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Part of what gives a community its sense of unity is the willingness of its members to help one another and the collaboration between local groups, businesses and residents to make an impact. While there’s a lot to celebrate in Belmont and Watertown, one group of individuals makes the community particularly proud.
Special Programs Organized for Recreation Time, or S.P.O.R.T., is a year-round program that provides activities for both children and adults with special needs. These individuals are television station videographers and gold medal athletes. They choreograph dance performances and hoist sails on the Charles. They’ve even been honored by the Bruins and have gone on to glory at the national Special Olympics.
Just as these athletes shine a light on the community, so does the community support their achievements — and they have no more enthusiastic cheerleaders than the employees and customers of Watertown Savings Bank.
Mutual savings banks offer the tech features, accounts and services similar to those offered at large national banks, but a major difference between the two is the deep-rooted emphasis on serving the community. A mutual bank like Watertown Savings Bank in Massachusetts not only helps its customers thrive, but also gets involved in community organizations through active volunteering and sponsorship.
S.P.O.R.T. is an organization with a very personal connection to the WSB family.
It started with just one employee
Ron LeSanto, a lending specialist at Watertown Savings Bank, has been involved with S.P.O.R.T. for more than 25 years. His sister, Heather LeSanto, who has Down syndrome, was the inspiration behind the bank’s involvement. He said that the organization excels at helping those with special needs get out and explore their communities and beyond.
“Our family would always be involved in Friday night social events, with movies and dances,” said LeSanto. “There were several activities on Saturdays, including bowling, swimming and many others. There are trips planned for the members to travel once a year, like Bermuda, New York City and many other places.”
Those activities include plenty of sporting events and teams. S.P.O.R.T. consistently sends one of the largest contingencies of athletes to the Massachusetts Special Olympics summer and winter games, thanks to donations from the community and Watertown Savings Bank.
Kelly Cronin has been a Watertown Savings Bank employee for 19 years and now runs its community relations department. She said LeSanto’s introduction to the organization was key, and that Heather and her fellow S.P.O.R.T. participants inspired the entire bank team. It resonated so much with Cronin that she’s now president of the Friends of Belmont S.P.O.R.T. board.
“Ron was one of my first friends when I joined the bank and I got to know more about him and his family,” Cronin said. “He got the bank involved with S.P.O.R.T. through volunteering and financial contributions at the organization’s fundraisers.”
Hands-on support for S.P.O.R.T.
Cronin said that while financial support is key to keeping program fees low for S.P.O.R.T. participants, it is the volunteering that really brings the community of employees and customers together. Bank employees volunteer at S.P.O.R.T. events as well.
Sue Weiner, former director of Belmont S.P.O.R.T., recalls when Watertown Savings Bank first became involved with the organization.
“Watertown Savings Bank has been a staunch supporter and our best friend,” Weiner said. “Their involvement is a combination of financial support through donations to our program and manpower at our activities.”
“S.P.O.R.T.’s annual golf tournament, the group’s major fundraiser, is a great example,” Weiner said. “Bank employees come and volunteer at the tournament for the day. They also help make the big S.P.O.R.T. banquet possible, where Special Olympians are honored each year. The event is attended by about 200 people.”
“Bank employees just roll up their sleeves and help with important activities from serving dinner to cleaning up at the end of the event,” Weiner said. “They’re just beyond amazing. Everyone. From the president and CEO of the bank to managers and all employees — they just totally embraced us.”
“It really makes the participants know that they’re in the community, cared about and supported, just as everyone else is,” Weiner said. “I don’t know what we’d have done without the bank’s support. That they use their free time to become part of the organization is just so wonderful.”
S.P.O.R.T. participants shine in ‘All the Facts’
Not only do S.P.O.R.T. participants medal at the Special Olympics, they star in local television programming — learning how to operate the video camera and edit their work. “All the Facts” is a lively talk show, put on as part of S.P.O.R.T.’s “Lights, Camera, Action!” program.
Part of learning how to put a show together is conducting interviews. At Watertown Savings Bank, the S.P.O.R.T. crew found plenty of enthusiastic individuals, where they interviewed Bank President Brett Dean, and visited several other areas of the Bank.
“We love to have S.P.O.R.T. participants come for a bank tour. They are so curious and eager to learn about our bank and meet with our staff,” said Cronin. “Our CEO Ron Dean also went to their ‘TV studio’ at the organization to be interviewed there.”
Not only did S.P.O.R.T’s TV talent interview Dean, but also Fire Chief David Frizzell and Belmont Police Chief Richard McLaughlin. Cronin said that watching participants learn and thrive as members of the community is a big reason she values her role at Watertown Savings Bank and the bank’s support for volunteerism.
“Participating in All the Facts was one of my favorite projects ever at the Bank. They're wonderful people, and the parents and coaches and community members like myself all work together to help them any way we can. I’m just in awe of them and how wonderful they all are!”
Customers also cheer on S.P.O.R.T. athletes
Cronin said it is heartwarming to see how the S.P.O.R.T. organization is supported in the community.
“We’ve held our Customer Choice Award Program since 1996. Our customers vote on local nonprofits, choosing their favorite, and depending on the votes, the bank then distributes funds to a variety of nonprofits,” said Cronin. “Belmont S.P.O.R.T. consistently ranks among the top finalists.”
Several other organizations have been winners, including schools and food pantries.
“There are wonderful nonprofits that are doing such great work for so many people and S.P.O.R.T. has been recognized among them for the past 18 years,” said Cronin. “We’re so happy that our customers and the community get to be involved in how we allocate the funds. Everyone encourages our customers and families to come in and vote.”
Customer support for S.P.O.R.T. brought the organization more than $43,000 over the years through the Customer Choice Awards program. The funding helps get the athletes to the state and national Special Olympics, keeps class fees low and sends participants on exciting excursions.
The Customer Choice Awards also helps bring bank customers and employees together for a common cause.
Every year, Watertown Savings Bank commits more than 1,800 service hours, which helps support nearly 300 local community organizations. Employees have participated in or initiated hundreds of community events and customer appreciation events.
“Our CEO has always encouraged us to become involved,” Cronin said. “We have 135 employees and most of them volunteer for various events throughout the year. The spirit here of our employees is incredible.”
S.P.O.R.T. is one of many community activities Watertown Savings Bank is involved with. Bank employees also participate in many town events, and the bank leads its own events for customers and residents including the bi-annual Shred Day and customer appreciation events.
The bank also holds workshops on first-time home-buying, financial planning and more — all part of its mission to help the customers and communities it serves.
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