Updated March 26 at 6:25pm

Five Questions With: Kathy O’Donnell

Senior vice president and director of public affairs for RBS Citizens Financial Group talks about the Gear for Grades program.

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Five Questions With: Kathy O’Donnell


Kathy O’Donnell is senior vice president, director of public affairs for RBS Citizens Financial Group Inc. O’Donnell works with local public affairs teams throughout the company’s 12-state retail footprint. She manages Citizens Bank’s and Charter One’s charitable contributions, philanthropic activities, community outreach and sponsorships.

PBN: What is the Gear for Grades program?

O’DONNELL: Gear for Grades is a program that we created in Rhode Island that allows us to partner with our customers and the community to help children go back to school with the gear they need to learn. New pencils, folders, glue, notebooks and other school supplies may be donated at any Citizens Bank branch in Rhode Island from July 23 to Aug. 10. In addition, the Citizens Bank Foundation is granting $30,000 to support 14,000 logo-free backpacks for local children in need. This year, Gear for Grades will provide more than 37,000 backpacks to children across the Citizens footprint, surpassing 200,000 backpacks distributed since the program started in 2003.

PBN: Why is it an important program?

O’DONNELL: Every child deserves to start the school year on an even playing field with other children. The Gear for Grades program ensures that local students have a new backpack and school supplies so they are prepared for a successful learning experience. According to a National Retail Federation survey, the average American family spent $603 in 2011 on back-to-school expenses. For some families, the cost of even basic school supplies can be a burden.

PBN: What are the elements of this program?

O’DONNELL: We encourage our customers, colleagues and members of the community to participate by donating new school supplies at local Citizens Bank branches through Aug. 10.

Hundreds of volunteers from Citizens Bank and other local organizations will stuff 14,000 backpacks with school supplies at a “Backpack-a-thon” on July 28 at the Providence School Department Central Supply Warehouse. [WPRO] 92PRO-FM will be on-site to help stuff backpacks and provide entertainment to the volunteers. Citizens Bank colleagues will then distribute backpacks to local students in need at back-to-school-celebrations at 11 locations across Rhode Island.

PBN: How can families in need receive a backpack?

O’DONNELL: Families who are in need of backpacks should attend one of the 11 celebrations to be held across the state on Saturday, Aug. 18, from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Each event will include food, entertainment and educational information for students and their parents.

  • Hope High School, 324 Hope St., Providence

  • United Way, 50 Valley St., Providence

  • West End Community Center, 109 Bucklin St., Providence.

  • Nathanael Greene Middle School, 721 Chalkstone Ave. Providence.

  • Parent Information and Student Registration Center, 325 Ocean St., Providence.

  • Pawtucket Red Sox, McCoy Stadium, One Columbus Ave., Pawtucket.

  • Bernard F. Norton School, 364 Broad St., Cumberland.

  • Thundermist Health Center of West Warwick, 186 Providence St., Warwick.

  • CCRI Newport County Campus, One John H. Chaffee Blvd., Newport.

  • St. James Baptist Church, 340 South Main St., Woonsocket.

  • Veteran’s Memorial Elementary School, 150 Fuller Ave., Central Falls.

    PBN: Why is Citizens so involved in the community?

    O’DONNELL: A strong bank sits at the heart of a healthy community – giving loans to our neighbors, investing in local businesses, supporting local community initiatives, being responsible towards the environment and generally contributing to the health of the community. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to make an impact through programs like this.

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