Bank turns employees into community heroes…and saves a science lab

Seeing the community challenged by COVID, St. Jude supporter Bell Bank doubles funds for employees to help people and charities in need.

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Led by the Inspire Innovation Lab in Moorhead, Minnesota, a little girl pours vinegar onto baking soda, and a transformation occurs. Two, in fact. The chemical reaction creates a volcano effect, and a child’s love for science ignites.

But earlier this year, Carrie Leopold, the education lab founder, faced a crisis.

Tracy Frank

In a social media post, she talked about the impact COVID-19 was having on the lab, and how she didn't want to lay off her employees. Tracy Frank, who works for Fargo, North Dakota-based Bell Bank, saw the post and found a way to fill the need.

Each year since 2008, Bell Bank, a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, has provided funds through its Pay It Forward program so each of its employees can apply for grants to help people or charities in need. Frank and another Bell Bank employee used their Pay It Forward money to give the science lab $2,000. It bridged the gap for the lab until payroll protection funds kicked in. 

Another employee gave $1,000 to a photographer who, after losing work to COVID-19, decided to sell masks for the community instead – she just needed startup money to purchase the supplies to begin her efforts.

Then, Bell did something unprecedented partway through the year – the bank doubled its Pay It Forward funds.

“We got $1,000 again in the middle of COVID to make an even bigger difference,” said Frank, adding that full-time employees each received an additional $1,000 and part-time employees $500.

She and a colleague requested $2,000 worth of $50 Bell Bank Visa gift cards to give to patients at a Fargo cancer clinic.

“It’s not going to pay [a person’s] medical bills, but someone can go get something to eat and know people care about them,” said Frank. “Even a gesture like that is huge.”

Frank understands its significance because she has cancer, too, and visits the clinic for treatment.

This program that encourages employees to stay attuned to opportunities for kindness? It’s also good medicine, said Frank.

“To be able to make a difference when you hear about a need is just so incredibly empowering.”