"The time is always right to do what is right." -Martin Luther King Jr.
Twenty-five years ago, the third Monday of January was designated as an annual federal holiday to honor the life and legacy of Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King, Jr. While it means a day off of work or school for many, its purpose is to be “a day on,” where individuals and organizations volunteer their time and talents to improve their communities. A 112-year-old community bank with deep roots in Minnesota, BankCherokee is intentional about using MLK Day to do just that. The third-generation family-owned bank closes its four locations, gathers employees together, and they all spend the time learning, sharing information and volunteering.
This year, BankCherokee partnered with Minneapolis-based nonprofit Steller Kindness Project for an MLK-inspired service day. Founder Katie Steller started her first business, Steller Hair Company, in 2013. From day one her commitment to serving the community has gone beyond making clients feel valued and beautiful—she has created a workplace culture where staff are empowered to show up authentically and commit random acts of kindness on a regular basis. Those kind acts have not only benefited salon clients; they have included bringing her signature red salon chair to locations throughout the Twin Cities to offer free haircuts for the homeless. The response from the community has been greater than Katie ever anticipated. Last year, she formalized Steller Kindness Project, making it an official 501(c)3.
“BankCherokee not only provides important resources to support our communities, they empower and encourage their employees to personally show up and be kind,” Katie said.
Katie and her team discovered that not everyone who is homeless is interested in or comfortable getting a free haircut, so they started handing out red nylon bags filled with essentials. Individuals and organizations partner with Steller Kindness Project to donate supplies and distribute the bags to anyone in need. Last week, BankCherokee and its staff of 60 donated items for and packed 120 bags. Items included snacks and toiletries, plus cold weather gear essential for Minnesota winters—hats, gloves, hand and toe warmers, socks, emergency blankets and more. Now the BankCherokee team is joining in the effort, keeping a few bags in their vehicles and handing them out when they see a need. Several bags were donated to Joseph’s Coat in St. Paul, which will distribute them as well.
Katie knew her Steller Kindness Project could make a difference in the community, but she didn't realize it would end up being a powerful way to connect with other businesses that share her values. “BankCherokee not only provides important resources to support our communities, they empower and encourage their employees to personally show up and be kind,” Katie said. “It was an amazing day working together to bring the missions of both of our organizations to life.”
Bank president Heidi Gesell was equally inspired by the day. Supporting the community has been ingrained in BankCherokee’s values from the first day her grandfather opened its doors. She believes volunteer projects like the MLK service day provide an added benefit to employees. “Team members get to work with others they may not have an opportunity to work with on a daily basis while having fun and doing something good for someone else,” she said. They also use the day to reflect on the good work the bank has done over the past year and to think about how they can continue to make an impact in the coming year.