Vice President – Change Maker – Community Leader
When Paola Fernandez was just 12 years old, she and her family immigrated from Argentina to America in hopes of a better life. The pre-teen was distraught about leaving her familiar surroundings and native country, but soon learned the struggle to leave wasn’t as difficult as the struggle an immigrant family must endure trying to navigate life in America.
Paola and her family received support from friends and family members, who made sure her family’s basic needs were met. They also received assistance navigating the systems that would allow them to succeed and thrive in America.
Through her experiences Paola learned that many in the BIPOC community didn’t have the support and assistance she and her family had received and were so grateful for.
Inspired by her own experiences, Paola made it her mission to help transform lives and ensure others have access and opportunities needed to grow and prosper. A graduate of Johnson & Wales University, Paola Fernandez is passionate about lifting families and communities. She has spent her career working tirelessly to strengthen and improve Rhode Island’s BIPOC communities and the lives of the state’s most vulnerable residents.
In her leadership role as the vice president of community development at Centreville Bank, Paola has been charged with developing the bank’s long-term community engagement and giving program in Rhode Island and Connecticut. With a lens focused on minority communities in her approach, she has successfully built and leveraged relationships to support underserved communities directing multi-million-dollar investments from the charitable foundation dedicated to initiatives that will improve people’s lives.
Paola also oversees the bank’s employee volunteerism and Corporate social Responsibility Program.
As the former director of public policy and government relations at the United Way of Rhode Island, she was instrumental in coordinating two successful ballot community advocacy campaigns that secured $75 million to support the development of affordable housing in R.I.
She is an active volunteer in the community who offers her experience and expertise to many organizations. Paola is passionate about helping young professionals advance their careers. She also effects positive change in her work as a senior fellow with the Institute for Nonprofit Practice and is a co-founder of the United Way of Rhode Island Young Leaders Circle, which engages young professionals in community giving and mentors rising community leaders.
Her efforts to help others have not gone unnoticed. Paola is a recipient of the Extraordinary Woman in Community Development Award, presented by the Women’s Development Institute of Rhode Island.
Why is the Papitto Opportunity Connection and its mission of bettering the BIPOC communities so important to you?
“We simply cannot succeed as a society without authentic representation and community voice at the forefront of investing. POC has made this a priority. The approach to community investment is not traditional. In pursuit of providing fair and just opportunities for the BIPOC community in Rhode Island, we are responding in real time to many of the most urgent issues and centering our work around people who are most impacted by historical and systemic racism. Serving as an advisor to help dismantle inequities and a cycle that keeps minorities behind is an enormous responsibility and honor.”