Crystal Long honored as 2019 Herb Wegner Memorial Award winner
Long to be recognized with outstanding individual achievement award by Foundation
MADISON, WI (November 7, 2018) — In recognition of her embodiment of the “people helping people” philosophy of credit unions and service to the El Paso community, the National Credit Union Foundation (the Foundation) is pleased to announce Crystal Long, President and CEO of GECU, as a recipient of the 2019 Herb Wegner Memorial Outstanding Individual Achievement Award.
Long will be one of three Herb Wegner Memorial Awards presented at the annual fundraising gala hosted by the Foundation at the Marriott Marquis on March 11, 2019, in conjunction with the Credit Union National Association Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C. Registration for dinner sponsorships and tickets will be available on the Foundation website (ncuf.coop) later this year.
“I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Crystal for more than a decade, and her work in the El Paso community, within Texas and nationwide is a great example of the kind of leadership Herb Wegner would appreciate and admire,” said John Gregoire, Chair of the Foundation’s Wegner Awards Selection Committee and President of The ProCon Group. “She has brought tremendous value to all those with whom she has been in contact.”
Influential Leader and Credit Union Advocate
Long started her career with GECU as a file clerk at 19 years old. She quickly worked her way up to a teller position, where she was able to experience members’ needs firsthand. Her talent for leadership led her to various management roles within GECU, eventually working her way up to the Vice President level. In 2011, she was promoted to Executive Vice President/COO and later in the same year, the Board of Directors promoted her to the role of President and CEO of GECU.
Spending her entire career within GECU, Long has proven herself a passionate leader who puts the needs of her staff and members first. Crystal is also a dedicated advocate for the credit union movement and is personally invested in her work. She travels to Austin, Texas, and Washington D.C. to meet with legislators and discuss legislation that affects the credit union movement. Most recently, she was part of the lobbying for preserving the tax status of credit unions and encouraging the exemption of credit unions from CFPB rules. Advocating for these measures not only benefits the credit union movement, but it also helps keep credit union products and services affordable and accessible — something that is of vital importance in economically challenged communities like El Paso.
“Crystal has been active in communicating with our elected officials by taking the time to educate us on policy that could negatively or positively impact credit union members,” said Cesar Blanco, Texas State Representative, District 76. “She exemplifies the values of credit unions, making sure that her credit union understands the community in which they serve by being an intricate part of the El Paso community.”
Long has been recognized for her leadership by the community and industry. She received the 2017 El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Setting New Heights Award in recognition of her work in the community and the example that she has set in the financial industry. She has also earned the El Paso Inc. Women of Impact Award recognizing her level of involvement, breadth of reach and impact on the community, as well as her many professional achievements.
She also serves as a Development Educator (DE) by graduating from the Foundation’s Credit Union Development Education (CUDE) Program in 2015. Through this program, Long has demonstrated the importance of learning how to better serve the members that GECU serves by walking in their shoes, and also encouraging other members of her staff to do the same.
Under her leadership, GECU also won the Next Level Achievement Award from CRIF Lending Solutions which recognizes creative lending solutions. Additionally, in 2015, GECU was asked to speak in Italy and the UK about the innovative branch-transformation strategy championed by Long.
As part of the World Council of Credit Unions, Long went on a field-engagement trip to Kenya in March of 2018 to deepen understanding, share knowledge, foster friendships and return home with stories that truly illustrate the valuable work being done by the movement around the world. The group met with Kenya’s parliament to advocate for the positive impact of savings and credit availability; saw the results of the Cooperative Development Program firsthand; visited with various SACCOs to get a new perspective on their operational sizes, scope and products; and met with many female entrepreneurs, strategists, department heads and national chairwomen of the movement.
Commitment to Community Development
Long has proven her dedication and commitment to improving the community in which GECU serves through her innovative services and technology. She recognized a need to provide access to affordable financial services to areas where options are limited, thus spearheading the award-winning GECU Neighborhood Branch™ expansion strategy. These Neighborhood Branches serve members by using Personal Teller Machines (PTMs) and on-site loan officers. Not only are the branches in more convenient locations for members to access, but the PTMs allow for extended hours of operation.
Internally, Long wanted to ensure that GECU continued to focus on improving the community by creating a Community Development Department. This department focuses on community outreach, training financial coaches and offering initiatives to help elevate the community with free financial education, free credit counseling, home-purchase assistance programs and free tax assistance.
