Service Award. Twelve individuals, four each year, have been honored and recognized with the award.
Max Mitchell, a volunteer for Greater Lycoming Habitat for Humanity and a 2019 winner said, “I think there is a lot of need for volunteers in the area. Woodlands Bank putting this program together helps let people know there are things they can do. It doesn’t have to be five days a week. It can be an hour here, an hour there. This program helps people to be aware of the need for volunteers.”
Kropp said, “The Everyday Hero Awards has a huge effect on the community. It showcases to others that there are many ways to be involved. It doesn’t only have to be donations. The touching stories of how people give so much of their time is powerful.”
For the nine-member Woodlands Bank selection committee, which consists of all-volunteer employees from the bank, reviewing the nominations is enlightening, inspiring, and emotional.
“There is a lot of back and forth. People arguing for a candidate they believe in,” said Conklin. “It’s difficult for everyone, but in the end, we are all passionate about choosing people deserving of this award.”
Once awardees have been chosen, the nominating organization or person is contacted so they can have the honor of telling the individual they are a winner.
During the month of June, each winning volunteer is showcased for one week with a billboard announcement, a congratulatory radio announcement on the local station, a post and their picture on Woodlands Bank’s Facebook page, and an ad in the local newspaper.
A video highlighting the winners and the non-profits they work for is filmed and premiers at the mid-July breakfast where all the winners, runners up, and non-profits are honored. All nominees are invited to the breakfast and winners are invited to bring their families.
It’s a big deal! And it’s one these volunteers deserve.
Not only are the individuals rewarded with recognition of their service and dedication, each non-profit who nominates an Everyday Hero receives $100 from Woodlands Bank. The winning non-profit organizations each receive $2,000.
“The Everyday Hero program is a way to lift up volunteers and the spirit of volunteerism. I salute Woodlands Bank for being community minded,” said Krista Paternostro Bower, another 2019 winner and Founder and Chairman of the Paternostro Family Foundation.
“It is great for us to recognize the individuals, but also to reward and donate to the organizations,” said Conklin. “Incentivizing the non-profits to nominate is our way of saying how important the Everyday Hero Award is to Woodlands Bank and to the community at large.”
The videos highlighting the work each of the winners has done – all without expectation of recognition or reward – gives viewers a true sense of how connected the Williamsport area community is to one another and to Woodlands Bank.
Diane Stanzione, a volunteer at the YWCA of North Central PA and a 2019 winner, said it best. “I love that Woodlands Bank is a community bank. They are not from an outside organization or a different community. It’s Williamsport and the Williamsport area. And for them to recognize individuals for volunteering, just because it’s the right thing to do, is amazing to me. I am so thankful they are in our community.”
Jon Conklin and Sara Kropp expect the Woodlands Bank Everyday Hero Award program to continue for a long time to come. The rewards are many for all involved and, well, it’s the right thing to do.