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Credit Union Edition: Events and Happenings

Harland Clarke salutes GECU’s Harriet May

Winner of the Herb Wegner Award

CUNA GAC Sponsorship and NCUF Donation Demonstrate Harland Clarke’s Ongoing Commitment to Credit Unions

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For the first time under its new name, Harland Clarke was an exhibitor at the 2008 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference, held in Washington, D.C., from March 2 to 6. One of that meeting’s gala events was the Herb Wegner Memorial Awards Dinner at the Grand Hyatt Washington on Monday, March 3, hosted by the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF). Representatives from Harland Clarke were pleased to attend.

And for good reason. “We had joined forces with Wescorp and Co-op Network to make a $100,000 donation to NCUF and, as such, it was an honor to be recognized at the Major Donors reception,” says Kristy Grayson, marketing director for Harland Clarke’s credit union segment. “We were also delighted to show our support for Harriet May, president and CEO of Greater El Paso’s Credit Union (GECU), who received the Herb Wegner Individual Achievement Award.” GECU has been a Harland Clarke client for many years.

Harland Clarke also sponsored the conference shuttle busses, each bearing the slogan, Are Your Members Onboard? They Should Be, a reference to Harland Clarke’s onboarding program.

“Our presence and sponsorship demonstrated our continued commitment to credit unions,” Grayson explains. “Our goal is to help clients discover and unlock the untapped potential in their member relationships.”

GECU’s Harriet May: A Tireless Crusader for Financial Education

May’s award is named for Herb Wegner, a visionary who revolutionized the way credit unions serve their communities. The awards bearing his name recognize leaders of the credit union movement who are blazing new frontiers that further the NCUF mission of making financial independence a reality for millions of consumers throughout the world.

May’s win was in recognition of her heartfelt commitment and proactive approach toward the dream of home ownership for residents of El Paso. Her grassroots efforts established the El Paso Affordable Housing Credit Union Service Organization (CUSO) in 2002. And her leadership led to GECU being selected as one of eight financial institutions chosen to pilot an affordable home loan program in 2004 that has resulted in $14 million in mortgages for qualified low-income residents.

“Ever since GECU was formed 75 years ago, our focus has been on teaching people to handle their finances wisely,” says May. “With our CUSO and our Savings Challenge, we took a two-pronged approach.” The CUSO was primarily an educational program on financial literacy to teach people how to manage their finances so they could buy a home. Everything was done in the interest of creating home ownership, generally for first-time home buyers, according to May.

Then in January 2007, GECU issued a call to El Pasoans to participate in a Savings Challenge to get financially fit. Approximately 75 families applied, and after a comprehensive selection process, six families were chosen to participate. Working with a GECU-assigned financial coach, each family set realistic goals as to how much they could increase savings and reduce debt over the coming year. At the end of the year, two winning families were selected based on how well they had reached or exceeded their financial goals. Each winning family was awarded $10,000 and the remaining four families each awarded $2,500.

One winning family increased savings by $8,000 and reduced debt by $14,000. The other winning family saved nearly $10,000 and reduced debt by more than $19,000. The others were successful in working toward their goals as well.

May notes her sense of fulfillment in helping others achieve financial security and home ownership. “We’re a generation of ‘I want it now’ and it’s hurting our country,” she says. “And suddenly we were actually having a bit of an impact here in our local community. That to me was the most fulfilling.” She speaks of the joy she felt upon meeting new homeowners who had never dreamed they could own a home.

“We find such pride of home ownership,” says May, adding that these new homeowners now know the basics of financial literacy, such as how to use a financial institution, how to stay away from payday lenders, how to make sure they get their earned income tax credits, how to not cash checks and pay a fee for that service, and how to balance a checking account.

She is thrilled and humbled to follow in the footsteps of former GECU president and chairman, R.C. Morgan, who was a recipient of the first Herb Wegner Memorial Award in 1989. “He was a mentor to me and so many of us have spent our lives trying to do what he set out as being important,” she says. So winning the same award is, as she puts it, “the crowning glory.” As for other credit unions considering embarking on similar programs, May advises taking the risk. “Always do your research first. But sometimes you have to take that chance and say, ‘We can do this.’ The best things often are risky.”

She is also quick to point to all the wonderful work being done by credit unions throughout the United States. “I just happened to be recognized for our work,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other good or better programs going on all the time. I think that is just indicative of the credit union difference. There are so many other neat ideas, if you look around. It’s just incredible.”