Seattle Credit Union Staffers Walk in the Shoes of Others for a Day

Seattle Credit Union staff members spent a day walking in the shoes of those who struggle with poverty. The exercise helped staff members better understand and find ways to help them overcome some of those struggles.


Credit unions, being the member-focused cooperative financial institutions that they are, strive to understand, relate to, and respond accordingly to their community’s needs. That drive to connect with the community is what defines the Credit Union Difference.

Recently, Seattle Credit Union did just that by getting to the heart of what many in the Seattle struggle with each day – poverty. As housing costs continue to rise, many in the Seattle metro area struggle to afford food, medicine, childcare, and other critical needs.

To better understand those struggles, the entire staff went through a poverty simulation, where each person was placed into a household, assigned a different identity (based on real people), and lived that person’s life for a day. They faced big challenges, such as visiting a social worker, searching for a job, experiencing homelessness, a disability, and a healthcare obstacle.

For some who were unable to utilize the services of a bank, they had to rely on predatory practices, such as a payday loan. Ultimately, they experienced stress and fatigue trying to accomplish their day-to-day activities.

“Over the last six years we’ve continued to build up this cultural effort because we feel the Seattle area needs us to be that type of resource,” said Tonita Webb, Executive Vice President at Seattle Credit Union. “The city is changing and like all change, along with the positive growth, comes its own set of challenges. We continue to see the shift the economic environment impact has on our community and in some cases the displacement of people out of their homes and their cities. We’re here to provide a solution for everyone, including groups of people that may feel discounted or underserved.”

Close up image of man holding a notebook and pencil

A Seattle Credit Union staff member tallies up monthly bills during the exercise.

The credit union wanted to get to the core of the problem, and to do that, it explored two key elements – empathy and inclusion. In order to succeed, you have to understand what people are going through, Webb explained.

“The biggest lesson we took away from the experience is that any interaction we have is really not about that present moment but rather is tied to a person’s journey, and in understanding their story we can best assist our community reach their financial goals.”

For Shayla Blanche, Seattle Credit Union Branch Representative, the exercise proved eye-opening.

“The simulation provided keen insight on what it is like to walk in the shoes of another,” Blanche said. “The interactions created a flood of emotions for me. It reminded me how important it is to be present and patient with members, as we never know what trials they may be facing. I believe Seattle Credit Union has really and truly made it a priority to assist members in leading a prosperous life.”

In addition to participating in the simulation, the credit union’s staff heard from Wellspring Family Services about the resources and opportunities the organization provides for those in need, including community services, counseling, and employee assistance programs.

The credit union plans to revisit some of its products and policies in response to the simulation to better assist members who are in need.

“I hope we develop and express our empathy muscle more, and I hope it allowed us to be more innovative in regard to helping our members,” Webb said. “A staff participant told me he had a great childhood and doesn’t remember any struggles. He said it changed his viewpoint and required him to look at life differently. He told me he called his dad that night to talk about the experience and to express how it changed his life and perspective.”

Posted in Community Impact.