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Deborah Williams: “Integrity is doing the right thing … even if no one is watching”

February 2013

Bankers have had to suffer through quite an image problem in recent years. The bail out of big banks with taxpayer money and the subsequent scrutiny of all things financial has many whispering their occupation in public and keeping a low profile. Not so for Harford County resident and Vice President of Business and Professional Banking at M&T Bank, Deborah Williams. Not about to be lumped in with her headline-grabbing counterparts, Williams is proud of the company she works for and what it and she does for the community it serves.

Deborah Williams, M&T Bank

Deborah Williams
Vice President
Business & Professional Banking, M & T Bank

“At M&T Bank, we recognize that our corporate success is directly related to the health and vitality of the communities we serve,” explains Williams. “So, as a corporate citizen, we believe in providing resources to not-for-profit organizations that make our communities better places to live and work.

“Through our philanthropic arm, The M&T Charitable Foundation, we support a diverse range of civic, cultural, health and human service organizations with financial grants, employee volunteerism and in-kind services. Doing this kind of community work has provided me an affiliation with a network of women and men who work together for the betterment of our community and society as a whole. In short, it enabled me to meet a lot of people that I otherwise might never have crossed paths with.”

Born in Massachusetts, Williams’s family relocated to Harford County when she was just 4 years old. She moved away after graduating from Bel Air High School, but found her way back in 1991 and has been here ever since. “One of my first experiences volunteering was when I was in high school going to Perry Point Hospital and working with the veterans,” Williams recalls. “I also volunteered with Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and the March of Dimes before settling into the organizations in and around Harford County.”

Williams works with an array of organizations providing help to the community in various forms including direct giving, economic stabilization and service support. She serves in a board member capacity for foundations like Upper Chesapeake Health and Harford Community College and as a committee member for Arc Northern Chesapeake-After D’Arc and the Greater Harford Committee among others. Williams points out, “I try to choose organizations whose mission I believe in. Quite often, this lends itself to helping those less fortunate. I always try to remember that there by the grace of God go I. I also like to work with organizations that are striving to provide the tools necessary to make people self-sufficient and independent.” While all the work done by local non-profits and agencies is to be commended, it’s not surprising that a few have managed to sneak into Williams’s heart. “I enjoy my affiliation with all of the organizations that I am associated with and feel that they all do stellar work in the community,” Williams assures. “That said I do have a soft spot for one or two. The Bel Air Rotary is a wonderful group of people that try, on a consistent basis, to help their community. With a motto of ‘Service Above Self,’ the Rotary looks for ways to quietly help organizations within our community. For example, raising money to award annual scholarships for high school seniors, working at the homeless shelter, bell ringing for the Salvation Army, the pantry project at SARC, providing dictionaries to Harford County third graders, aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy, helping an Eagle Scout raise funds to build a playground at an orphanage in Russia as well as supporting initiatives of Rotary International mostly widely known for its work in eradicating polio worldwide. I treasure my association with this group and its members, many of whom I consider friends.”

Williams’s Community InvolvementHarford Community College Foundation
Board – Vice ChairBel Air Rotary – President Elect

Upper Chesapeake Health Foundation Board

Harford County Chamber of Commerce Board

Harford County Economic Development
Advisory Board

Harford United Charities Board

Women’s Giving Circle

Arc Northern Chesapeake/
After D’Arc committee

Greater Harford Committee

Bel Air Alliance

Harford County Community Action Agency

Harford Leadership Academy Alumni – Ambassador

Many of the projects Williams contributes to involve large fundraising efforts. However, it is often the smaller, more personal moments that resonate with the busy professional. “There are several and most occur when you feel that you’ve made a difference or touched a life even if for only a brief moment,” admits Williams. “I enjoyed being a ‘big sister’ for an elementary school student. Every week when I went to the school to visit her, I felt that I was making a small difference in her life. One year a group of local women hosted some female clients from SARC (Safety-Awareness-Resource-Change). We spent the morning getting hair and nails done followed by a luncheon. Even though it was a small gesture, for a couple hours, these ladies were able to forget their situation and we were all just a bunch of girls hanging out together. Every time I go to the FCCAU (Faith Communities and Civic Agencies United) shelter and help prepare meals I am moved by the gratitude of the residents.”

One fundraising project that required a different sort of skill for Williams was raising money for the Center for the Arts in 2011. In a hat tip to the popular “Dancing with the Stars” reality competition show, the “Dancing for the Arts” contest pits local “celebrities” against each other in a race to raise the most money. At the annual fall gala, the celebrities then deliver a prepared performance with a professional dancer from Churchville-based Dancing with Friends. Was convincing the professional banker to unveil her inner Ginger Rogers difficult? “It was not a tough sell,” admits Williams. “Several of my friends had participated, and I never heard a single person say they regretted it. In addition, I love the arts and being able to help try to build a Center here in Harford County made the proposition that much more attractive. Despite being a little fearful of embarrassing myself, I have to say I absolutely loved every minute of the experience. The people at Dancing with Friends were wonderful to work with and it was fun pushing myself outside my comfort zone. Unfortunately, I am not still dancing. It’s one of the things that I keep saying I’m going to go back to because it was so much fun, and I felt great while I was involved.”

Williams may not see herself as a professional dancer any time in the future, but she is seen as a true role model for women in the County. In 2005, Williams won the coveted ATHENA Award presented to a woman who personifies a high level of excellence in her business or profession, has devoted time and energy to the community in a meaningful way, and has opened doors of leadership opportunity for other women. “Winning the ATHENA Award was a very special time for me for several reasons,” Williams remembers. “Being recognized in that company gave me validation that I was making and could continue to make a difference in my community. Overall the award encourages women to mentor and get involved in their community, and I was proud to be a part of that message. On the personal side it was a very special day because my mom and my son, along with a bunch of my friends, attended to show their support.”

Williams continues that dedicated focus with her participation in the Women’s Giving Circle of Harford County. As a founding member of the group, the Women’s Giving Circle of Harford County is now in its third year of providing grants to assist a wide range of organizations, whose programs benefit women, children, and/or families. “I think the WGC is special because it’s all about women helping women,” says Williams. “Its main goals are to make a difference in Harford County by contribution of time, talents, and financial resources to women and family needs and educate and increase awareness of local needs. It appeals to a diverse group and provides support for a variety of organizations through its grants. You can be as active as you want, but at the end of the day you know that the organization and the work it does has made a difference in the lives of women and their families here in Harford County.”

What does Williams want people to take away from her philanthropic efforts? “I think I serve as an example that everyone has something to offer and everyone can make a difference. It’s not always about writing a big check. Sometimes, it’s offering your time and talent.” I95

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