Using her banking career as a platform from which to educate thousands of students in middle and high school, as well as countless banking clients, about the importance of financial literacy, Patricia Fulton-Lawrence of Freeport was one of 10 Long Island women recognized as a Women of Distinction by State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin.
“Today is dedicated to women within our vibrant community who consistently show up and strive to make a positive impact in their community,” Griffin said at her third annual ceremony on July 22, honoring women that are community leaders.
“I started with Citibank when I was 17,” Fulton-Lawrence said. “It was all about helping people, not just getting the house, getting the car, but how to survive—all the women who used to have their husbands do everything, and they didn’t have a clue as to where the money was or what went on. It was helping little old ladies, when they would lose their spouse, to learn how to balance a checkbook. So it’s everything. It’s important.”
Fulton-Lawrence noticed early in her career that, “When I was in banking and a branch manager, the men used to go play golf on Mondays, building relationships on the golf course, and the women stayed in the branches. So I said, there’s got to be a way for us to build relationships as well.”
Though she has since learned to play golf, Fulton-Lawrence’s approach was not to head for the links. “I started volunteering in Freeport Youth Outreach, Operation Get-Ahead, all these different programs that were youth-oriented because I like kids,” she said. “Then it was the Long Island Fund for Women and Girls for 25 years, the Long Island Heart Association —all the different organizations I partnered with to grow my business, to reach out to different communities, and overall to help women.”
But helping women was far from her only focus. Her outreach to middle and high school students equipped many young men for success as well. She is now known as the Bank Lady. It all started with Tiffany, the oldest of her four daughters.
“She was going off to college from Uniondale High School and said to me, ‘I have a checking account because you and Daddy [Roscoe Lawrence] are both bankers, and I understand banking and balancing a checkbook, but so many of my friends going off to college have no idea.’ She talked to her business teacher at the time and that’s how it started.”
Over the next decade, Fulton-Lawrence brought a Junior Achievement USA program called Finance Park to students in Uniondale, Elmont, Hempstead, and of course, Freeport.
“It was a life skills program where the teachers were educated prior to bringing the students into the class,” said Fulton-Lawrence. “Then each child was given an identity, an income, and a family status. They had to work within their income, from buying a car to getting car insurance to handling the electric bill to paying the gas bill. … They were so blown away by how much their parents did for them.”
Fulton-Lawrence recruited young men and women from St. John’s University and Nassau Community College to train as bank tellers. She brought them along to help her with Finance Park and other youth outreach programs.
“My accomplishment is that I’ve got a lot of young people who are very successful bankers who have worked for me,” she said, “and they still give back, they still are involved.”
Her appreciation for Freeport is evident. Her younger three daughters graduated from Freeport HIgh School. “I really think that they ground them and they give them such a strong foundation,” said Fulton-Lawrence, “and you know Ernie Kight, who we lost recently, he was just an inspiration.” So whenever she engages in another outreach, “I always try to bring it to Freeport first.”
One amusing success story involved a Freeporter who became quite famous. “I used to go in and speak to the New York Jet rookies at Hofstra,” she said. “I’d talk to them about financial literacy and one time when I went, D’brickashaw Ferguson, who‘s a Freeport kid, was a rookie. I said, ‘How many of you guys have checking accounts?’ And the Brick stood up in the back of the room and said, ‘Hey, Miss Pat, you opened mine.’ And that’s what it was about —getting them ready for college, getting them ready for their future.”
During her years of recruiting young people to work as tellers, Fulton-Lawrence came to a conclusion about students from diverse communities that might sound surprising.
“They were incredibly good at customer service,” she said. “They were outstanding, because they were used to different ethnicities, they were used to different accents, they were used to somebody being confused or whatever the case may be.”
One of her success stories is Enrique Parada, who started age 17 as a teller under Fulton-Lawrence in when she was a branch manager with Sterling National Bank in Valley Stream.
“With her mentoring,” Parada said, “I was able to apply for other positions and get promoted.” He is now a Vice President and Managing Director of Financial Centers for Sterling.
Fulton-Lawrence continues working with Freeport High School students. She is part of Freeport Cares and sits on the Educational Foundation Board as treasurer.
“So,” she smiled, “Freeport has me.”