Much of what drives Gail Lewis today started when she landed a job reconciling bank business accounts at age 16 through a work-study program.
“I had a great supervisor who set many of the standards I hold today—mostly that a leader’s role is to grow and develop people,” says Lewis, director of consumer lending/credit manager at $440 million asset 121 Financial Credit Union in Jacksonville, Fla. “He pushed you forward even when you didn’t believe in yourself or think you could do something.”
This philosophy has served her well over the years and of late: The readers of Credit Union Magazine have named her the 2015 Credit Union Hero of the Year.
Lewis’ primary professional roles are managing consumer and indirect lending (she has a great team of underwriters, she points out), and developing staff.
But Lewis also conducts financial education workshops at churches, schools, and other community venues—often on her own time—working much of the time with young people.
She serves as an adjunct instructor at Florida State College of Jacksonville, teaches financial counseling for the Credit Union Education Program, and participates on the education committee for the Northeast Florida Chapter of Credit Unions.
A local television news program recently recognized her on its “Above, Beyond, Because” segment for her work with youth.
“Credit unions are about the community. We say that and we back it up,” Lewis says. “I love that credit unions stand for helping and caring about people. We help members position themselves financially. I can’t believe I get paid to go out and tell people how to get the best rates, raise their credit scores, and budget better.”
She volunteers at the Job Corps each month and is happy to hold workshops for any group that asks. “It’s awesome to see businesses in this day and time that genuinely care. That makes our credit union a hero.”
Lewis is proud of her relationship with staff and members. “We help people handle their money better, but you can’t do that through workshops alone. Members come into the branches and see other credit union employees afterward. It’s a team effort.”
Members greatly appreciate the assistance. “It’s amazing,” she says. “I run into people and they tell me about their new house, for instance.”
After 32 years, Lewis plans to leave her position at the end of this year—but she won’t stop serving.
“I want to continue providing education and community service with the credit union,” she says. “It’s such a big part of what we do.”
The readers of Credit Union Magazine also honored Charles Elliott, president/CEO of the Mississippi Credit Union Association, and Sandra Cano, assistant vice president, business and community development, Navigant Credit Union, Central Falls, R.I., as credit union heroes.
Voting for the Credit Union Hero of the Year took place on creditunionmagazine.com from April 1 to May 1. Lewis will be honored during the joint America's Credit Union/World Credit Union Conference in Denver July 12-15.