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A quarter century of giving for Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation

Community Advocacy Award recipient Deb Ansourlian, center, is joined by Eastern Bank Chair and CEO Bob Rivers and Victoria Aboagye-Adinkra. (© 2018 Marilyn Humphries)

LYNN — When Deb Ansourlian welcomes guests Thursday to Girls Inc. of Lynn’s 31st annual luncheon celebration, she will thank a longtime partner embodying Girls Inc.’s “strong, smart and bold” motto.

“The Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation has been such a great partner of ours. We can depend on them to help us in a variety of ways,” said Ansourlian, Girls Inc. of Lynn’s executive director.

The foundation provides financial assistance to more than 1,600 local organizations annually, including Girls Inc. As a mutual bank without obligations to shareholders, Eastern dedicates 10 percent of its net income every year to the foundation. In 2018, that sum totaled $12 million.

“We’ve always been recognized as one of the largest contributors throughout Greater Boston. Our commitment to philanthropy is very much a part of our mission,” said Eastern Chairman and CEO Robert F. Rivers.

The foundation’s partnership with Girls Inc. dates back more than 15 years with foundation money supporting leadership and science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs run by Girls Inc.

“Their support enabled us to teach girls how to explore different careers and build résumés,” Ansourlian said.

She said the foundation’s support for Girls Inc. is a starting point, not a finishing line, for Eastern Bank’s involvement with Girls Inc. Eastern executives offered assistance when Girls Inc. made a major move from its building off Broad Street to its current quarters on High Street in 2009.

Girls have “job shadowed” Eastern employees to learn about what they do, and Ansourlian said Laura Kurzrok, the foundation’s executive director, served as a Girls Inc. college mentor.

“There has never been a time when Eastern hasn’t come through,” Ansourlian said.

Rivers said the foundation’s work is mirrored in volunteer work by Eastern’s 1,926 employees who donate 50,000 hours annually in volunteer commitments. Eastern’s commitment to philanthropy attracted him to the bank 13 years ago.

Rivers credited former Chairman and CEO Stanley J. Lukowski and Eastern Chair Emeritus Richard E. Holbrook with turning the foundation into a philanthropic powerhouse. Holbrook said the foundation in the early 1990s was paying out about $500,000 annually in assistance to local organizations.

“I was chief financial officer at the time and we asked, ‘How could we make this more sustainable?'” said Holbrook.

The answer that came back, subsequently framed by Holbrook, was a bold one: Ten percent of Eastern’s net income would be the commitment level moving forward.

“For someone in a finance role to make that recommendation is highly unusual. It shows what a charitable person Richard Holbrook is. It really is his legacy,” said Rivers.

Holbrook, who is active with his wife, Susan, in the United Church of Christ in Medfield, said the 10 percent benchmark is rooted in the biblical notion of tithing.

“It goes beyond the simple and shortsighted notion that the sole corporate responsibility is to create jobs. It says, ‘Listen, you have a responsibility,'” Holbrook said.

Foundation director since 2001, Kurzrok said the foundation receives 3,000 applications for assistance online annually. About 2,000 requests submitted by roughly 1,600 organizations are approved. Financial assistance ranges from $60 to $50,000.

“Our mission is to support organizations serving the needy and underserved,” Kurzrok said, adding, “The success of the foundation is directly proportional to the success of the bank.”

The foundation provided $272,000 to Northeast Arc (NEArc) over more than two decades. Arc’s Peabody-based Black Box Theatre and Breaking Grounds Cafe are beneficiaries of foundation support.

“They are consistent supporters of our events and they are continuing to look at how they impact the community,” said NEArc President and CEO Jo Ann Simons.


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