In 2017, with Crystal’s support and leadership, financial coaches provided free and personalized counseling to 1,481 people, provided free financial education seminars to 4,579 people, and helped 708 families qualify for and purchase a home of their own. In 2017, GECU Community Development reached 25,199 people with its financial-literacy training and services.
“GECU’s Community Development mission is to elevate the community by helping families build a stronger financial future,” said Ruby Alvarez, Community Development Manager at GECU. “Crystal has made it a priority to engage the community, whether it’s to help someone understand their credit, build a budget, guide them on a path to buy a house or hold a Reality Fair for our youth – we are committed.”
GECU Community Development has also spearheaded initiatives like the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program, which helps local families file their taxes for free and keep their entire refund. With a total of 17 sites, including sites at five local high schools and one site at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), the VITA program helped more than 9,020 community members receive more than $15.6 million in tax refunds.
She is also a member of the Mentorship Program, a local initiative made up of influential community leaders who serve as mentors to 11 mentees. The founders of the Mentorship Program have passed its ownership to Long and she has made the previously analog program more visible to the public by developing its first website and brought an innovative approach to providing mentorship in the program.
Each year, Long works with the local representatives to put together a back-to-school backpack fair, choosing a school that has many kids and parents that are financially distressed. Long and her team volunteer to fill the backpacks, as well as organize financial literacy events for those students. She ensures that her team is helping her community to prosper across all ages and stages of life.
Creating Economic Prosperity for All
El Paso County’s above-average poverty rate and below-average per capita and median household income are representations of the severe economic distress and financial challenges faced by members in the community. Long believes strongly in the power of credit unions to build prosperous, thriving communities, she has worked to make GECU’s affordable products and services, financial coaching, and education available to more of the community than ever before — including underserved and low-income communities.
Through the previously mentioned GECU Neighborhood Branch strategy, Long has ensured that credit unions and all their products, services and educational outreach are placed in neighborhoods where access to credit was previously scarce. Products such as Fast Cash™, small dollar loans, Credit Rebuilder, and Second Chance Checking accounts help low-income members build credit, learn personal finance skills and provide a better alternative to predatory lenders and check-cashing storefronts.
In 2016, over 7,000 families received $11.3 million in tax refunds free of charge thanks to GECU, its community partners and volunteers. Through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in 2017, 8,026 tax refunds totaling $14.3 million were returned to the El Paso community and this year, VITA helped more than 9,200 families receive over $15.6 million in tax refunds at no charge.
Education and training are cornerstones of Long’s vision for GECU. Under her leadership, GECU has become a strong supporter of education at all levels from financial education in grade schools to education and job training for high school students with in-school branches. These GECU in-school branches teach students important job skills and common-sense money management skills that will serve them in adulthood.
“Crystal has embraced Financial literacy and has taken that on as an important role that GECU can play in the community,” said Diana Natalicio, President at the University of Texas at El Paso. “She has placed importance on this beginning in the far earlier years so that young people understand money, how it works and how it doesn’t work for them.”
GECU also supports higher education by providing scholarships to El Paso Community College and the University of Texas at El Paso, by becoming a proud UTEP Pillar Partner, and by offering free financial education for adults. In 2018, Long was named a UTEP Distinguished Alumni, an honor bestowed upon UTEP graduates that have made exceptional contributions to their profession, community and/or the university.
Long views the credit union movement as a powerful catalyst for social change. Her steadfast belief in the prosperity-building power of the credit union, with its emphasis on education, service, community involvement and democratic principles, has led GECU to become an active, visible and effective leader in uplifting the greater El Paso area.
Note to editors:this is the second of three detailed 2019 Wegner Award winner profiles.
About The National Credit Union Foundation
The National Credit Union Foundation (the Foundation) is the charitable arm of the U.S credit union movement, serving as a catalyst for change in people’s financial lives. The Foundation works to ignite understanding and focus on member financial health, inspire and create opportunities for credit unions to leverage their cooperative values and respond quickly when disaster strikes. Through cooperative support and action, the Foundation helps people achieve financial freedom.
About the Herb Wegner Memorial Awards
The awards are named in honor of the late Credit Union National Association CEO Herb Wegner, whose tireless dedication, innovative ideas and deeds truly revolutionized the ways that credit unions serve their communities. The awards that bear Wegner’s name recognize his spirit of “innovative, creative, risk-taking” leadership. View past award recipients here.