Florence Bank Honors 11 People For Community Service, Grants $5,500 To 11 Nonprofits

Luke spent six weeks in intensive care, suffered seizures, and barely survived the damage to his ventricles and brain. Luke spent 15 months living in a hospital and recovered slowly. Now, he is in remission once again, and just completed his freshman year of high school. Clearly impacted by the trauma of Luke’s illness, his family founded a nonprofit, called LukeStronger Inc., to offer financial relief to other families with a child battling cancer.

“We were blessed to have so many people help us as we went through this fight, so this foundation is our way of giving back,” Gayle Bradley said.

In May, the LukeStronger fund received a $500 boost after Gayle Bradley was named one of 11 Florence Bank Community Champions. As part of its Community Champions Sweepstakes program, the bank offered each of the 11 champions a $500 grant to be donated to a nonprofit of their choice.

Bradley chose LukeStronger; all funds raised by the organization this year will support the family of 3-year-old Surai Gomez, who is battling high-risk neuroblastoma. Bradley was nominated for the Community Champion award by Florence Bank customer Jessica Randall of Granby.

In all, 218 nominations were cast at Florence Bank’s 11 branches for 11 champions, and Florence Bank granted a total of $5,500 to 11 nonprofits in Hampshire and Hampden counties, and beyond.

As part of the sweepstakes, customers in each branch were invited to cast one vote in their neighborhood branch for a person in their community who goes above and beyond to ensure that residents are safe, healthy, and happy. Voting took place from April 15 through May 6. Winners were selected at random from all the nominees in each branch. The winners had the privilege of selecting an area nonprofit to receive a $500 grant.

Bradley was nominated in the Granby branch. The following are the other 10 branch champions and the nonprofits they chose to support with the $500 grant: Springfield: Myles Callender, Revitalize Community Development Corp.; West Springfield: Allen Howard, Shriners Hospitals for Children – Springfield; Belchertown: Jim Phaneuf, the Jimmy Fund; Amherst: Naz Mohamed, who split the award evenly between Amherst Community Connections, Amherst Survival Center, and the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership; Hadley, Gary Glenn, Newman Catholic Center at UMass Amherst; King Street, Northampton: Jane Lyons, Friends of Children; downtown Northampton: Diane Porcella, Northampton Neighbors; Easthampton: Robin Bialecki, Easthampton Community Center; Florence: Jacob Fine, Pioneer Valley Workers Center; and Williamsburg: Sue Labrie, Goshen Firefighters Assoc.

Labrie was the champion recognized by the Williamsburg branch, where she received nearly 30 different nominations. The grant to the Goshen Firefighters Assoc. will support ongoing efforts, including fire-safety education, a topic she is passionate about.

Labrie began teaching fire-safety lessons through the SAFE (Student Awareness of Fire Education) program more than 20 years ago to students at the old Goshen Center School. Over the years, she expanded the program so that children from preschool through grade 6 at New Hingham Regional Elementary School, serving Goshen and Chesterfield, can receive fire- and life-safety education five times throughout each school year. She also teaches fire- and life-safety lessons to Goshen’s senior citizens.

This January, her efforts were credited by a family in Goshen with saving their lives. With temperatures in the teens, Jess and Phil Judd of Goshen put their knowledge to work when a fire in their home blazed out of control. The Judds, with their four young sons, were awakened by smoke alarms and escaped their burning home with only the clothes on their backs.

Firefighters said the family’s quick response was due to them having a prepared family home-escape plan that helped them get out in a matter of minutes. Labrie believed that, if the home did not have working smoke alarms, the headlines would have been tragic.

“The Judds’ story really impacted me and the Goshen Fire Department not only because they’re a family we know and love, but because sometimes you just don’t know if you truly reach people when teaching these programs,” Labrie said. “Houses can be replaced; people can’t. This is why we teach children as young as preschool and keep reinforcing the messages and skills throughout elementary school.”

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