Female Empower

Bankwell Gives Women What They Need to Give Back.

At WLM, we celebrate the people who help the underserved in our community. While it’s easy for us to accept the authenticity of individuals on their own behalf in acts of kindness and charity, we can’t ignore that there are businesses and companies that have created exceptional cultures of care and giving back.

Volunteers working within these constructs are helping people succeed and encouraging philanthropy to elevate the community at large.

So, we thank Bankwell for helping residents in Westport and Fairfield County for going beyond the photo ops and publicity to quietly cheer for the achievements of its employees and stealthily contribute to the society in which they live.

Shawn Gelin, Senior Vice President, Director of Community Banking Operations

WLM: How long have you worked at Bankwell?

Shawn: I was one of the first employees hired and am so grateful to have been part of the journey that brought Bankwell where it is today.   

WLM: How did Bankwell accommodate your dual role as parent and employee?

SG: Bankwell has always been flexible and supportive of parents and families. I’ve chaperoned class trips, gone to concerts and sports events, and am fully supported in times of illness, emergency or childcare issues. 

WLM: How does Bankwell support and maintain its long-tenured employees?

SG: Bankwell creates supportive and rewarding environment. Employees are encouraged to explore opportunities across departments and to grow within the company. Almost all of the people that work for me came from other parts of the bank. I’m so proud to say that many of them have also been promoted! Prior to the pandemic, Bankwell regularly held outstanding quarterly events for the entire bank to be together, have fun and celebrate our collective success. I can’t wait for the day when we can all be together again.

Courtney Biernesser, Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources

WLM: What is you favorite part of volunteer/charitable work? 

Courtney: My favorite part of volunteering/charitable work is gaining new perspectives, which helps me focus on what’s truly important in life.

WLM: What is your least favorite part?

CB: I think it’s sometimes hard on the person/people we may be trying to help or assist. We all have a sense of pride and it’s important to be mindful of that in others when volunteering.

WLM: If you could do anything for anyone, what would it be and why?

CB: My grandmother, Anna Gilly, is 97 years old and moved to New York City from Austria when she was in her late 20s, shortly after WWII. Given the pandemic, it’s a hard time to be at the end of one’s life. Even with the rollout of the vaccine, my grandmother has only recently been allowed in-person visits with family and they’re limited to 30 minute visits, six feet apart. She’s had no hugs or kisses or touching family members in close to a year. She feels isolated and alone. While we try to connect on Zoom calls, many failed due to technology issues.

It would be so meaningful to create a program to help the elderly have a more positive experience to connect with family and friends while getting the physical care they need.

Christine Chivily, Executive Vice President, Chief Risk & Credit Officer

WLM: What are some ways in which Bankwell helped navigate you and your family through the pandemic? 

Christine: The Bank was extremely concerned for the welfare, both physical and psychological, of its employees. A week prior to working remotely, our IT team made sure most employees were equipped with laptop computers. We had an all-employee test of our remote capabilities so when we had to go remote we knew we could function effectively. 

Our CEO hosted multiple all-staff calls during which he updated everyone on how we were moving forward through the pandemic and basically gave everyone a pep talk. We assisted employees with young and school-aged children by paying for childcare either in their homes or at day care centers. 

There were several ‘feel good’ deliveries to employees’ homes:  packets of cloth masks, antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer, chargers and cords to ensure connectivity prior to one of the big storms, delivery of soup and cookies – just ways to let everyone know the management was thinking of them and grateful for the efforts being made to keep the business going smoothly. 

Trish Fontes, Senior Vice President, Director of Treasury Management and Retail Sales Management

WLM: Did Bankwell’s involvement in philanthropy sway your decision to work there?

Trish: Yes, absolutely. My team and I have had countless opportunities to give our time and energy to wonderful charities and organizations that are doing tremendous work benefiting groups ranging from children in need to women in the workforce to the hungry.

WLM: Before you started at Bankwell, how/where did you do volunteer work?

TF: I volunteered my time at the United Way and local food banks.  One of the places most near and dear to me is our Portuguese school in Bridgeport.  I love to volunteer my time ensuring that the next generation of Portuguese-American children learn the language and the history of where their families immigrated from, the traditions and the culture. 

WLM: How has Bankwell changed your engagement in charity work?

TF: Bankwell has helped me expand my opportunities to get involved in charitable work.  In fact, it has helped me get my daughters involved and help them see how important it is to give back to the community and those less fortunate when necessary.  Bankwell has provided a terrific mechanism for us to show the next generation how important it is to get involved and to share their time and resources. 

Laura Waitz, Chief Operating Officer

WLM: How did Bankwell accommodate your dual role as parent and employee?

Laura: I am the proud mom of two sons (30 & 28).  As a single mom, my personal and professional experiences over the years through other challenging events (e.g. 9/11, Hurricane Sandy and the Nuclear Disaster & Tsunami in Japan) shaped how I wanted to treat our employees during the pandemic.


WLM: How has Bankwell changed your focus or engagement in charity work? 

LW: Bankwell has provided me more opportunity to become involved in local organizations.  Dear to my heart is Filling in the Blanks which tackles food insecurity in children in our communities.  I also serve on the Executive Committee and Board of Goodwill of Western & Northern Connecticut. Goodwill strengthens communities by helping people with disabilities and other disadvantages maximize independence through job training and other support services.


WLM: Why type of charity work do you find most personally fulfilling? 

LW: Giving money is important, but investing time and expertise is much more valuable to these organizations and the people that they support; it truly is where one can add value and feel valued.


WLM: What is favorite part of volunteer/charitable work? ‘

LW: Building sustainable relationships and networking with people.


WLM: What is your least favorite part?

LW: Wishing I had the ability to do more.

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