Development Educators Focus on Culture and Community Service During Annual Alumni Workshop


Development Educators give a performance during the annual Credit Union Development Educator alumni workshop to raise funds for OSL, a Seattle non-profit that provides meals to community members.

Unique. Ritual. Family. These were just a few words that described the people participating at the annual Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE) workshop Aug. 14-16 in Bremerton, Wash.

Each year, Development Educators (DEs) from across the world are invited to participate in an alumni workshop, where participants take a deep dive on human development issues and discuss ways that credit unions can help drive a greater impact.

This year, I joined nearly 100 fellow DEs, participating in activities that centered around a theme of culture.

The workshop kicked off with discussions around the elements of culture that we see each day versus which ones we don’t and how we navigate those throughout daily life.

Next, we participated in a hands-on activity, building drums in the tradition of Native American tribes. By stretching elk hide over circular disks, we had our first opportunity to step outside of our comfort zones and into the rituals of another culture. Setting aside our drums to dry, we were then ushered into another room, unsure of what the next session would hold.

One by one, people joined us in silence and we soon realized that we were about to see a musical. The cast shared stories and songs detailing experiences of homelessness, addiction, loss, and volunteerism.

Development Educators gather during the annual Credit Union Development Educator alumni workshop Aug. 14-16 in Bremerton, Wash.

The star, a petite blonde woman hidden behind sunglasses and a rockstar outfit, belted out soulful tunes, including the “No Shoes Blues.” After the performance, we learned that the star was Beverly Graham, Founder and Executive Director of OSL (formerly Operation: Sack Lunch) – a non-profit organization that provides nutritional and safe meals to all those who struggle with hunger in the Seattle community. Beverly explained that the stories presented were all true, but the names and faces had been changed.

On the second day, we began by hearing from Richard Lemieux, author of “Breakfast at Sally’s.” He shared his life journey going from wealthy publisher to a man experiencing homelessness, later becoming a New York Times bestselling author.

His story was a clear illustration of just how close to the edge we all are. It was a grounding lesson to take in before heading into Seattle by ferry. Once in the city, we visited the main kitchen of OSL, where we prepared two lunches each, one to eat and one to share.

We then split into several groups to visit various non-profits and cultural centers, including: Licton Springs Village – a low-barrier tiny home community; the Chief Seattle Club; Asian Counseling & Referral Service; and an OSL outdoor meal site.

Returning from the visits, each group created a busking-style performance to help raise funds for OSL, with a goal of $30,000 to purchase a new meal delivery van. Inspired by the musical performance the day before, and having seen the great work of OSL firsthand, there was a positive and frantic energy among the group of wanting to do our best to help.

Day three was a day of reflection and planning, as we spent time sharing our experiences on the site visits and tying it back to our work in credit unions. How can empathy and a better understanding of culture inform the services we provide to our members? Recording thoughts and ideas on flip charts posted throughout the room, we created a “brain trust” of ideas and solutions.

Twelve flip charts quickly turned into 24, and more yet, as our discussions led into more and more ideas to take back to our offices and teams. Finally, we were all invited to write action steps in a card that would later be mailed to us as a reminder. For the final surprise, the drums we had built were returned to us – deliberately set in a large circle of chairs, which led into the final activity of the workshop – a group drum beat and circle, an activity that was simultaneously traditional and transcendent.

The Development Educator Workshop felt lightyears away from a traditional conference, yet the experience taught lessons that could never be learned from listening to a speaker or reading a book. By stepping outside of the familiar, we learned how to connect with our shared humanity and the needs and desires that are central to everyone’s wellbeing, regardless of culture or background. Connectivity. Joy. Love. Community.

For more information about the Development Educator program, click here. For a snapshot of the full Development Educator certification, consider attending the upcoming Leveraging the Credit Union Difference Workshop on Bainbridge Island.

Carmen Vigil is the Director of Cooperative Momentum with the Northwest Credit Union Association.

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