It was an inspirational night in Newark Monday night at the fifth annual Great Oak Awards dinner. Friends and family gathered at NJPAC to celebrate the philanthropic efforts of three New Jersey companies and one individual–Newark native Ray Chambers, who was honored with the inaugural Catalyst Award for individual philanthropy.
The Great Oak Awards is presented in conjunction with presenting sponsors Berkeley College and Prudential Financial, and marketing partners Bank of America, Massey Quick Simon and NJ Sharing Network. The awards recognize New Jersey businesses and individuals for their work on behalf of social and charitable causes and nonprofits.
Catalyst Award winner and philanthropist Chambers is well known throughout Newark and beyond. Using the wealth he accumulated as the founder of a private equity firm, Chambers helped establish NJPAC and his family foundation adopted his former high school, West Side High, funding many of the school’s programs. Most notably, Chambers is the founder of Malaria No More, which has distributed more than a billion mosquito nets throughout sub-Saharan African nations. The UN estimates the program has saved close to 7 million lives. In his acceptance speech, Chambers said he didn’t start down this path for the accolades and attention. He was in pursuit of something else: Fulfillment.
“Growing up I thought if you had power, celebrity, fame, wealth, you’d be happy,” he said. “And for me, and so many others, that hadn’t been the case. I knew something was missing–that feeling of happiness that escapes you unless you can give it to someone else.”
Chambers spoke of the difficult times the nation has faced this past year, adding he believed that helping others would bring healing. Chambers ended his remarks by explaining a South African philosophy he learned from Nelson Mandela: Ubuntu, which translates to I am because we are.
“’The more I help others the happier I’ll be,’ has to be the new motto of this country,” he said.
Marketsmith, Inc., the small-company winner, was created after its founder, CEO Monica C. Smith, was fired from her previous job for coming out. Today, Marketsmith claims to be the largest female-owned marketing agency in the state, and dedicates time and resources to organizations that provide services to underserved communities. Smith and her wife, Amy, adopted the Camden Street Elementary School in Newark, supporting students through monetary donations and supplies. They also created the Bring Dinner Home program, a Thanksgiving celebration where Marketsmith employees serve dinner to families and give away hundreds of winter coats, books, diapers and grocery store gift cards.
“We’re often asked why we do what we do,” Smith told the NJPAC gathering. “We’ve been blessed and we like to share. Our job is not yet done, but we can lay our heads down tonight and know we did the right thing.”
Atlantic Stewardship Bank, the medium-company winner, has been serving Bergen, Passaic and Morris counties since 1985. Atlantic Stewardship Bank, or ASB, tithes 10 percent of its taxable income each year with nonprofit, educational, charitable and/or evangelical religious organizations. ASB holds Stewardship Days where employees volunteer at organizations the bank supports. Since its founding 33 years ago, ASB has given more than $10.1 million to nonprofits.
In accepting the award on behalf of ASB, President and CEO Paul Van Ostenbridge spoke about attending the Great Oak Awards as a nominee several years ago, and held up the large wooden he has used since then to motivate his staff as they strived for Great Oak Awards recognition.
“It’s so exciting to see so many corporations giving back,” he said.
Provident Bank, the large-company honoree, was founded 180 years ago. In 2003, it created the Provident Bank Foundation with the intent of supporting not-for-profit groups, institutions, schools and other organizations in the communities the bank serves. To date, the foundation has granted more than $23 million to about 2,000 organizations and institutions in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. “The purpose of our foundation is to keep our people engaged,” said President Chris Martin. “We live these values every day, it’s something we’re really proud of.”Click here to leave a comment