Why They Won: Advocacy Awards Honor Van Vleet, Hoff, Jensen, and Hawkins

Does Jake Jensen really say “don’t tax my credit union” in his sleep?

That’s what NWCUA President and CEO Troy Stang jokingly said before honoring Jensen as the Oregon Volunteer of the Year last week at the Association’s annual Amplify Convention in Portland, where awards for advocacy, financial education, philosophy in action, social responsibility, and chapter excellence were announced.

Jensen may not really talk in his sleep, but there probably aren’t many waking hours when the chairman of the board at Advantis Credit Union isn’t involved in advocacy in some way. Advantis consistently tops the Association’s tracking reports for the number of contacts with Congress, and the credit union won its own Top of The Hill advocacy award at the convention.

“Jake has a passion for the credit union movement,” says Jennifer Wagner, NWCUA’s vice president for legislative advocacy. “He helped deliver our message in person to Congress, and he raised the bar for volunteers across the region when he arranged to host a member of Congress at his credit union. The next day, Jake attended a fundraiser for that member and showed his support with a personal donation.”

Jensen has attended CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C., four times. At home, he helped Advantis build a “Homes for Our Troops” house for a disabled veteran injured in the Middle East, and he serves the citizens of Portland as a police officer—when he’s not dreaming about the credit union message, of course.

“An industry without advocates is like a church without a choir or a school with no teachers,” Stang says. “Advocacy is our credit union choir—it’s the way we amplify the credit union voice to policy makers and to our broader communities, and Jake is a huge part of that.”

Oregon’s Professional Advocate of the Year is a member of the advocacy choir, too.

Brooke Van Vleet, the president and CEO of St. Helens Community Federal Credit Union and a newly elected member of the NWCUA board, writes letters, makes phone calls and opens her home to host fundraisers for credit union champions. She took on a critical committee leadership role this year, implemented new advocacy programs at St. Helens Community Federal Credit Union and re-energized her staff, which turned out in big numbers for the Association’s Credit Union Day at the Capital in Salem.

“Participating in advocacy activities should be viewed as a core responsibility for any leader in the credit union industry and something I’ve been passionate about for many years,” Van Vleet says. “We have a responsibility to our members and to our credit unions to communicate the credit union difference and advance our legislative priorities, or we run the risk of letting others define those priorities for us.”

Van Vleet says she’s most proud of the work she has accomplished on the NWCUA’s Grassroots Advocacy Subcommittee with co-chair Jim Morrell, the president and CEO of Peninsula Community Federal Credit Union, and says that winning the advocacy award is “a tremendous honor, not only to receive the award alongside a respected professional such as Larry Hoff, but also because this award has honored so many other significant leaders over the years.”

“I’m humbled and grateful to be included in such company,” she says.

Hoff, the president and CEO at Fibre Federal Credit Union and a regular presence in Olympia and Washington, D.C., was honored at Amplify as Washington’s Professional Advocate of the Year.

“Larry gets personally involved,” says Mark Minickiello, NWCUA’s vice president for legislative affairs, “by writing letters, ringing doorbells, hosting fundraisers at his home. He has been a constant voice for the importance of credit union advocacy. He is a shining example for other credit union leaders to follow.”

Hoff says that the level of excitement surrounding political advocacy in the Northwest is strong and growing, and says he’s proud to be part of a group that is making a difference at the state and national level.

“I’m honored to receive the award,” he says, “but most credit unions deserve special recognition for their efforts. We may all participate differently, but those who have become advocates on any level help to consistently spread the excitement to others.”

Hoff praised the Association’s Wagner, Minickiello, and policy adviser Pam Leavitt for the work they do “to decipher the political threats vs. the opportunities and get us fired up to address the challenges. Without their leadership,” he says, “all of our efforts would fall short.”

Sadie Hawkins’ efforts rarely fall short. The winner of the Washington Volunteer of the Year award has been a member of the board at Our Community Credit Union for more than 20 years. She is a consistent and influential presence at Credit Union Day at the Capitol in Olympia and at the Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C., and Minickiello says Hawkins regularly responds to calls for action.

“I’m proud of the collaborative work done on the Hill by Washington and Oregon advocates,” Hawkins says. “Our work together further demonstrates our motto of ‘People Helping People.’ When we speak as one, we are able to send a stronger, more concise and more united message to our members of Congress.”

Sending a united message is essential for the long-term survival of the credit union movement, NWCUA’s Stang says, and he praised this year’s 11 Top of The Hill winners for their grassroots efforts to advance the credit union message in both the legislative and political arenas.

Those efforts included participation in Project Zip Code, CULAC Month, and the Credit Union Advocate Program; attendance at a variety of conferences, forums, fundraisers and other events; and a consistent pattern of letters, phone calls and face-to-face meetings with lawmakers, regulators, task forces and committees.

This year’s Top of the Hill winners are:

  • Advantis Credit Union
  • Oregon Community Credit Union
  • OSU Federal Credit Union
  • Pacific NW Federal Credit Union
  • Peninsula Community Federal Credit Union
  • Rivermark Community Credit Union
  • Solarity Credit Union
  • Sound Credit Union
  • STCU
  • St. Helens Community Federal Credit Union
  • United Health Services Credit Union


Questions? Contact Gary Stein: 503.350.2216, gstein@nwcua.org.

Posted in Advocacy News, Awards, Federal.