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Volunteer honored by Goodwill Industries International

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Cheryl Keller

Cheryl Keller

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Five hundred employees of Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont have completed training in financial literacy through a partnership with Charlotte Saves.

Forty-one Goodwill employees have participated in an emergency-loan program Central Carolina Federal Credit Union created in partnership with Goodwill.

And 150 Goodwill employees, many of whom never had a checking account, have opened credit-union accounts.

All that activity grew out of a Goodwill initiative spearheaded by volunteer Cheryl Keller, a retired Bank of America executive who recently was named volunteer leader of the year by Goodwill Industries International.

Keller, a Charlotte native who retired in 2007 after a 27-year career with Bank of America, says her impulse to volunteer was rooted in her experience at church as a child, and from the corporate culture at Bank of America.

“Our philosophy was, it’s not just about our customers but our community, and it’s all related, customers are part of the community,” says Keller, whose roles at Bank of America included marketing, risk management, middle-market business lending, public-utility finance and information technology.

In the late 1980s, through lists the bank circulated to executives promoting opportunities to volunteer or serve on nonprofit boards, Keller joined the Goodwill board and initially served on its finance committee.

“It’s a good way to begin understanding exactly what an agency does, and a good way to see the values of an agency,” says Keller, who served in a broad range of board roles, including board chair.

After she retired from the bank as chief information officer for staff support, Goodwill CEO Michael Elder asked her to head up a special project for the agency, which provides training and employment services for individuals facing barriers to employment, such as a lack of skills, experience or education.

The goal of the project was to “rethink what’s the nature of the services we need to be providing to the people who use our services, who are predominantly poor, and many of them have fairly significant barriers to employment,” Keller says.

Assessing Goodwill’s services from its belief that “strong families make for strong communities,” she says, she began working with Goodwill staff members and began analyzing the organization’s own employment practices.

The group quickly expanded its thinking to include not just Goodwill clients but also their families, and also found that many Goodwill employees, like its clients, were “living on the margin,” and had “never had training or exposure on how to manage their cash,” Keller says.

Those insights led to development of Goodwill’s “Family Strengthening Program,” including the financial-literacy training provided by Charlotte Saves, and the affordable-loan program offered by Central Carolina Federal Credit Union.

Keller, who also created an e-mentoring program at the New Technology High School now managed by two volunteers from Bank of America, and also mentors two students there, says volunteering is a “source of joy.”

Volunteering, she says, gives her “a sense of being thrilled to be part of somebody else’s life and being a positive contributor and participant in their life.”

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