Rod Geist is vice president and investment program manager for the Old Town Clovis branch of Central Valley Community Bank. Active in community activities, he also serves as co-chair of the Clovis Chamber of Commerce Chamber Gives Back committee.
Geist began his banking career in 1984, in the sales division of a local savings and loan. His early career focused on business development selling everything from deferred compensation plans to annuities and mutual funds. Geist’s Central Valley Community Bank career has spanned 19 years, including a short stint in the compliance and audit department, then as a branch manager where he was responsible for developing deposit and lending relationships with small businesses.
In 2016, he took on a new challenge accepting the newly created position of investment program manager, developing the investment sales team for the bank and overseeing a variety of training initiatives.
Turning 50 a few years ago, Geist was given a surprise birthday party by his wife, Kim, while he was reading to first-grade students at Sierra Elementary school, providing much needed special attention to books. Not only did she bring cookies, punch, hats, whistles and other goodies, she had also purchased and wrapped a new book for every student in the class. Jeanette Erickson, the class teacher, told Geist that for many of her students it would be the first book they could call their own. Ever since, Geist has celebrated his birthday reading to school children as his way of giving back to the community.
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Q (Sheldon Baker): How did the Chamber Gives Back program start?
A (Rod Geist): Former chair Rick Snow decided to continue the Chamber’s focus on giving by becoming an official sponsor of the Marjaree Mason Center that was to be built in Clovis. Hooked on Books had already been launched and become a functioning part of the organization. We thought it was appropriate to call our entire community engagement program Chamber Gives Back. It covers the current giving initiatives the Chamber supports and is broad enough to include any future projects we may choose to undertake.
Q: How did you decide to develop the Hooked on Books program?
A: In 2011, I attended a business symposium sponsored by Fresno Pacific University. The featured speaker was Blake Mycoskie, the founder and chief shoe giver of TOMS shoe company. He spoke about how important it was to create a culture of giving within any organization, especially a for-profit business. I was slated to be the chair of the Clovis Chamber board in the upcoming year and I decided that developing a culture of giving within the Chamber would be my strategic initiative during my tenure. The program would start with giving a new book to every student in the two elementary schools in the downtown Clovis area – Sierra Vista and Weldon. The program was launched and as of December 2016, we have distributed approximately 4,500 books to seven Title 1 elementary schools in the Clovis Unified School District.
Q: Why does the Chamber, a business organization, sponsor a program for children?
A: We are chartered to support the growth and development of local businesses, but also commit our time and resources on charitable activities such as Hooked on Books. I suppose there are several valid reasons, but only one that really matters. Ask any Chamber member who has been to a book distribution and they will give you the answer. It is truly an amazing experience to see the joy on a child’s face as you hand them a new book. Add to that the incredible excitement that fills the room when 500 to 600 kids are experiencing that same joy and you can begin to imagine how the book-giver feels. If you do it once you will want to do it again. It is a fantastic feeling. In fact, I have had several board members tell me that they feel Hooked on Books is one of the best programs the Chamber offers.
Q: How do you hope to achieve the program’s goals?
A: One of the questions the Chamber’s board continues to address is how to attract new members and add value to their membership. Personally, I think people, including business owners, are looking for a way to give back to the community and if their membership offers that opportunity then Chamber involvement becomes so much more than a plaque on the wall or a marketing tool. I would like to see the Chamber increase the visibility of our support of the Hooked on Books program and Marjaree Mason Center and use the Chamber Gives Back as a way to attract new members as well as engage current members.
Q: Is there a vision for ongoing programs?
A: I would like to see our programs expand. This year I hope to bring the Leadership Clovis Scholarship Fund under Chamber Gives Back guidance. The scholarship program was created by the 2008 Leadership Clovis class. The class raised funds and created an endowment with the State Center Community College Foundation to grant scholarships to students who have demonstrated leadership qualities at Clovis Community College. I also hope that we will become a sponsor for the new library coming to Clovis. We have already discussed the possibility of a Hooked on Books reading nook. These programs can have great appeal to Chamber members and the community-at-large if we promote them properly. Furthermore, we have discussed membership sponsorships connected to an event.
Q: Do you accept financial or in-kind gifts for Hooked on Books?
A: Yes. Hooked on Books presents a new book to each student, but we also accept used books for use in the school libraries and to support other community placement. We have been fortunate that Barnes and Noble has become a Chamber member and a huge supporter of the Hooked on Books program. They are a great example of the potential draw these programs can have for prospective members. But membership is not required to contribute books or monetary funding to purchase books or material goods that can be used by Marjaree Mason Center.
Q: Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.
A: My guess is that most people don’t know that I’ve cut a record album or have a master’s degree in theology. I’m sure they have no idea I live with leukemia or am a beginning blogger. And all too often, someone refers to me as “Super Geist.” It’s a title a class of kids gave me one year and, at least in the Hooked on Books world, it has stuck.
Q: What makes you laugh?
A: The most important things in my life are my wife Kim, son Josh, daughter-in-law Megan, and grandson, Henry. They are the ones who make me laugh and fill my world with happiness. Brian Regan, stand-up comedian, is very funny too.
Sheldon C. Baker is chief executive officer for Clovis-based Baker Dillon Group and has created numerous brand marketing and public relations campaigns for companies and brands. For Q&A interview consideration, email SBaker@BakerDillon.com.