Growing up in rural Vermont, Jonathan Towslee wasn’t exposed to a lot of diversity.
But since launching a career in banking 10 years ago, Towslee has built relationships and thrived in some of Boston’s toughest neighborhoods.
After graduating with a degree in business administration in 1994 from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., Towslee began a career in telecommunications. As the telecom industry’s bubble burst, however, he found himself laid off three times in one year, and decided to try something new. A friend suggested banking.
During a seven-year stint with Citizens Bank, Towslee, 40, discovered he not only enjoys the business, but also the opportunity to become involved with the community he serves. When Citizens transferred him from Allston to an Uphams Corner branch in Dorchester, Towslee recalled, “People were like, ‘They’re going to eat you alive.’”
Instead, Towslee became immersed in the neighborhood’s Cape Verdean culture. He frequented local restaurants and made friends with local musicians and businesspeople.
“It ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” he said.
Three years ago, Towslee left Citizens for Mt. Washington Bank, a division of East Boston Savings Bank.
He started in the bank’s Codman Square branch in Dorchester, and currently manages its South End branch.
As a small bank, he said, “We don’t have the money to have commercial billboards. Our best advertising is if we treat each customer as the most important customer we have.”
That’s just what Towslee does, said the Rev. Joseph Baggetta, chaplain of the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services, a customer and friend.
“As far as the individual goes, you really feel like you’re the only one in the world,” Baggetta said. “He sits, listens and explains things.”
And in terms of community involvement, Baggetta said, Towslee “is a man of charity who puts actions over words.”
Towslee has been active in neighborhood development groups in Dorchester and the South End; he plays softball with an adult softball league and supports a local Little League baseball team.
He has conducted financial literacy classes for inmates at Suffolk County’s South Bay House of Corrections and for ex-offenders in the Future Hope Apprenticeship Program.
“Part of me always wanted to be a teacher,” he explained.
Towslee serves dinner to people with HIV and participates in AIDS Walk Boston.
“He does so many of these things on his own time and his own money,” Baggetta noted. “So, if he’s trying to raise money for an organization, it’s not just him coming to you looking for money: Like the AIDS walk, the first $100 is coming out of his pocket.”
Towslee epitomizes the definition of a community banker, Baggetta said.
“He kind of incorporates into the culture,” he commented. “That really makes a customer feel at home.”