Tensions between southeast Asian and Latino youths in Lowell spilled over into gun violence in the mid-1990s, prompting local minority leaders to search for solutions.
Richard Chavez was among those who saw education as a way to break the cycle. Chavez was a founding board member of the Lowell Community Charter Public School, which opened in 2000 with the goal of creating common ground for youngsters of disparate backgrounds.
Chavez now chairs the fundraising board for the 800-student school serving pre-kindergarten through eighth grades. Approximately 95 percent of the enrollment comes from the local minority community, and 75 percent of students live in English-as-a-second language households.
Both of Chavez’s children have attended the school, and he’s watched with satisfaction as high-performing graduates went on to receive full college scholarships.
“The school is doing really well,” he said. “It has a huge waiting list and has been a top school for the last four or five years.”
In his role as a lending executive at Enterprise Bank, Chavez is a natural fit to strengthen ties to diverse Merrimack Valley communities. A native of Ecuador whose family moved to the U.S. when he was 15, Chavez is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. That meshes well with his clients, up to 60 percent of whom are non-native English speakers.
Beyond bridging the language gap, Chavez addresses cultural differences that can complicate banking relationships.
In developing nations, “a very successful bank could be open today and closed tomorrow,” he said. “There has always been a mistrust: ‘Can it happen the same way it happened in Argentina or Brazil?’ It’s about letting them know that the government guarantees those funds if they make a deposit.”
And as a volunteer for Lowell-based economic development group EforAll, Chavez has taught classes for Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs and judged the group’s business competitions.
A former credit analyst at First Essex Bank, Chavez joined Enterprise Bank in 2007 as vice president of commercial lending. He averages 100 to 120 loans per year, tops within the organization.
Chavez has also been active at the Merrimack Valley Small Business Center for nearly two decades. The organization helps entrepreneurs with business plans and partners with the Small Business Administration to provide loans from as little as $500 to $40,000 for business expenses to keep fledgling enterprises afloat.
“We take off our bankers’ hats and become community lenders. We understand people go through their struggles,” he said.
That’s an approach he seeks to encourage among Enterprise Bank’s entire lending team, although Chavez says he tries to lead through quiet example. Most of the junior lenders start out at Enterprise Bank’s Lowell headquarters and focus on the city before branching out to other markets.
“Mainly what I’ve done is make myself accessible, taking them with me when I go on customer visits,” he said. “They see what works for some people and develop their own approach.”