Sharon Birchall knows that the difference between financial soundness and financial instability can be determined by a few simple decisions and practices, consistently carried out. She also knows that for many on the financial edge, it’s not easy to talk about their situations to a financial-institution staffer – particularly when their financial standing is on the line as they apply for loans or other products and services.
That’s why Birchall has gained the trust of so many in the Lawrence market of Metro Credit Union. Born and raised in Lawrence, she balances advocacy for members with the promotion of safe and sound financial practices for the credit union. And in Lawrence, a Gateway City whose residents have encountered more than the average share of financial storms, this is a critical lifeboat.
While her role in business development is to offer products and services to employees of companies that offer credit union membership as a benefit, “she goes well beyond that,” said her nominator, Charlene Bauer, senior vice president of business development and community relations.
Birchall spent almost 20 years on the banking side before joining Lawrence Firefighters Credit Union, where she stayed for 13 years before joining Metro Credit Union nearly five years ago.
She became active in raising money for scholarships and for public safety awards for police, fire and EMT workers. She is also a member of the local YMCA board, raising money for kids to attend summer camp.
Birchall does her neighborhood homework. She is the past president and current board member of the Lawrence Exchange Club, and sits on several boards, including Greater Lawrence Community Action Council (GLCAC), YMCA and Lawrence Airport Commission. She is also a member of the city’s various neighborhood groups, attending each neighborhood meeting to listen and learn the concerns of the various neighborhoods offering assistance when possible.
Birchall experienced community support firsthand in 2000 when her husband was stricken ill. The family had three young children at the time. A Fenton Judicial Center employee well-loved by his colleagues, her late husband became the impetus for the creation of a state law in January of 2001 in his name, months before his death, that established a “sick bank” for him; state workers could contribute their unused sick days into a pool for his use when he had exhausted his own allotment. They also came through with many other caring efforts at the end of his life. That, Birchall said, is one of the primary events that inspired her to give back to the community.
Today, Birchall said, long-time neighborhood acquaintances who haven’t seen her in a while ask where she is working – and tell her that they want to put their money there. “People seek her out” for advice, Bauer said. “Regardless of the starting point, she is there to assist, and to place members in right product or service. She will visit people at homes or place of employment. She really personalizes the experience,” Bauer added. “She is the real thing and a pleasure to work with.” n