Last year, organizers of a Tennessee start-up promised it would support the community. Now they are proving it.

A tornado ripped through Clarksville in January, destroying historic buildings along an eight-block path and knocking out power. The storm did $10 million in damage at a local university alone.

Now three-month old Legends Bank, whose office is just a block from the destruction, is lending a hand.

The $19 million-asset bank is helping to connect some storm victims with government grants and assistance, and is working with others who need help with their insurers. For those without insurance and ineligible for government help, Legends is offering discounted rates on loans and waiving origination fees.

"I know firsthand that response time can be quicker for community banks," said Billy Atkins, Legends' president, who founded the bank after years of running the Clarksville operations of Nashville-based First American Corp.

He said bigger banks "do what they can, but we know the people better.

"We feel good about the bank and the support we have gotten," Mr. Atkins said. "Now, we are giving some of that support back."

Hoping to curb a rash of bank robberies in the Omaha area, the Nebraska Bankers Association is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the robbers.

The trade group has raised $50,000 for the reward fund. Banks and credit unions in the area were robbed 78 times in 1998-three times as much as in 1997.

"Knowing the reward is out there makes people more likely to turn in a neighbor or a boyfriend or someone else," said Joni Sundquist, a spokeswoman for the association.

Bankers are publicizing the reward with posters in their lobbies and near teller windows. Law enforcement officials have posted the same signs in local jails to pass the message on to criminals.

Since the fund was announced last month, no rewards have been paid, but only four banks have been robbed. Larry Holmquist, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Omaha, said it is too early to tell whether the reward money is deterring robberies. Similar programs in Minneapolis and Los Angeles, however, seem to be working.

"Informants are more than willing to turn people in for a small amount of money," he said. -- Laura Pavlenko Lutton

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