It’s hard to contain the enthusiasm of non-profit leader Michael Ashabraner, and the city of Louisville is better for it.
Citizens Union Bank, because of its close ties to the community, has a way of spotting up-and-comers in the city who are radically improving the well-being of others. When CUB finds these difference-makers, the bank throws its support behind them.
“I didn’t want to just make money like many of my peers,” says Ashabraner, Executive Director of South East Associated Ministries (SEAM). “We’re focused on building sustainable neighborhoods and reaching out to others. We want to attract winners and dreamers and visionaries.”
In the two-and-a-half years that Ashabraner has led SEAM, the non-profit has distributed hundreds of thousands of pounds of food to needy residents on behalf of Dare To Care, provided utility payments and financial stability to hundreds of families, and brought together different faith traditions in peace and understanding.
“Our office is literally in the backyard of Guiding Light Islamic Center,” says Ashabraner, who left a career in corporate finance to lead the non-profit. “We helped organize an interfaith dinner at the mosque two years ago. Especially given the toxicity of the times we live in, we wanted to bring people together so they could talk to each other. The mosque joined us last year for our picnic and a movie, and a member of the mosque now sits on our board of directors.”
SEAM also works closely with Kosair Charities, Jewish Family & Career Services, dozens of Christian churches, and a variety of other corporate partners and non-profits to improve the sustainability of the poverty level and working-class neighborhoods.
“This is why SEAM is so much more successful than some other non-profits,” says Kim Dodson, senior vice president and manager of CUB’s Treasury Services. “Michael doesn’t see competition, he sees collaboration. By bringing the right people together, he creates more results for less cost. Michael has no scarcity mentality. When other people are drowning in a sea of change, he’s surfing on it.”
CUB provides depository banking services to SEAM, and CUB’s larger contribution to SEAM is supporting its life changing programs and helping elevate the non-profit’s visibility.
“What we’ve created with CUB is a movement,” Ashabraner says. “As an essential partner in our Stable Families, Healthy Kids initiative, CUB is willing to help struggling residents set up bank and savings accounts. CUB has the foresight to know that a very small initial investment has the potential for long-term growth.
Dodson says that both CUB and Ashabraner are not afraid of risk, especially when it is backed up by thorough research and financial accountability.
“We’re at opposite ends of the spectrum as a bank and a non-profit,” Dodson says. “But we both know it’s about cultivating relationships and taking calculated risks. That’s at the heart of what we do.”
Ashabraner says SEAM is able to attract high-profile board members and city visionaries because of early backing by CUB.
“Someone has got to go first to get others involved,” Ashabraner says. “CUB was out front. With CUB behind us, folks were willing to give us a second look.”
SEAM has hosted the first annual wine and cheese soirees to attract donors and supporters for their new program to help 500 people reach self-sufficiency, and SEAM and CUB were featured on WAVE-TV3 as these were being planned.
“The one thing Michael teaches all of his employees and board members is ‘So what if they said no, we’ll ask someone else,'” Dodson says. “He is unstoppable. I wish we could clone him.”
Ashabraner laughs and nods his head.
“In professional baseball, if I hit 3 out of 10, I get paid millions of dollars,” Ashabraner says. “Why shouldn’t that batting average be true of life and work? All we have to do is swing a million times.”