By Seth Shapiro
From left to right: Daniel S. Mariaschin, B’nai B’rith International executive vice president; Nancy Hellman Bechtle, chair of the Presidio Trust Board and member of the dinner’s tribute committee; Michael Shepherd, chairman and chief executive officer of Bank of the West and Bancwest Corporation; and Allan J. Jacobs, B’nai B’rith International president.
B’nai B’rith International, celebrating its 170th anniversary year, honored Michael Shepherd, the chairman and chief executive officer of Bank of the West and Bancwest Corporation, with its Distinguished Achievement Award at a dinner on May 22 at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in San Francisco. In accepting the award, Shepherd likened Bank of the West to B’nai B’rith, noting that the good works of both entities stem from their similar origins which date back to the 19th century.
“Our Bank has a very distinguished record of achievement dating from its founding as Farmer’s National Gold Bank of San Jose in 1874,” Shephard said. “Like B’nai B’rith—and all of us in our firms and families—we draw inspiration from the examples of our forbearers, and we celebrate those who set us on the right path of supporting the growth and prosperity of our communities.”
For the past four decades, B’nai B’rith has honored corporate and community leaders dedicated to bettering their communities. Shepherd and Bank of the West—through their commitment to philanthropy, community service and leadership in promoting tolerance and diversity—were recognized by B’nai B’rith for their work.
“When looking at potential recipients for this award, it’s important that we find someone who embodies the values of B’nai B’rith—and Michael Shepherd does just that,” said B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs, who presented the award to Shepherd. “Michael sets the bar high and actively drives Bank of the West’s commitment to meeting the needs of its customers and the communities in which it does business. Under Michael’s leadership, Bank of the West galvanizes its community development loans and investments, charitable contributions and team member volunteer hours to improve the social and economic health of the neighborhoods it serves, especially those that are under-resourced.”
Shepherd believes that Bank of the West and B’nai B’rith “share that commitment to community.” Along with being regular contributors toward disaster-relief efforts, Bank of the West is also committed to improving financial literacy in “underserved and under-banked” communities, Shepherd said.
“We believe that we prosper with our communities and with our customers,” Shepherd says in an interview with B’nai B’rith Magazine. “We believe we can do good and make a good profit at the same time. We’re hardly a charitable organization, but we’re committed to making our communities prosper because we know that’s good for us, too.”
Among his proudest achievements, Shepherd cites the ability of Bank of the West to continue to be successful following the onset of the financial crisis in 2008 and the bank’s ability to help its customers through that difficult time.
“Especially at a time where bank reputations in communities in [America] and around the world have been eroded, it’s great to have a bank identified for having made contributions to its communities to help finance the dreams of small businesses or individuals,” Shepherd says, explaining the significance of receiving the Distinguished Achievement Award. “That association with an organization as prestigious and deserving of high regard as B’nai B’rith is a wonderful thing for the banking industry as well as Bank of the West.”
Being honored with the award is validating, Shepherd says. It reaffirms the values Bank of the West has been committed to and inspires the bank and its colleagues to continue down a path dedicated to community improvement.
“Michael Shepherd is an inspiring chief executive who leads by example in the worlds of business and civic responsibility,” said B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin, who gave the closing remarks at the dinner. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to pay tribute to him and to Bank of the West at the 2013 Distinguished Achievement Award Dinner.”
From July 29 to Aug. 4, 35 residents from B’nai B’rith low-income apartment buildings across the country came to Lake Como, Pa., for the Resident Leadership Retreat at B’nai B’rith Perlman Camp. The biannual retreat, run by the B’nai B’rith Center for Senior Services, features daily training sessions, entertainment activities and intergenerational programming with the campers.
During the retreat, some of the residents did video interviews about their lives. They described why they enjoy living in their B’nai B’rith apartment buildings and how much they appreciated the retreat and being at camp.
For almost 50 years, B’nai B’rith has been committed to making apartments available to seniors of limited means, providing them a safe and secure space to age with dignity. And since 1987, the Center for Senior Services has been bringing seniors to Perlman Camp to take part in the Resident Leadership Retreat where they learn from the B’nai B’rith staff and their fellow residents. After a week of learning and entertainment at the beautiful camp setting in the Pocono Mountains, they go back home with the knowledge and ability to make real, positive changes to their apartment buildings.
Click on the videos below to watch resident testimonials. And look out for the winter issue of B’nai B’rith Magazine, which will feature a story about the Resident Leadership Retreat in the B’nai B’rith Today section.
Eva Garcia from the Pasadena Interfaith Manor
in Pasadena, Texas, interacts with a Perlman camper
during an intergenerational program.
In the weeks following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, Dr. John Estrada, a pediatrician and associate professor at the Louisiana State University (LSU) Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, provided medical attention to the displaced victims living in a shelter in Ville Platte, La., about 150 miles west of the city. With a small support team and minimal funds, Estrada could provide only limited aid—he needed more money to procure medical supplies for these individuals, many of whom, in their rush to flee the hurricane, had left their medications at home. With $10,000 from the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund, Estrada was able to purchase necessary medicines. In an interview with B’nai B’rith Magazine, he describes the significance of the disaster aid by B’nai B’rith and other organizations. Dr. John Estrada
B’nai B’rith Magazine: Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005. Where were you living and working at the time?
