Leveraging the Credit Union Difference Workshop Renews Appreciation for the Movement


Attendees pose for a photo during Leveraging the Credit Union Difference Workshop last month on Bainbridge Island.

Credit unions exist for one reason – to serve their members. It’s a shared purpose that binds the Credit Union Movement together.

Credit union professionals have an opportunity each year to bring that mission into focus, renewing their “why” through inspirational events like Leveraging the Credit Union Difference. Last month, more than 50 did just that at IslandWood Learning Center on Bainbridge Island – a peaceful, natural setting that encourages collaboration and creativity.

They came together to network, share ideas, and ultimately connect back to their shared goals in the Credit Union Movement. The third–annual workshop, held Nov. 20-22, was organized by Credit Union Development Educators across the region, under a unique partnership with BECU, your Northwest Credit Union Association, the Northwest Credit Union Foundation, and the National Credit Union Foundation.

Participants were grouped with professionals from other credit unions and a CUDE mentor who facilitated group discussion and brainstorming throughout the workshop. This year’s program was co-facilitated by Debbie Wege, Cooperative Community Advocate at BECU and Chad Helminak, Director of DE and Cooperative Culture with the NCUF. Helminak leads Credit Union Development Education training courses held four times a year in Madison, Wisconsin.

“NWCUA’s Leveraging the Credit Union Difference provides a unique platform for credit unions across the Northwest region to understand better and solve the problems that are facing all of our members and communities,” Helminak said. “It reinforces our similarities and shared cooperative principles, which can provide us with advantages in the marketplace.”

In addition to presenting attendees with an opportunity to step outside of their day-to-day responsibilities, the workshop included a series of experiential learning sessions, discussion and debate, and a diverse group of outside guests and speakers.

Scott Prior, President & CEO of Connection Credit Union, and Erin Falcone, Board President of the Kitsap Community Food Co-Op, joined the group on Thursday to share how they formed a partnership in support of the development of a local food co-op. For Prior, helping a local co-op get started was a no-brainer. 

“We got involved because their organization and their efforts were very mission aligned with ours,” said Prior. “We are both smaller providers competing in a sea of much larger competitors with something different to offer, targeted to Bremerton and Kitsap county. After the near-collapse of the co-op, the passion of a core group of volunteers to revive the project was both inspiring and contagious. We also jointly developed a ‘one good co-op deserves another’ promotion to raise awareness for both the food co-op and our credit union.”

Falcone told attendees they could support the food co-op by purchasing a T-shirt or sweatshirt. Attendees were so inspired by the presentation that they jumped at the opportunity, rocking their new swag on the last day of the training.  

Other special guests included NWCUA President and CEO Troy Stang, Donna Whitaker, a representative of the local non-profit, Coffee Oasis, and past program attendees Dakoda McKennon, Branch Manager at Peninsula Credit Union and Heidi Wesley-Cleveland, Chief Marketing Officer at Verity Credit Union. McKennon and Wesley-Cleveland shared how their experiences at the workshop directly influenced projects at their credit unions. 

The workshop provided attendees a chance to learn more about how to serve members and to connect deeply with one another on their priorities. 

“As a relatively green credit union professional, it was a profoundly validating experience,” said Rebecca White, Community Relations Coordinator at Verity Credit Union. “It cemented ideas on how I can leverage my passion for communities into facilitating real, tangible change. I walked away so invigorated and reassured in my career choice – such a phenomenal feeling.”  

If you are interested in growing your involvement with the Credit Union Movement, Leveraging the Credit Union Difference, as well as the full Credit Union Development Education program offered quarterly, are great places to start. Reach out to NWCUA Director of Cooperative Momentum, Carmen Vigil, to learn more. 

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