Strokes of Generosity

Paint-a-Thon rallies hundreds, those giving and receiving, in Iowa community

By Carol Patton

When a customer walked into Jim Olson’s office 20 years ago, he had no idea that she was about to transform how his community bank would service its community.

The woman held a clipping of an article about a Paint-A-Thon that had been done in Sioux City, Iowa. She said, ‘This is a project your bank ought to do,’” recalls Olson, president of Two Rivers Financial Group, the parent company of Two Rivers Bank & Trust in Burlington, Iowa.

Since then, the $650 million-asset community bank, with help from its 128 employees in 14 locations, has coordinated a Paint-A-Thon every year that involves selecting approximately 16 houses in the community that are in need of a coat of paint and a little bit of love. Many of these homeowners either lack the resources or ability to paint their homes themselves, so hundreds of volunteers spend several hours after work during the week following Labor Day, painting the exterior of each selected home.

Two Rivers Bank & Trust has managed this project since 1993, which beautifies its community, raises the property value of hundreds of homes and builds community spirit and pride. More than 425 area homes have been painted through the program over the years.

The first coat

When the project was initially ramping up years ago, among the bank’s first step was to contact Diamond Vogel Paints, an Iowa-based paint manufacturer and retailer that has participated in numerous Paint-A-Thons. It didn’t take much to convince the manufacturer to climb onboard.

“This is a great way to connect with the community and give back to the community,” says Doug Vogel, vice president, trade marketing at Diamond, which donates about 500 gallons of paint annually to the project. “We work with the volunteer teams in terms of mixing the paint and also do some training with the teams on how to prepare the house and [offer] safety tips.”

Still, even with volunteers, supplies and technical expertise at the ready, the question of who would identify homeowners in need of some paint sprucing-up still remained.

Enter the Community Action of Southeast Iowa, which stepped in by helping Two Rivers Bank & Trust establish eligibility criteria, focusing on a prospective homeowner’s age, income and health status. The nonprofit and bank created an application form, although in many cases, local churches or friends and relatives of worthy homeowners provided names.

An annual celebration

These days, roughly 40 applications are received each year, says Sharon Ford, Community Action’s executive director. “The Paint-A-Thon helps homeowners stay in their home longer,” she adds. “It keeps the home functional for them for years.”

Two Rivers Bank & Trust assigned one of its employees as project coordinator: Jim O’Neill, the bank’s vice president of public relations, oversees hundreds of project details—not to mention channeling everyone’s pride, excitement and appreciation into a meaningful endeavor.

Every year, the project starts on the Tuesday after Labor Day, then finishes by noon on the following Saturday, says Kent Gaudian, president of Two Rivers Bank & Trust. In the project’s early days, 25 houses were painted each year. Recently, that number was scaled back to a more manageable 16.

Roughly 20 to 30 volunteers scrape, prime and paint each house. Some years, nearly 50 bank employees have volunteered. A local radio station also conducts live interviews with volunteers on Saturday, and the newspaper publishes photos of the newly painted houses. To show its appreciation, the bank hosts a barbecue for all volunteers on Saturday.

So far, the number of applications the program receives every year isn’t shrinking. Neither has the community’s enthusiasm for the project. Hundreds of volunteers are still involved in different ways.

Because volunteers work at various companies, Gaudian says each participating company assigns a team leader who coordinates its own workers; last year the project had 28 team leaders. All team leaders attend two coordination meetings conducted by the bank.

Gaudian credits the project’s success not only to volunteers, but also to its community partners. “We all have our own little piece of the action,” he explains. “Diamond Vogel decides the paint type and texture. Community Action has the expertise of helping us qualify people. We’re the marketing arm and organizer of volunteers, trying to keep them all on task.”

Still, Gaudian offers one more bit of advice to community bankers who want to implement a similar project: Expect to get a little teary-eyed. Homeowners and volunteers often do when team leaders walk homeowners around their freshly painted house.

“One of the preachers called this, ‘Putting Faith in Action,’” adds Olson at Two Rivers Financial Group. “We’re just very pleased to be a part of a partnership that helps facilitate this kind of outcome for the community.” 

Carol Patton is a writer in Las Vegas, Nev.