“People helping people.”
Since the inception of credit unions in the early 1900s, this phrase has been their north star in serving credit union members and making a positive impact in their larger communities. This guiding principle is why credit unions were formed and is further exemplified through the creation of Credit Unions for Kids (CU4Kids), a consortium of credit unions, chapters, leagues, associations and business partners who collaboratively fundraise in support of their local children’s hospitals.
Since CHOC’s partnership with CU4Kids began in 2007, through Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Orange County credit unions have demonstrated their passion and unwavering commitment to our CHOC community. From Choco Bear stuffed animal sales to membership drives, credit unions each host their own spirited, distinct fundraising activities to benefit CHOC’s growing health system, and continues to give back by consistently participating in Foundation events like CHOC Walk in the Park, presented by the Disneyland® Resort. Also, for the last 18 years, credit unions have come together through their annual CU4Kids wine auction, a time-honored tradition and one of their largest fundraising events that has raised millions of dollars for our patients.
CHOC is privileged to be a beneficiary of their collective efforts, receiving more than $9 million to bring the highest-quality care to our patients and families in Orange County. CU4Kids’ generous contributions support the full breadth of CHOC programs and services, and provide a critical safety-net that offers children the essential care they need, regardless of their family’s ability to pay.
“Credit unions have been around a long time, but the ‘people helping people’ philosophy has been with us since the beginning…and what more can you do to help people than to help sick and injured kids?” says Bill Cheney, chief executive officer of SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union and CHOC Foundation board member.
In this Q-and-A, Cheney shares his perspective on the importance of community involvement and corporate philanthropy.
1. CHOC Foundation: Why is caring for sick and injured kids such a priority and heartfelt mission for you personally?
Bill Cheney: My involvement, my wife’s involvement and our family’s involvement with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals had started back in San Antonio, Texas, in the ‘80s with Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital. We got involved because it was the right thing to do—to help to support hospitals that provided health care to children, including people who couldn’t afford to pay for it. The charity aspect of it was very important to us—for everyone to receive care no matter their ability to pay, which you cannot do without philanthropy. You need support from the community to provide that health care.
However, our story became personal to us. Less than five years ago, when we had a grandson who was born in Colorado with a severe birth defect known as esophageal atresia, (a rare condition in which a baby is born without part of the swallowing tube that connects their mouth to their stomach). He had 17 surgeries in four-and-a-half months. Today, he’s almost five years old, and he still goes in for care occasionally, but you would never know that he had any previous issues if you saw him. This made it more personal for us because, you know, that treatment wouldn’t have existed, that research wouldn’t have existed, and the system wouldn’t have existed to provide my grandson with that care without philanthropy.
2. CHOC: SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union’s commitment to social responsibility truly serves as a model for all organizations. Why do you think it’s important for corporations to get involved with their communities through philanthropy?
BC: In terms of recruiting and retaining employees, and with our membership, more and more people are looking for companies that share their values. And that it is not just a place to go to work for eight hours a day.
But this is not the reason we do it. We do it because it’s the right thing to do and it supports children in our community. The benefit is that it shows our employees and our members that we care. We’re not just a business. We’re an organization who cares.
This is especially important in the credit union business because we’re not-for-profit. We don’t have shareholders for whom we have to make a return on an investment. We’re a financial cooperative, owned by our members, and so we return value to our members. Part of the way we do that is through paying competitive rates on deposits and charging lower rates on loans and lower fees, but another part of the way we do that is to be a part of the community, including supporting charitable causes that make a difference.
3. CHOC: Why is CHOC, in particular, so important for SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union?
BC: [SchoolsFirst] does more for CHOC than for anyone because we have more people in Orange County than we have anywhere else in terms of both our members and our employees. CHOC is a big deal for our credit union. Part of it is our ‘people helping people’ credit union philosophy, and part of it is so many of our team and our members have been touched by CHOC. Many of them grew up in this community and were impacted by CHOC—whether it was a sibling or themselves.
4. CHOC: Your employees are so dedicated to giving back, especially through their fundraising activities for CHOC. What do you think motivates their passionate involvement and how do you ensure that this culture of philanthropy is sustained throughout your branches?
BC: It becomes competitive between the team members and the branches, and they get very creative about how they raise money for CHOC. They know that every little bit contributes to the larger impact, so they’ll do bake sales and, during the holidays, we do the Choco Bear stuffed animal sales and we sell out of them within about two days. So lots of different ways. It just becomes competitive, and they love to do it.
I’ve also been able to meet with our new employees in person and talk to them about the credit union and the credit union difference and why we’re here and who we serve, and how important that all is. During that time, I always talk about our charitable activities, including CHOC. And when I do that, they get an early introduction to causes that we support.
5. CHOC: Congrats to CU4Kids for being named this year’s CHOC Gala Champion Honoree! What does receiving this award mean to you?
BC: It’s a very nice recognition and a very nice surprise. I’m very happy not only for our credit union but also for our CU4Kids team that’s been involved with all the credit unions in this region. In the credit union industry, we’re collaborative. Not competitive. We’ve all been involved, and we’ve all worked together, so to see us recognized as a cooperative credit union movement in Orange County is a big deal.
CU4Kids, Orange County consists of the following: American First Credit Union, CA/NV Credit Union League, Co-op Solutions, Credit Union of Southern California, Eagle Community Credit Union, Financial Partners Credit Union, Kinecta Federal Credit Union, LBS Financial Credit Union, Nuvision Federal Credit Union. Orange County’s Credit Union, Origence, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, Southland Credit Union, UNIFY Financial Credit Union and Wescom Credit Union.
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