Serving a Purpose

In celebration of Evergreen, associates share how Regions-supported organizations have made in difference in their lives and in the community.
Oct 3, 2023 1:05 PM ET

By Doug Segrest and Kyndle Huey

Lisa Harless works with the biggest names in the music industry, and has for 38 years.

But if you really want to get Harless excited, ask her about working with the W.O. Smith Music School in Nashville.

“The premise, since the very beginning, is that children from some of the least advantaged areas of Nashville come in and take music lessons for 50 cents from volunteer teachers,” said Harless, a longtime wealth advisor. “Those teachers come from the music industry – many of whom are clients are mine. Or they’re retired teachers or members of the (Nashville) Symphony.

“As important as the learning is, most of these students come from unfortunate circumstances. So the W.O. Smith Music School becomes a safe place where they have an ally who teaches and encourages them.”

William Oscar Smith was a noted African American jazz musician. In 1984, Smith, Music Row executive Buddy Killen and newspaperman Frank Sutherland met to forge a vision for what would become a nonprofit that provides lessons, instruments, sheet music and a future for thousands of Nashville youth.

Jonah Rabinowitz has been the executive director of the school since 1995. Trained at the Manhattan School of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music, he still gets excited when the school calendar turns to a new academic year.

Each year is different, but what remains the same is exhilarating: being creative, taking chances and opening yourself to new experiences that will change your world.
Jonah Rabinowitz

“Each year is different, but what remains the same is exhilarating: being creative, taking chances and opening yourself to new experiences that will change your world,” Rabinowitz said.
“But, more than anything, it’s about developing trust. We build community, a place where our students feel safe and know they are cared about.”

Rabinowitz pointed out that volunteers commit to weekly lessons for 35 weeks for a minimum of an hour each lesson.

“The diversity (of volunteers) is scary in a good way,” he added. “We have professional musicians, about 25 percent of our teachers, as well as people who came to Nashville to be musicians or free lancers, then others who moved on to other things. We have a magistrate judge who teaches violin. And we rely on musicians at local colleges. They’re closer to the age of students, so they have a similar perspective.”

Harless remains a fixture at the school, as well, serving on the advisory council and helping ensure the school’s future through fundraisers.

“Lisa was not only a fantastic president, but she’s also the one you go to when you truly need something because she’s there with a solution,” Rabinowitz. He pointed to a time where they had to hurriedly vacate the original school. “Before I knew it, I had an office at Regions for two or three months.”

For Harless, it’s one of many nonprofits she works closely with. But this one will forever be special.

“There’s purpose here,” Harless said. “I’ve seen how these students are positively impacted for the rest of their lives.”

Honoring Life Through Service

Lee and Jeff Taylor
Executive Administrative Assistant for Community Affairs | Head of Commercial Fraud Forensics

“The Bell Center was a huge blessing at a time when we didn’t know where to turn,” said Lee Taylor.

When Lee and Jeff’s son Clay was born with a need for early intervention services at a time when those services were even more scarce than they are today, a friend connected them with The Bell Center, a Homewood, Alabama-based organization dedicated to maximizing the potential of children from birth to three years of age who are at risk for developmental delay.

Founder Betty Bell was a family friend, and when Clay’s struggles multiplied, she became an extended part of the family and was beside their side at the end.

“Betty spent many nights with us at the hospital, and at home,” Jeff said. “Her legacy is being fulfilled by the work and service being done by the ladies of the Service Guild of Birmingham and the dedicated staff at the Bell Center.”

September is a melancholy moment for Jeff and Lee. It’s the month Clay was born and the month he passed away a year later. Lee also lost her mom in September.

But their experience has led them to remain involved. Jeff is in his second year on the Bell Center board and Lee continues to support the organization by giving her time and resources.

On a recent visit to Unless U, a community organization which fosters the growth of adults with disabilities, Lee ran into a young man she recognized. He had received early intervention services from the Bell Center years earlier when she was a volunteer. He told Lee that he was at Unless U to learn life skills. Lee believes it is because of the services he received when he was young that he is able to live a fuller life today. “Early intervention can make all the difference in the world,” she stated.

“The Need to help is huge – especially from birth – and there aren’t a lot of places that offer the kind of help or early intervention that the Bell Center does,” Lee said.

We support the Bell Center not just for what they did for us but because of what they do for so many other families.”

