On the morning of May 18, employees at Texas First Bank in Santa Fe, Texas, anticipated a business-as-usual Friday, but less than two miles down Highway 6 at Santa Fe High School, their community (population 13,200) was being forever changed. The unimaginable was unfolding. A student had fired shots at his classmates and teachers. By the time he was captured and taken into custody, 10 people were dead and 13 others were wounded.
As media outlets from across the country descended on Santa Fe, located 30 miles northeast of Galveston, local residents gathered to learn the status of loved ones. Corinna Danilevich, assistant vice president and marketing manager at Texas First Bank in Texas City, along with several of her colleagues, didn’t waste time figuring out how they could help the community under such tragic circumstances.
“We decided that morning that we needed to do something,” Danilevich says. “Our head of retail, Robin McDougald, suggested offering up our Santa Fe bank as a place for people to come together, hold a vigil that evening and try to process what was happening.”
Texas First Bank announced the vigil on Facebook and made arrangements to have the bank parking lot ready for the gathering. “We planned for the vigil to be held in our parking lot,” Danilevich remembers, “but by early afternoon we knew we were going to need a bigger space.” Almost a thousand people showed up, far too many for the space to accommodate. “Fortunately, we have an open field next to the bank, which we used instead,” she adds.
Danilevich led the service that evening. Local businesses donated and distributed food and water. Among those offering words of comfort at the vigil were Santa Fe ISD Superintendent Dr. Leigh Wall, outgoing Mayor Jeff Tambrella, incoming Mayor Jason Tabor (elected to his new post only two weeks prior), Governor Greg Abbott and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. And, of course, Santa Fe High School students and their parents attended. Quite a few members of the press were there, as well.
“Reporters were asking us, ‘Why is Texas First Bank doing this?’” Danilevich recalls, “and our response was, ‘We’re just doing what a community bank is supposed to do. This is our community. This is our family. We celebrate the good times together, and in times of tragedy, we’re there to hold each other tight.’”
The next evening, local businesses organized a dinner for the community and the bank offered its central location for the event. “It was an opportunity to ‘share a meal and heal,’” says Kitty Potter, regulatory and risk manager at Texas First Bank.
The following Tuesday, another dinner was held for students and their parents, but this time without the press. School had been called off for several days after the shooting, but students needed this press-free opportunity to commiserate, cry and hug one another. Texas First Bank employees were there to serve food and show their support.
Texas First Bank Vice President Renee Rockers, a Santa Fe High School alum, serves as president-elect on the board of the Santa Fe Texas Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports Santa Fe ISD students and staff. That connection led to Texas First Bank opening an account for the foundation to use as a central depository for what became known as the Santa Fe Strong Fund, and donations began pouring in.
On June 5, the Santa Fe Texas Education Foundation announced an agreement with the National Compassion Fund, a subsidiary of the National Center for Victims of Crime, to develop and implement a fund-distribution plan that will provide direct financial support to the families of those killed and injured in the tragedy at Santa Fe High School. The National Compassion Fund, a leading authority on how victims are compensated for loss, will advise the foundation, assist with ongoing fundraising efforts and administer the victim application and vetting processes. It will also coordinate the distribution of proceeds from the foundation’s official campaign, other fundraisers and third-party donation sources—100 percent of which will be distributed directly to the victims and their families.
Those wanting to make a financial donation can do so by mailing a check, payable to Santa Fe Texas Education Foundation, to Texas First Bank, Santa Fe Strong Fund, P.O. Box 608, Santa Fe, TX 77510; online donations are also being accepted at bit.ly/2Mi2uXM.
The community continues to heal and now faces a new normal. “People amaze me every single day,” Danilevich says. “There are still a lot of fundraisers being organized, even some by students. The outpouring of support is incredible. Everybody has come together to cry, but also to heal and become stronger. This community is small, but it feels even smaller now because we’re all so connected.”
“I was amazed at the response by Texas First Bank employees in the aftermath of the tragedy at Santa Fe High School,” says Potter. “It’s the absolute best example of what a community bank should do.”
Published in Bankers Digest June 18, 2018