March 1, 2018
Sometimes a chance meeting is all it takes to find a Hero. That’s how it was with Ron Hotchkiss, Vice President of the Liberty Township branch of Valley Central Bank. In late 2016, Ron attended Chamber meetings in Fairfield and Hamilton at the same time as Easterseals’ Business Development Manager, Jill Cates. Jill was seeking community partners for Easterseals programs and when she described the Neighborhood HUB program, Ron took immediate interest. And the rest, they say, is history.
Neighborhood HUBs offer individuals with disabilities a neighborhood-based location from which to spend most of their day, gaining total immersion and integration into the community, as well as greater access to work, training, education, and social and recreational opportunities.
This idea of community-based programming was very appealing to Ron because Valley Central Bank is a community bank. Prior to July of 2015, the bank had only one location in Reading. The Liberty Township location is its first and only branch, and it even has a 735-square-foot community room with a kitchenette, which can be reserved by anyone in the community free of charge.
As stated on the website, “Being a locally-run community bank, Valley Central Bank is committed to helping our neighbors, local organizations and neighboring businesses succeed.”
With these community-focused ideals so prevalent in his life, Ron approached Jill and asked how he could be involved in the HUBs. They realized that with his background, it would be useful for him to teach basic finance. But Ron wasn’t sure how he would do it. He had a lot of experience volunteering in local schools, but he was a little worried that teaching adults with disabilities would be a completely different dynamic.
“That was the first time I had ever been in that type of environment,” he confessed. But Easterseals staff encouraged him to “just visit,” he recalled, “I went a couple times and we just hung out and talked. And I learned that, like, Cam likes wrestlers and Jorgie likes superheroes.”
So the class developed in an improvised, free-flowing manner. They talked about the things that a bank does to prevent being robbed, which led to discussing security and being aware of your surroundings. They discussed needs versus wants and how to build savings. And since Valley Central Bank does a large amount of business lending, Ron often discussed process of taking an idea for a business and making it a reality through loans. Some concepts were revisited multiple classes in a row, and others would stick right away.
“Everybody had a unique perspective,” remembered Ron with a smile. “Sometimes I thought Georgie wasn’t listening, but he was taking it all in and he would shoot out an answer.”
The impact has been incredible. As Jill described, “Ron was engaging and established an amazing camaraderie with the individuals, making it a relevant experience for each of them.”
“He is a nice guy,” said Jason D. Ben added, “He talked to me about putting money in the bank.” And Jason S. said, “He was very nice to everybody.”
“Ron was friendly, appropriate and personally invested in each of the individuals,” praised the HUB Team Lead, Brianne Riffle. “He was quickly able to assess what teaching elements would be pertinent to the individuals.”
The HUB even made a field trip to the Liberty Township branch, where staff was warm and welcoming, and everyone enjoyed a pizza lunch together. The personalized slideshow that was greeting them when they arrived was an unforgettable highlight for many of the participants.
Though the formal classes have ended, Ron continues to give. Ron’s branch has made plans to volunteer as a group at the Easterseals fundraiser, ReUse-apalooza!, in May. He encouraged his colleague Brad Daniels at the Valley Central Bank Reading branch to develop a similar relationship with Easterseals’ College Hill HUB; lessons began in October 2017. And Ron continues to interact with HUB participants in the community, greeting them warmly and remembering everyone’s name and interests.
Easterseals has nearly a century of history serving the whole person, not the disability, and we celebrate those in the community who do the same. When told that he would be recognized in the month of March, Ron insisted that he is no hero, saying simply, “I don’t think of those guys as students. I think of them as my friends.”
We assured him that he is an inspiring example of how just one individual can make great strides in creating an inclusive community, making a profound and positive difference in people’s lives every day. That is heroic.