A corporate training seminar left Maribel Fry in tears. Wiping her eyes, this sales specialist smiled as she watched 14 very happy children ride newly built bicycles around a large conference room of the CUNA Mutual headquarters in Madison. She and 90 of her colleagues from across the country gathered to boost their professional skills while dedicating their efforts to the benefit of area young people from the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County. But little did Fry realize that she would get something in return.
“This was my childhood. I was an inner city child born and raised in a really rough neighborhood in Harrisburg Pennsylvania,” she said watching the children play. “My mother was on welfare, raising four kids, my father had left. But we went to the Boys & Girls Club to play some basketball and get off the street. It really brings back memories.”
Training programs meant to improve the bottom line are common to many businesses. Exercises in team building are typically designed to shake up employees and get them to think about their work in a different context. Under the direction of a group called the Leaders Institute, which specializes in philanthropically based corporate training, CUNA Mutual employees performed a series of cooperative tasks designed to hone their communication and management skills. The final assignment of the day was the construction of bicycles that were given away to the delight of 7 boys and 7 girls who likely could never afford bikes of their own.
CUNA staffers like Fry were personally moved by the opportunity to make a real contribution to the community and demonstrated how with a little bit of cooperation they can make a difference in the lives of those they serve.
“This organization and organizations like this will keep kids focused and striving for something,” Fry said. “Just because they live in poverty or in poor areas now, it doesn’t mean that’s their life. Things can get better for them. But it’s important that we give back.”
In service to credit union organizations throughout the United States, CUNA Mutual is familiar with providing opportunities to improve the lives of others. Business manager Teresa Brewer-Peach said the day-long seminar offered her sales professionals the chance to realize the practical results of their efforts.
“Part of the whole credit union philosophy is people helping people,” Brewer-Peach said. “Helping our peers, our customers and their families is something we take very seriously.
And it’s only fitting that we build these bikes and give them to kids who really need them.”
Because CUNA’s salespeople are based in many different areas around the country they don’t often have the opportunity to work face-to-face and function as a team. Used to connecting virtually via electronic communications, email, text messages video-conferencing, etc., seminars like this give them the chance to reaffirm their corporate culture and shared ideals.
“That’s really important to us from a values standpoint,” said David Swietzer, vice president of sales. “We as an organization are about giving back to others. As a credit union we’re about giving back to the community. Doing something that helps us in a team building capacity that then helps someone in the community is what we’re all about.”
The CUNA Mutual Foundation has a long-standing relationship with the local chapter of the Boys & Girls Club. Recent contributions include $150,000 toward the renovation of the club’s facility in the Allied Drive neighborhood. CUNA also provided initial funding for the creation of a job-training program for teenagers as well as an in-house credit union to help young people learn financial planning.
When CUNA’s training seminar concluded foundation executive director Steve Goldberg said giving the new bikes to the Boys & Girls Club is consistent with the company’s day-to-day work energy that’s dedicated to the benefit of others.
“For us this a triple win,” Goldberg said. “This is a great win for the company because we’re going to be getting some value from the exercise in terms of the productivity and the effectiveness of these sales people. And it’s a win for the sales people because it’s teaching them important skills and teamwork. And it’s a win for the community because the Boys & Girls Club can benefit.”
This story originally appeared in the July issue of the Capital Region Business Journal philanthropy feature Good Works