WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- For more than two years, Orlando Gonzalez traded the comforts that come with American living to volunteer for the Peace Corps in Costa Rica.
Gonzalez, who joined The Westchester Bank in December as Assistant Vice President for Commercial Lending, lived with his wife Melissa in a Costa Rican town that constantly lacked electricity and running water. They taught English and math, built a computer center and a community center to host town meetings, fundraisers, dances and town functions. Orlando said that “community development” was the official job description, but the 27-month stay entailed everything from digging trenches to building construction.
“We joined the Peace Corps as newlyweds,’’ Gonzalez said. “Melissa and I are both community minded and figured everyone should do their civic duty. We delayed joining the workforce in order to experience the Peace Corps.” Gonzalez and his wife were assigned to a small farming community. At the time, very few residents of the village had computer skills. “We were teaching farmers about computers,’’ he said. “It was really eye-opening.”
Melissa and Orlando also faced a challenge in Costa Rica in erasing gender boundaries associated with certain tasks. “In some Latin American places, there’s a sort of machismo,’’ Orlando said. “There are very distinct gender roles. We made sure that when Melissa had her women’s community group visiting her, I would be doing household chores such as cooking and cleaning. We then made sure she did chores that were typically associated with men. She would be digging trenches right there with us. We tried to show the community how it would be done back home.”
Gonzalez returned to New York where he began his career in banking. He figured he would spend his entire career with a national bank -- until former colleagues now working at The Westchester Bank urged him to consider joining their team.
“Any time we’d talk, they had the best things to say about the Bank,’’ Gonzalez said. Initially rebuffing his friends requests to meet TWB President and CEO John Tolomer, he finally agreed to a meeting where Gonzalez came away impressed. “It was not something I could turn down,’’ Gonzalez said. “It just felt right and since arriving it’s been everything that was promised … and more.”
Now he’s found a community bank that has been very rewarding to go along with a special appreciation of challenges some people face in other parts of the world. “I wore a suit two times while I was in Costa Rica,’’ Gonzalez said. “We’re forever grateful for our Peace Corps experience. But coming back to New York was a great blessing, and helped us realize all the things that are so great about it.”