Service to others has been part of Cheryl Deborde’s DNA from a young age thanks to her parents.
One childhood memory stands out. While driving home from a family gathering at Christmastime, Deborde’s family passed a group of children playing outside a run-down house on a cold night. Her mother told her father, “Pull over. Let’s see what these kids need.”
Deborde’s mother took a Christmas tree and some decorations from the car and brought them to the house. When the front door opened, she saw that the house had no floor, only dirt.
“It touched my mom’s heart so much,” says Deborde, president/CEO at $279 million asset Members Choice Credit Union in Ashland, Ky. “She reached out to the community and gathered food and clothes for these children—there were nine. The community rallied around her and even paid to put a floor in the house.
“That stuck with me: helping people and not expecting anything in return,” she continues. “That’s truly our philosophy at the credit union.”
Members Choice demonstrates that philosophy with its community service and financial education programs. A member service representative, for instance, met a couple who were living at a homeless shelter and encouraged them to open a share account.
When the couple looked to rent a house, another employee asked, “Have you ever thought about buying a home?”
The pair went through Members Choice’s financial counseling program—28 of its 53 employees are certified through the CUNA Financial Counseling Certification Program—and will close on their house in February.
“They went from being homeless to buying a home,” Deborde says. “We truly try to give people a chance to better their lives and live their dreams. It’s life-changing.”
Members Choice also takes the lead on the Ashland Build a Bed Program, which provides beds and bedding for children living in homes without enough beds or none at all. The credit union hosts an annual bed-building event that involves more than 1,000 volunteers.
“The first year we did this, I’ll never forget a little girl jumping up and down on a bed we set up as a model,” Deborde says. “She had the biggest smile. Seeing the joy on her face showed us the impact we were having. If we can make a difference in one child’s life, we’ve made a big difference.”
The credit union also hosts a prom for special needs adults, complete with limo rides, dancing, and karaoke; hands out $50 bills at Walmart during Christmas; and purchases gift cards from local businesses struggling during the pandemic and gives them to members at the drive-thru.
It established a virtual school for employees’ children when the pandemic interrupted in-person learning and offers a career mentoring program for young adults.
“That’s our culture,” Deborde says.
Deborde has served as the Members Choice CEO for five years following a 29-year banking career. From the start, she eschewed advertising for hands-on community involvement.
“I don’t want to spend money on a billboard,’” she says. “We want to make a difference. We support the local sport teams and the area schools with scholarships—that’s our advertising.
“We want to be known for taking care of people in our community,” Deborde continues. “When I look at people helping people, it's not just writing a check, it's about rolling up your sleeves and making a difference in people's lives.”