Dr. John Estrada: I was and still am with LSU Health Science Center, on the faculty of pediatrics. Back then, I just didn’t pay that much attention to the hurricanes. I had been here since 2001. A friend from Gulfport, Miss., was taking a plane from New Orleans to Los Angeles, and he left his car at my home, because [New Orleans] was the closest airport. He called from L.A. and said, “Evidently, there is a hurricane going by. And I realized I don’t have gas in my car.” I said, “Don’t worry, I will fill it up.” That is when I realized that this was serious, because when I went to the gas station, [there was a long] line of people getting gas to leave town. That was the most telling sign that I needed to prepare for something.
BBM: How did you end up in the shelter in Ville Platte?
Estrada: I drove to Ville Platte [to escape the hurricane.] This area is very interesting because it was settled by French people who came from Canada. They were persecuted in France and in Canada, also. It is called the Cajun Land, for Acadia. These people are very resourceful, independent, very welcoming. It is really a distinctive culture. They have incredible music.
So I had befriended some people there, and I thought it would be a good thing for me to spend a week with my friends. I didn’t take anything. I didn’t secure my house. I took from the second floor of my house some boxes that had old pictures of the family that were given to me by my sisters. I thought this is valuable, and at least I don’t want to lose that.
My housekeeper [stayed] in [New Orleans.] She called on Tuesday and said, “Dr. Estrada there is something very abnormal. There is water coming like a river.” That was kind of my connection, my first indication that the levees had broken. That is when I paid attention to the TV. By this time, people were calling from all over to find out if I was OK. On Wednesday, somebody came to the house [where I was staying in Ville Platte] and said they need a doctor at a shelter. I thought, “I can go there for a few minutes. I’d be back before lunch.”
It was Labor Day [weekend], and many of the doctors had gone on vacation. When I arrived at the shelter—it was in a school that had a big gymnasium—there were around 500 people there. I came to find out that they had gotten these people from the [New Orleans] Superdome. They had been on buses bound for Houston. But many didn’t have the means to prepare or to leave town. They knew that the [local people in Ville Platte] were very generous and very open and very welcoming. And they didn’t want to go to Houston. They basically forced the drivers to drop them in these towns in Cajun Land instead of going to Houston.
So picture this: These were small towns that didn’t have the resources to handle this situation. Yet they were flooded with people from New Orleans. I realized that many of these people needed medical attention because they had left without any medications, without many essentials. We created a kind of a triage system to take care of the most needy. In a few minutes, the director of the hospital came, and he was very alarmed because he thought we were going to refer these people to the hospital, and he just didn’t have the capacity.
We started taking care of them. Soon enough, they opened a park to accommodate [them]. The pharmacies in the towns offered to help. These people [staying in the shelter] could not fill out their medication [prescriptions]. The governmental and nongovernmental relief agencies have a bureaucracy. They have a system to dispense help that is sometimes very cumbersome. The people could not access any help from relief agencies. The [local] pharmacies could not provide for them. They are mom-and-pop operations that could go broke.
BBM: How did you get in touch with B’nai B’rith?
Estrada: One of my friends, Steve Rogers, is Jewish. He called and said, “What do you need?” I said, “I need money to give to these people to pay the pharmacies for medications.” He said, “Let me call B’nai B’rith.”
Soon enough, they call, and there is a check for $10,000 that we can deposit. So I talk to the the local parish priest and ask him to receive the money, because I didn’t want to be the custodian of the money. And soon enough we established a bank account.
The donation of $10,000 was more important than anything.
That was really very powerful, to realize that the government agencies with all their power were not able to help the people. This, to me, is disaster relief: the generosity of your neighbor, of your friends, of your family.
We were so successful in this triage system that we set up in Ville Platte. By this time, the shelter had really accomplished its initial mission, but there were still people coming. We set up the same system [in another town]. They had heard what we had done in Ville Platte. We were really busy. I didn’t have the time to listen to the news. I had a group of two nurses. And we were like a little team.
BBM: What is New Orleans like today? How have the disaster relief efforts by organizations like B’nai B’rith helped the city rebuild from the devastation of the hurricane?
Estrada: New Orleans is a unique city. It represents what is authentically fun in food and music. The initial news about New Orleans was that the city was going to be shut down for five to 10 years. In a few months, though, we had a Mardi Gras parade. And today, it seems the city has blossomed, thanks, I believe, to federal money and volunteers like Teach for America and to volunteers from Jewish organizations who came to help.
So in conclusion: The demographics have changed, with a lot of people who have actually moved in to help in the rebuilding. New Orleans matters, and it matters because it can teach the meaning of help, the meaning of neighborhood and the meaning of being together. But it also can teach you the worst that human beings can show in moments of distress. The good, the bad and the ugly, that’s what New Orleans represented in the midst of disaster.