By Scott Blake | Staff Writer, Providence Business News
Born in Argentina, Paola N. Fernandez arrived in Rhode Island at age 10 and was raised in Pawtucket. With more than 18 years of professional experience in community development, nonprofit management and government relations, she has focused on social issues through grant making, advocacy and coalition building.
In her current role as vice president of community development for West Warwick-based Centreville Bank, she is responsible for building, planning and putting into action community initiatives that, she says, increase engagement, strengthen advocacy efforts and drive transformation “at the grassroots level.” She oversees strategy development and implementation of the bank’s Charitable Foundation, including setting yearly philanthropic priorities, building relationships and managing the grant-making process.
Prior to joining Centreville, Fernandez served as the community development officer for Pawtucket Credit Union, where she helped create a community investment fund dedicated to helping underserved populations establish economic security through support in workforce development, housing and financial education programs. She also worked for United Way of Rhode Island, where she was director of public policy and research.
She is a senior fellow at the Institute for Nonprofit Practice, a certification program at Tufts University. She is a founding member of the Asociacion Argentina de Rhode Island and serves as chairwoman of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University. This year, she was recognized with the Extraordinary Woman in Community Development Award by the Women’s Development Institute of Rhode Island.
Fernandez holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Johnson & Wales University. She lives in Cranston with her husband and two children.
PBN: As Centerville Bank’s new community-development officer, what is your mission?
FERNANDEZ: To put it simply, my mission is to serve as an ambassador to the community. In addition to the traditional sponsorships and donations the bank provides nonprofits every year, the Centreville Bank Charitable Foundation has an opportunity to continue its work and make larger, more strategic and intentional investments, and there’s a real potential to create positive impact in the communities we serve.
I plan to partner closely with local organizations that are actively working to reduce barriers that prevent Rhode Islanders from living prosperous lives. As I settle into this new role, I also expect to spend time learning and discussing the existing needs in the community and the ways in which the nonprofit sector is tackling these issues. My priority is to determine where areas of innovation and potential exist, and will count on organizations to help inform our focus for investments in 2019.
PBN: Why is it important for the Centreville Bank Charitable Foundation to enhance its visibility?
FERNANDEZ: The Charitable Foundation was established in 2006 to further the bank’s commitment to community investment in Rhode Island, and as we continue to expand our footprint statewide, we recognize the importance of increasing the awareness of both the foundation and its mission.
Raising the visibility of the foundation and its efforts along with strategic planning and intentional financial support can help us reach our goal of building a robust portfolio of investment that is in line with current needs in Rhode Island.
PBN: What are the demographics and organizations that the bank’s foundation has supported?
FERNANDEZ: Our focus centers around investment in community revitalization efforts, affordable-housing initiatives and programs that focus on underserved populations with an emphasis on health and human services.
The foundation will make it a priority to support programs that specifically help children achieve academic success, improve family financial stability, ensure our elder population is safe and healthy, and we will continue to focus on the areas where we feel our support can have the most impact.
PBN: How do you see community organizations benefiting from support from the bank’s foundation?
FERNANDEZ: Nonprofits are doing incredible work but are also under tremendous pressure to demonstrate their organization’s worth and to successfully compete for funding. In addition to supporting the delivery of services and programs, I think it’s important to recognize the value of reinforcing Rhode Island’s nonprofit capacity. The foundation has an interest in exploring capacity-building support to our future grantees, through investments in things such as strategic and succession planning, leadership development, marketing and communications, fundraising, program evaluation and technology needs.
We can be more successful in addressing important social issues if the community organizations we support are stable and can have the ability to focus on how to enhance their organizational effectiveness. The support of the foundation can play an integral role in making that happen.
PBN: How could changes in economic conditions affect the foundation’s giving strategy?
FERNANDEZ: As an independent entity from the bank, the foundation is a separate nonprofit corporation with its own governance structure, which protects our philanthropic giving from potential changes in the economy, as well as changes in the company’s financial performance.
The Charitable Foundation was established to formalize the bank’s long-term commitment to community development in Rhode Island, and we look forward to broadening the impact of our giving across the state for many years to come.
Scott Blake is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Blake@PBN.com.