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Banks Push Volunteer Spirit Partly to Polish Dulled Image

ALBERT SILVA, a bank executive, is giving 20 urban teenagers tips on getting a job. ''No gold teeth,'' he warns.

Across town, another banker rolls paint on the walls of a senior citizen nutrition and health center. ''It really makes you feel good to be doing something like this,'' says John Ferrante, a credit officer, as he turns a blue room white.

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Both Mr. Silva and Mr. Ferrante work for Chase Manhattan Bank, which held its first ''Global Day of Service'' last Saturday in 40 American cities and 13 countries. The bank estimates that at least 3,000 employees gave up their Saturday to help their communities.

Chase is not alone. Banks nationwide are getting into the spirit of volunteerism as part of an attempt to polish their image. Last month, the American Bankers Association (ABA) based in Washington released a Gallup poll showing that consumers are only lukewarm about banks' efforts to help their communities.

The ABA listened to focus groups, which observed that banks don't promote their good works. Now, the ABA suggests its members ''toot their horn without guilt.''

The horn tooting is becoming more important since banks are increasingly the subject of ridicule for high fees and inadequate lending policies in urban areas.

As banks merge nationwide, they also are the subject of more public scrutiny as part of the Community Reinvestment Act. It is important to banks to keep community groups happy since opposition can slow the merger as the Federal Reserve investigates the complaint.

Some of the casualties of the new pairings are bank branches. For example, when Chase Manhattan announced Aug. 28 it would merge with Chemical Bank, the companies estimated they would consolidate 69 branches. Thousands of jobs will be lost. Community leaders expressed concern. (Another image booster: The two banks announced yesterday an $18.1 billion package over five years of loans and grants to low-income groups to help mollify opposition to the merger.)

A merger, in fact, spurred Cleveland-based KeyCorp in 1990 to dedicate an afternoon to public service in Alaska after it acquired Alaska Pacific Bancorporation in Anchorage. ''They wanted to show they were committed to the community,'' says Mindy Samay, the corporate project manager for the annual program called ''Neighbors Make a Difference.''

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Very quickly, KeyCorp expanded the effort to all its subsidiaries from Alaska to Maine. In September, KeyCorp closed many of its branches and departments for an afternoon so 22,000 of its 30,000 employees could work on public-service projects in their communities. The bank estimates its employees contributed 98,000 volunteer hours worth about $1 million.

This year the volunteers worked on 1,581 individual projects ranging from painting cafeterias in Salt Lake City to cleaning up Thomas Edison's birthplace in Milan, Ohio.

The 40,000 employees of two other banks whose merger was approved Tuesday, Fleet Financial Group based in Providence, R.I., and Boston-based Shawmut National Corp. donated $40,000 toward a playground in Oklahoma City. The two banks kicked in another $30,000.

IN the case of Chase, its motivation was ''to coordinate all the good things Chase people are doing around the world,'' says Kerry Yeager, who organized the event for the bank.

The evening before the Chase event, Thomas Labrecque, the bank's chairman, addressed about 400 employees. ''He told us that if we believe in less government, more volunteers are needed,'' says Anthony Coticelli, team captain at the food center, called WEMA Mainstream. About 18 volunteers have shown up at the center. It is the first time the facility has been painted in at least five years. ''I'm delighted,'' says Theresa Surbeck, the director.

Another group of a dozen Chase executives volunteers at Jobs for Youth Inc., a nonprofit that helps teens find work. The Chase group explains how to put together a resume, what to wear and say at a job interview, and how to network.

''They gave us ideas and any ideas I'd be glad to take,'' says Robert Youngblood, an 11th grader.

The program appears to be a success. Some of the Chase executives have gotten excited about the event and want to follow up on concepts they have talked about. In addition, last year Chase hired 25 students from ''Jobs for Youth'' for its summer program. One of the Chase executives, Dana Reimer, asks, ''Do you think there is any way we can hire some of these kids for next summer?''

That kind of talk makes Broderick Clark III, coordinator of the summer programs, smile. ''That would be fabulous.''

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