CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the summer of 2003, Stephanie Johnson received an e-blast through the internal volunteer network at Bank of America, looking for employees to volunteer for either of two agencies that were providing training in financial-management skills for low-income people.
After opting to take part in the program through Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont, Johnson soon became a regular volunteer at the agency, where has volunteered ever since.
This spring, Goodwill named Johnson its volunteer of the year, citing her contribution of over 250 volunteer hours over nearly eight years.
“Stephanie is passionate about financial literacy, and has made it her mission to provide money-management education to hundreds of students in Goodwill’s occupational-skills training classes,” says Michael Elder, the agency’s president and CEO.
When Johnson started working at Bank of America in 1989, she says, she quickly found that “volunteerism and giving back to the community” were important values championed by then-CEO Hugh McColl.
“It was part of the culture of the company,” she says “and still continues today.”
That corporate culture simply reinforced lessons she had learned growing up in Greer, S.C., where she would accompany her grandmother, a volunteer who delivered meals once a week for Meals on Wheels.
“I always remember how the folks would smile when she would come in,” says Johnson, a change consultant in enterprise capability, quality and change delivery for Bank of America. “It wasn’t just about dropping off the meals and leaving. She would take a few minutes and talk with them and see how their day was.”
The experience, she says, “left an impression of how even one person can make a difference in some else’s life.”
At Goodwill, Johnson devotes about an hour to 90 minutes a week for 20 to 25 weeks a year teaching occupational-skills training classes that focus on financial management.
Topics include budgeting and saving, credit reports, borrowing and home ownership.
And classes, which average about 40 students, have grown in size in the face of the collapse of the economy two-and-half years ago.
Johnson says teaching the classes have helped her better appreciate the importance of financial education, “even something as basic as keeping a budget and understanding I should be in control of my money and not my money in control of me.”
The experience also has helped her understand that “it’s important that we all help one another to improve our lives and to be able to build that wealth and move forward.”
Bank of America lets employees volunteer two hours a week on paid time, a policy that Johnson says gives her the flexibility to schedule her volunteering around her work schedule.
“That definitely helps in the success of my being able to be such a long-time volunteer,” she says.
She also has tried to pass on to her daughters, ages eight and 12, the lessons in giving back she learned from her grandmother.
Both daughters have attended some of the financial-management classes Johnson teaches through Goodwill, she says, concluding the classes were “pretty cool.”
Her older daughter has volunteered to sort food at Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, and both daughters have volunteered as dog handlers for adoption fairs at Project H.A.L.O.
Volunteering “keeps you very much aware of how your life and someone else’s life can change, and how having help from someone else, from an organization, can really make a difference.”