As the International Year of the Cooperative approaches, the Evergreen Chapter of credit unions is proving to be an outstanding example of the cooperative ideal. Not only is the once-dormant chapter hosting its first meeting in six years on Oct. 20—also known as International Credit Union Day—but the revitalization process itself was the result of the combined effort of a number of area credit union leaders.
Individual credit unions are organized into chapters so as to create a system of local supports and encourage collaboration between the different cooperatives. The Evergreen Chapter includes a wide geographic spread, however, which helps explain some of the challenges that led to the chapter’s years of inactivity. It became time-consuming and expensive for individual credit union representatives to travel to the meetings, and with no “champion” to serve as a leader and advocate for the importance of maintaining activity in the chapter, it fell by the wayside.
The effort to reorganize the Evergreen Chapter initially started with Erin Pearson, Education Specialist and Team Leader with Washington State Employees Credit Union (WSECU), who took on the task after attending Credit Union Developmental Education (DE) Training in 2008. Pearson had spent approximately eight months as the chapter’s vice president, and her last meeting in 2005 was also the last time the chapter held an official meeting.
“One of the things that comes out of DE is that credit unions are cooperative, and we need to start doing that,” she said. “If we aren’t already, we need to have more opportunities for us to work together.”
A significant component of DE Training, which is often described as being the equivalent of a master’s program in credit union philosophy, is to design and implement a project during the months and years following graduation. These projects are meant to effect positive change through the credit union movement, and Pearson decided to tackle the Evergreen Chapter, which had slipped into inactivity in late 2005.
“I think that at first I thought I could just email the CEOs and just say, ‘Hey, let’s get the chapter started,’ and it would all miraculously work,” she said.
It didn’t take long to realize, though, as a year passed after her initial email, that it would take a lot of legwork—and the commitment of a larger group—to really get things up and running. She spent the next couple years gradually spreading the word, and a grassroots awareness of the chapter’s potential began to develop.
Fast forward to early 2011, and the cast of characters had grown significantly. Susan Girsch, Vice President of Compliance for the Paragon Consulting Group, set up a meeting for July 11, 2011. The group included Girsch and Pearson, along with Will Rance, Vice President of Community Relations for WSECU; Suzanne Klenk, Community Relations Coordinator for WSECU; Mary Beth Spuck, Vice President of Organizational Development for TwinStar Credit Union; Becky Breen, Vice President of Sales and Delivery for TwinStar Credit Union; Ann Beck, Account Executive with Custom, Inc.; Linda Soikowski, retired CEO of All City Credit Union; Kasey Rockwell, Director of Outreach Programs for the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA); and Yuri Jung, Training Programs Coordinator for the NWCUA.
They started small. Their initial goal, as Pearson put it, was simply “to have that first meeting.” From there, they chose a date, and as they very consciously got the support of various credit union CEOs in the area, things snowballed.
“We have a good team working,” Girsch said, “and everyone did what they said they were going to do when they said they were going to do it.”
As they reached out to the CEOs, they focused their efforts on the credit unions headquartered in the centrally-located Thurston County so as to minimize the issues of distance that had plagued the Evergreen Chapter’s first incarnation. Once they had gathered positive responses, they began inviting credit unions located in Mason, Kitsap, and Lewis Counties.
“I think it’s just great that we’ve had some people from many of the credit unions in our area say, ‘Yes, we want to be part of this and want to support it,’” Pearson said. “It wasn’t just one person going out to all the credit unions and saying, ‘Please support this.’”
The geographic challenges are the same now as they were five years ago, but the group has spurred the chapter back into activity in the hope that the consistent value of the collaboration made possible by regular meetings, along with the conscious commitment of all the participating credit unions, will be enough to keep the Evergreen Chapter up and running for the foreseeable future. And so far it's working. As of Oct. 18, 56 people had registered to attend the chapter's inaugural meeting.
The group is also working to make sure that this success is sustainable, however, and that their meetings acknowledge the many challenges the chapter will face over the long haul. Initially, the meetings will be held over lunch as opposed to in the evenings, and the chapter will work to develop a schedule that offers regular contact without demanding too much time. Girsch explained that the educational opportunities made available by an active chapter are well worth the time and effort.
“It’s important for all of the employees of the various credit unions to know how the whole credit union organization works,” Girsch said. “They’re familiar with the leagues, but not necessarily with what’s up above the league. It gives them an opportunity to network with people from the other credit unions and to find out what’s going on out there that they might not be aware of. And to just become educated.”
The Evergreen Chapter’s inaugural meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at River’s Edge (4611 Tumwater Valley Dr. SE, Olympia, Wash.). In addition to electing board members, the meeting will cover chapter business and offer networking opportunities and introductions. NWCUA President Troy Stang will be the featured presenter.
Southeastern Washington Chapter Meeting Rescheduled
The Southeastern Washington Chapter has changed its next chapter meeting, which will now be held at Magill’s Restaurant (3214 Road 68) in Pasco, Wash., at noon on Wednesday, Oct. 26. Contact Camellia Uhling, President/CEO of Monad Federal Credit Union, for more information.
Grays Harbor Chapter
The Grays Harbor Chapter will be hosting a credit union dinner to discuss robbery training at Ocean Palace (112 East Wishkah Street, Aberdeen, Wash.) on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011. The event will begin with an opportunity to network and socialize at 5:30 p.m., with guest speaker Det. Gaddis from the Hoquiam Police Department appearing at 6 p.m. before a 6:30 p.m. dinner. Those interested in attending are asked to RSVP to their own credit union by Thursday, Oct. 20.
Credit Union Leaders Workshop
Chapter leaders are invited to take part in the Credit Union Leaders Workshop, a day filled with networking, sharing best practices, developing leadership skills and much more. The workshop is scheduled to take place from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011, at Fibre Federal Credit Union in Longview, Wash. There is no cost to attend.
Questions? Contact Director of Outreach Programs Kasey Rockwell: 503.350.2217, firstname.lastname@example.org.