When I began my career in credit unions, like many of you, I was a teller. I got a “job” because I needed one and was told I was qualified because I had “Cash handling skills” from my 4 years working as a serving wench at ‘Enry Beazely’s Fish-n-Chips. You see, the person hiring me wasn’t a “credit union person.” She was an HR robot. But very soon I learned what a credit union was, and how important it was to the founders – the members. They were, in every sense of the word, a family. The second credit union I went to work for exemplified that feeling. It was United Grocers CU. A grocery co-op created to strengthen the mom and pop owned grocery stores so they could compete with the big grocery chains. So essentially the credit union was a co-op for a co-op. They had pooled $4 million in assets. The “branch” was in the living room/dining room of a house across the street from the truck shop. Nothing could feel more like a family. Working there you had to know everything. Even the CEO had a teller drawer. It shaped my career and gave me such an appreciation for the intricacies of this thing called a financial cooperative.
Fast forward, I’m celebrating my 37th year in the movement. I didn’t stay for the money, the fame, or the outrageous compensation and benefits package. I stayed because I really do care about this adopted, sometimes dysfunctional, family.
Several months ago, I saw a flyer in the mailroom of my little town in New Mexico. The volunteer fire department was having an open house. They needed volunteers. My husband and I talked about it and thought, what the heck, let’s check it out. You know there will be free coffee and donuts at least. That was the day we met our new family. The fire chief grew up in a tiny town in our district, his mom is a school teacher at the local grade school and is also an EMT-Intermediate and Firefighter I. A retired Marine is the Deputy Chief. He was a door gunner in Vietnam. One of the oldest volunteers raised 8 children on her own, is a fabulous cook (you should taste the posole she makes for our meetings) and still has a day job so she volunteers at night. It’s not unusual for her to return to the station at 4 am after transporting a patient 95 miles roundtrip, only to have to turn around and drive another 30 miles to work. We were humbled by their stories and so that day we signed up. Not realizing it would forever change our lives.
It should be noted here that my husband is also a credit union lifer and the CFO of a mid-sized credit union.
Two days ago, we were just finishing dinner when the alarm went off. A woman was choking on a piece of meat, was unresponsive and not breathing. It was a critical situation. My husband and 2 other EMTs were on call. They were first on scene and began compressions. Three other volunteers (myself included) arrived POA (personal vehicles). So now we have 6 people on the scene. All our training, our teamwork, our respect and trust in each other kicked into high gear and we basically saved a life. I’ve been on dozens of runs in the 7 months of my volunteer service, but this one really stands out. Because when we had stabilized her and were loading her into the ambulance, the Chief told us that we just saved the life of one of our volunteer’s mothers. That’s when the daughter pulled up in her car and gave each of us a giant hug.
I have such a soft spot in my heart for small credit unions. For underdogs, unsung heroes, those folks that are behind the scenes getting things done without the spotlight and recognition they deserve. I am watching with horror as small credit unions are dying. And I see people standing around with the skills, expertise, resources and time to resuscitate them. Instead, they wait for the “time of death” and then swoop in and take what’s left. Kind of like organ harvesters.
I am blessed at this stage in my career to be working with NACUSO. I found a unique family. Folks with a cooperative heart and a mind for business. People who are navigating the tricky waters of collaboration for the good of the family. I met a CEO of a small credit union last year that participates in 7 CUSOs. She’s found that she can’t do everything herself and do it well. So she has tapped into the cooperative pool of resources that are abundant. So essentially she has 6 volunteer EMTs in her “home” helping her to continue to tell her story.
If you want to meet some of these brave credit union souls – you should come to the 2017 NACUSO Network Conference on April 10th-13th, 2017. Yes, a shameless and proud plug because the folks that come are committed to connecting with like-minded people for the sole purpose of creating economies of scale and efficiencies to save the lives of small credit unions, and continue to help their members.
I don’t know about you – but credit unions are not going down on my watch.