PeoplesBank has a long history of giving back to the community through volunteer efforts and millions of dollars in donations to charitable and civic causes. So when Matt Bannister, who manages the bank’s philanthropic grants to area non-profits and community service organizations, considered the Frozen Yogurt 5K as a possible recipient back in 2015, he said his decision was an easy one to make.

“When I saw that the Gándara Center sponsored the race—well, I knew their mission and the services they provide, and we were happy to donate,” said Bannister, the bank’s first vice president for marketing and innovation. PeoplesBank became a Silver Sponsor of the race that year because of Gándara’s crucial work with society’s most vulnerable populations according to Bannister. “It gave us an opportunity to reach out and feel like we were directly impacting the lives of people they serve—folks who really need a helping hand,” he said.

Under Bannister’s leadership, PeoplesBank’s donations to the Frozen Yogurt 5K doubled in recent years. The bank has been a Gold Sponsor for the past two years, and he is particularly happy that this year’s race is raising funds to build a universally accessible playground at Gándara’s Mooreland residential group home for children. “The 5K is a great vehicle for us to support the Gándara Center and help build a playground for these kids,” he said.

As a local, mutual bank, PeoplesBank has a commitment to better the communities it serves, and has done so through a variety of green initiatives—including financing wind, hydroelectric, and solar energy projects—as well as programs that support academic achievement, home ownership, and affordable housing. Helping the community “is baked into our DNA to some extent,” said Bannister.

When Bannister joined PeoplesBank nearly three years ago, he was a natural fit for his job because much of his career has involved promoting human causes on a large scale. Prior to his most recent post, he was executive vice president, corporate communications and brand content for the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA) in Dallas—the country’s largest health non-profit—for 14 years. Before that he was vice president-group account director at Arnold Worldwide, based in Boston, where he managed integrated marketing campaigns with a focus on anti-tobacco marketing efforts for such clients as the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the FDA, and the American Legacy Foundation.

Bannister first cut his teeth in the world of marketing and public relations fresh out of UMass Amherst, where he majored in communications. After graduating he was an account executive at Hill Holiday Advertising in Boston for five years. Then he spent nearly two years as communications manager at Golf Digest/Tennis, a unit of the New York Times magazine group, and following that he was communications director at Capital Sports Inc. in Trumbull, CT for two years. It was during his next stint at Arnold Worldwide, however, in which his career began to focus on public health campaigns. At Arnold, he had been promoting big brands, including Volkswagen, Puma, EMC, and Ocean Spray, before he was assigned to the DPH’s anti-smoking ad campaign. This opportunity came in 1993, when Massachusetts enacted a 25-cent per pack tax to fund a comprehensive tobacco control program, including anti-tobacco advertising.

“It was one of the pivot points in my career,” he said. He recalled attending his daughter’s fourth-grade take-your-parent-to-school career day and she introduced him by saying, “This is my dad. He saves lives for a living.” Bannister said it was an epiphany moment in his life. “I had a really good feeling,” he said with a smile. “I said to myself, ‘There’s something to this that makes my job worth more than a paycheck every two weeks.’” That experience led to his work for AHA/ASA.

In 2015, Bannister’s career brought him and his wife, Sharon, two daughters, and son back to western Massachusetts in part because he missed the Pioneer Valley, where he went to college. They entire family, including three dogs and a cat, lives in the same house in Hadley. This move back up north also enabled him to continue his career trend of “doing well by doing good,” as the saying goes, by managing PeoplesBank’s grants, events, sponsorships, and in-kind contributions to areas including academics, innovation, economic growth, and community vibrancy.

“I think that especially since the Great Recession 10 years ago many people have had a negative perception of banks, and frankly, before I came to PeoplesBank, I didn’t fully realize the ability of banks to help people,” said Bannister. “But when you think about it, banks help people grow businesses and buy their first homes—banks are there to help people succeed.”

To be sure, the charitable work of banks cannot be ignored either, especially in the case of PeoplesBank helping sponsor the Frozen Yogurt 5K, because the playground to be built by the Gándara Center will help provide some of the youngest individuals the agency serves with some joy during an incredibly stressful time in their lives.

“Part of my previous job involved seeking donations, which certainly was fulfilling, and now I’m on the other side of the desk, in a role where we provide grants to the community,” said Bannister. “All told, it’s gratifying to give back through the work that I do.”

If you are interested in donating to the Frozen Yogurt 5K, please contact Lisa Brecher at lbrecher@gandaracenter.org or 413-328-2045.

Mount washington

When Matt isn’t at work he is making the most out of life, including recently climbing Mount Washington with his son, Davis (above), as well as taking a hot air balloon ride with Sharon—or parachuting out of a plane at the Great New England Air Show at the Westover Air Reserve Base last July (below).

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