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Florence Bank to Top $1.2 Million in Giving at 18th Annual Customers’ Choice Community Grants Program

When parents believe their child is headed down the wrong path, they often panic. That’s why it’s essential to have organizations like the CARE Coalition of West Springfield. As a nonprofit focused on the prevention of youth substance abuse, staff there can answer questions, provide recommendations and tell parents where to get help.

Since the organization was , it’s gathered data on youth drug access, drug use, and established ways to decrease risk factors and help young people make healthy choices.

For the first time this year, the coalition will receive a $1,232 grant from Florence Bank through its Customers’ Choice Community Grants Program during the 18th annual event Tuesday, March 10 at the Garden House at Look Park from 5 to 7 p.m.

This year, 57 nonprofits will receive an award as Florence Bank tops the $1.2 million mark in grants it’s presented to community organizations over nearly two decades.

“We’re extremely honored to have been chosen by the customers of Florence Bank to receive the funds,” said Nikki Lewis, the coordinator at CARE Coalition. “We feel this is the start of an incredible partnership with Florence Bank. We are always looking to enhance community relationships. This is an incredible opportunity.”

The Customers’ Choice Community Grants Program is an annual offering founded in 2002, through which Florence Bank customers are invited to vote for their favorite local nonprofit in hopes it will receive a share of grant funding.

To qualify for a community grant, organizations must receive at least 50 votes. In 2019, over 11,000 votes were cast, and 57 nonprofits will accept a grant award at the celebratory event, with the total amount to be presented at $100,000.

Ten organizations that received between 40 and 49 votes were also invited to attend to be in a drawing for one additional $500 award.

Florence Bank’s former president and outgoing CEO, John Heaps Jr., who will retire in May, will be there alongside Florence Bank’s new president, Kevin Day.

This year, the grant program tops the $1.2 million mark in terms of grants made to community nonprofits over almost two decades. “It will be an especially memorable night for me,” Heaps said. “My late wife, Jane, suggested this program, and I will be proud to attend my last awards event. It is always tremendously rewarding to meet the people behind the organizations and to hear firsthand about the good work they are doing in our communities.”

Day, who has attended the event for the past 11 years, is thrilled to preside over his first Customers’ Choice ceremony as president. “I look forward to the event every year,” he said. “I value the program’s contribution to the community, and I’m committed to its continuation and growth.”

Lewis said her organization has several specific efforts that the grant funds could support, such as studying where youths are accessing drugs and alcohol; providing educational programs like panel discussions and developing presentations on trends and resources for parents.

“It’s important that our efforts are community driven,” Lewis said, adding that the community will have a voice in determining the direction the coalition goes. “We want to take time to hear from the community, look at data and see what’s most appropriate for our community at this time.”

Lewis said she and the CARE Coalition first learned about Florence Bank when the bank opened the first branch in Hampden County, in West Springfield, several years ago. Coalition staff learned later about the Customers’ Choice program and actively took part.

“The work we’ve seen Florence Bank doing in the community is really powerful and makes a strong difference,” she said. “We’re extremely grateful to have the bank here in Hampden County as one of our community partners.”

The following organizations received more than 50 customer votes and will receive an award at the event: Dakin Humane Society, Cancer Connection, Friends of the Williamsburg Libraries, Northampton Survival Center, Friends of Forbes Library, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County, Amherst Survival Center, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Friends of Lilly Library, Our Lady of the Hills Parish, Williamsburg Firefighter Association, New Hingham Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization, Northampton High School Parent-Teacher Organization, BARC, Inc., Northampton Senior Center, Grow Food Northampton, Safe Passage, The Friends of Northampton Legion Baseball, MANNA Soup Kitchen, Kestrel Land Trust, Northampton Community Music Center, Hospice of the Fisher Home, Children First Enterprises, Inc., Community Action Pioneer Valley, Easthampton Elementary Schools Parent-Teacher Organization, Belchertown Firefighters Association, Jackson Street School Parent-Teacher Organization, Granby Senior Center, Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Northampton Neighbors, Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, Belchertown Police K-9 Unit, Historic Northampton, RK Finn Ryan Road School, Friends of M.N. Spear Memorial Library, Friends of Clapp Memorial Library, Easthampton Community Center, Edward Hopkins Educational Foundation, It Takes a Village, Amherst Regional Public Schools Parent Guardian Organization, Tapestry Health Systems, Cub Scout Pack 705 (Chesterfield), Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuaries, Whole Children, Hitchcock Center for the Environment, Belchertown Band Boosters, Williamsburg Grange #225, Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School Parent-Teacher Organization, Riverside Industries, Inc., Pelham Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization, Emily Williston Memorial Library, Belchertown Public Schools, Cooley Dickinson VNA & Hospice, Amherst Neighbors, Granby Preservation Society, The Hartsbrook School.

The Customers’ Choice Community Grants program is a year-long initiative. Customers’ of the bank can vote via paper ballots at each bank branch location or online at