Racing to Build Homes

Teresa Walker
Administrative Assistant with the R2 Transformation Team

Teresa Walker looks back at her time working in Gadsden, Alabama, with a smile.

“Without lifting a hammer, I helped build six houses,” she said.

For six of her 10 years, Walker participated in the annual Habitat for Humanity Dragon Boat Festival, plying the Coosa River with 20 friends on various teams, including Rock the Boat Bankers, the Green Oarnets and the Regions Banccaneers.

“It’s the epitome of team effort and team building because you have to watch your front two oarsmen, match their timing, and everyone has to be in sync. And you only get one practice.”

The annual fundraiser is one of this North Alabama city’s biggest events due to the numbers of volunteers it produces and the fun that ensues. Each rower must raise $100, so it’s a great event for the Habitat team, especially when there are 30-plus teams competing.

“In Gadsden, we had the Gadsden Main, Rainbow City and Eastside branches, and we pulled others from branches in Anniston and Centre,” Walker explained. “We even had some people come in from Birmingham.

It’s a great way to get to know each other out of the office, because there’s so much more than the race. You set up and decorate the tent, get the refreshments ready and watch all the other races.

“And, when you’re on the water, it’s pretty cool when you get in a rhythm and feel the boat surging forward. And not once did we tip the boat over. That’s a good thing!”

Sharing the Joy of Success

Kalie Stephens
Senior Relationship Banker at the Hammond, Louisiana, Main Branch

Every customer is Regions’ favorite. But In Hammond, Louisiana, there a few that Kalie Stephens holds near and dear to her heart.

“I know all of our OPTIONS customers by name, and most of their caregivers,” says Stephens.

OPTIONS is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to provide people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, daily activities that help them to live and work in the community, build self-esteem and enjoy life.

“My best friend’s brother and my husband’s oldest sister are both disabled. They are both near and dear to my heart, so having an organization that we help support as a bank means the world to me,” explains Stephens.

She looks forward to seeing customers who are in OPTIONS programs visit the branch. “I love seeing the joy when they come into our branch and talk with all of our associates. Their faces light up when they speak about the special events the organization hosts.

“One of my favorite customers recently invited me to go see Ballin’ for OPTIONS, when he will be playing in a charity basketball tournament here in Ponchatoula.”

Associates in the branch know when OPTIONS customers have events coming up, when they have birthdays, get promotions at work and even when they are elected as officials within OPTIONS organizations.

“We share that common joy in watching them succeed in their endeavors.”

Hammering for Habitat

Laura Withers
Loan Servicing Specialist for Real Estate Servicing

How do you make new friends, help a growing family and vent frustrations all in one fell swoop?

It’s simple. You demolish a house.

Withers and her husband moved to Brandon, Mississippi from Georgia last March. Having worked at another bank that had no offices in Greater Jackson, she immediately pivoted to apply to Regions.

“I’m from Birmingham originally, so I was already aware of Regions’ reputation for being involved in the community and volunteerism,” Withers said. “When I got the job, I immediately looked for an opportunity to get involved.”

That opportunity would come with a Habitat for Humanity build just 20 minutes away. And since Withers works remotely with teams based in Hattiesburg, it offered a great opportunity to meet her new (and more local) fellow associates in person.

“In Georgia, we bought furniture from the Habitat for Humanity store, and I already loved the fact they were a Christian organization.

“When we met up, I was the only one that works in the loan operations center. Everyone else I met worked in Treasury Management or as financial advisors in the Jackson area. Most of them had done this with Regions for years. I met some awesome people and got to hear their stories, which only reinforced that I made the right decision.”

For this build, the local Habitat organizers bought an abandoned house. So the first order of business was to tear it down to the studs.

“The building part is exciting, seeing everything come together,” she said. “But the demolishing is fun because I like to bust stuff up with a sledgehammer. But I was so sore the next day, I couldn’t lift my shoulders for days.”

There were other hardships: the temperature was 100 degrees when they started and 104 when they finished. Then there was an encounter with a backed-up toilet that sent everyone scurrying outside for fresh air.

“We were the first to go in,” she said. “We tore down cabinets and walls and took out the old appliances. But we probably shouldn’t have messed with the toilet.”

These stories were sourced from associates who chose to share their answers to the question “Do you have a story about a community group that Regions supports that made a difference in your life?” A big thank you to the associates who shared their experiences.