Interview conducted by Kayla Murphy, Marketing Officer
Ellen Schreiber is a woman on the move. You may have heard her name or seen her around town during the rebuilding of Joey’s Park or fundraising for the Underwood Pool. A true community leader and “serial volunteer” (to use her words), Ellen has earned the respect of all who work with her, including the Belmont Savings team. This is our chance to honor her and highlight some of her work.
Ellen grew up in Nashville, TN, and came to the Boston area to attend Harvard University. She continues to enjoy a diverse career in non-profits as a founder, development director, marketing director, and finance director, and also in high tech as a software engineer and engineering manager. She has lived in Belmont since 1996, where she and her husband have children attending Winn Brook Elementary School and Chenery Middle School. Her passion for non-profit projects that enhance our community led Ellen to serve as president of Belmont KidSpace, as co-president of Winn Brook PTA, and as co-chair of the Joey’s Park rebuild, just to name a few of her credits.
- What encouraged you to become so involved in the Belmont community?
I describe myself as a “serial volunteer.” I see something that needs doing, and my first instinct is to jump in and help. I believe strongly in giving back to the community that gives me so much, a lesson I learned from my parents, and one that I want to pass on to my children. Along the way, I’ve met a bunch of great people and learned lots of new things. And frankly, I enjoy it!
- The rebuilding of Joey’s Park was a major community event. What motivated the town’s major response? How did you get involved?
I was co-president of the Winn Brook PTA when the safety issues at Joey’s Park emerged, and I agreed to take a leadership role in the solution. I knew the project could use my background in fundraising, communications and project management, in partnership with the design and project management skills of my co-chair, Belmont architect Diane Miller. But we were only two people. We led a steering committee of 25 co-chairs of subcommittees who made great decisions and rallied the troops for two years to get the job done.
I believe Belmont residents responded so enthusiastically because of the special place Joey’s Park holds in their hearts. The playground is named for a very special boy, Joey O’Donnell, who lost his battle with cystic fibrosis at the age of 12. In his memory, over 1,000 residents came together in 1989 to build the playground in a huge barn-raising, which gave each person a tangible interest in the park. And finally, generations of children played on its one-of-a-kind structure over 24 years. As stewards of this special resource, we were careful to keep the community involved throughout the process, and the community responded.
- Why did you become involved with the Underwood Pool Building Committee?
There are three places in Belmont where I have watched my children grow up: Joey’s Park, the Viglirolo Rink, and the Underwood Pool. As soon as the decision was made to form a building committee, I volunteered to serve. The pool was a lifesaver for me when my children were very young. It is the place where I met my friends and where our children all played together. And my children have continued to play at the pool every summer, although it was very painful when the diving board was removed. When it became clear that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health planned to close down the pool, I couldn’t imagine Belmont without the Underwood Pool. The work needed to be done, and I felt I had skills that would be useful.
- You and the UPBC team were faced with the challenge of raising $400,000 to complete the funding for the Underwood Pool after an unfortunate series of events. How did you tackle this challenge? Why was it important to save the pool?
I cannot lie. It was very daunting when we learned that we had just a few weeks to raise almost $400,000, and I wasn’t at all sure we would succeed. One of our first phone calls led to a meeting with Bob Mahoney and Hal Tovin at Belmont Savings Bank. After an overnight meeting with the board, the bank’s foundation made a pledge of $200,000 in a matching grant. This donation was a complete game changer. It infused the fundraising project with optimism, and it encouraged the rest of the community to get involved. Through letters, email, phone calls, press articles and signage, we reached out to the entire community, and over 450 people and businesses responded with donations from $5 to $25,000 in a little over 3 weeks.
The Underwood Pool fundraising project was a truly remarkable community collaboration, which underscores the importance of the pool in our community. It’s not just a place to cool off, or a place for swimming lessons, or a place to exercise. I see the Underwood Pool as an outdoor community center, a place where everyone can come together to share time in the summer. The Underwood Pool is a “public” pool in the very best sense, and from the fond memories I heard during this project, Belmont residents share my feelings.
- What role do community partners play in your projects?
No large-scale project would be possible without community partners. The success of the Underwood Pool fundraising project was made possible by the $200,000 matching grant from the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation. The 2,000 person Joey’s Park community build was made possible by the 30+ organizations who sent huge teams of volunteers to build the playground. It is impractical to reach each Belmont resident directly. We all succeed when we work together and support the good work of all of the organizations in our community, and Belmont is much stronger as a result.
- How do you manage your daily schedule between community projects, family, and other activities?
It’s not easy. I work part-time, volunteer a lot, shuttle kids around town, cook meals, etc. Sometimes, the balance is hard to achieve, and I’ve learned how to ask for help from friends. As much as possible, I try to involve my children in my projects. Of course, they raked mulch at Joey’s Park, but they also sat on my lap as we discussed design and fundraising. I want them to understand that community service isn’t an “activity,” it’s a commitment you make to being part of a community. Occasionally, it gets overwhelming, but we make it work.
- What accomplishment are you most proud of in the community?
I don’t think “accomplishment” is the right word. I’m proud to be part of this community. I take on my share of projects, but I’m grateful to all of the parents who coach my kids’ teams, who serve on town boards, who jump in to help when asked for financial or volunteer support. We can’t all do everything, but it seems to me that we each do what we can. And I’m most proud to be a part of that.
- What project are you still looking to take on and complete?
There are always so many things that need doing. Sometimes I think I never met a project I didn’t like. Most recently, I’ve volunteered to serve on Belmont’s Warrant Committee, the financial advisory committee for Town Meeting, and I look forward to playing a more active role in town governance. But I continue to have a very deep interest in the organizations and resources that facilitate community building, so you never know what the future holds.
- What would be your advice to anyone looking to become more involved in community projects?
Speak up, and don’t be afraid. I have gotten so much more from my projects than I’ve ever given. All you need to do is walk in and express an interest. Tell people what you are thinking and feeling, and they’ll respond with support and gratitude. Volunteer with friends, or meet new friends along the way. You can decide whether to do a little or a lot. You’ll never regret it.
This blog post is the opinion of Belmont Savings Bank and is not to be taken as financial or investment advice. For personal financial advice, please consult a financial advisor.