I really feel that the Credit Union philosophy of People Helping People can be seen in action within every Credit Union in our Association. That’s why it’s such a difficult task to select the Community Impact award recipients each year. But, this year, two programs stood out because of the tremendous impact they are having in their communities – Community Choice Credit Union’s Project Hope, and Colorado Credit Union’s Commitment to Conquer Hunger in Our Community.
The short video below showcases Project Hope. We also sat down with Rainy Thoen, CEO for Community Choice Credit Union, and Heather LaCrue, the Credit Union’s Business Development Officer and Project Hope’s coordinator, to find out even more about the impact that Project Hope is having in Commerce City, Colorado.
Q: Will you tell us a bit about the purpose of Project Hope and how long Community Choice has been involved?
Rainy: We got involved with Project Hope last year, in 2018, when we became the main sponsor. The program is organized to feed as many families as possible during the winter school break. School administrators identify children on the free lunch program who might not have enough to eat when school isn’t in session. The Adams County Food Bank works hard to gather enough food to sustain each family on the list for the entire two-week break.
Currently the program feeds around 250 families, giving them enough groceries to feed their whole family until school is back in session. Last year, we also started giving out toys because we realized that, for most of these families, purchasing toys for their children for Christmas is simply not within their reach.
Q: Why was Project Hope something that you wanted to take on as a Credit Union?
Heather: There are a lot of kids in our community that rely on the school lunch program for both breakfast and lunch every single day. But, for the two weeks when they are out of school for the winter break, it’s a tremendous burden on the families to provide the nutrition the kids need.
Last year we heard that the project was struggling to find enough funding to feed the families on their list, so we decided to step up and make sure the program was funded. Our vision is to not only make sure that the program is sustainable, but that it is able to help more and more families every year.
Q: I can tell that you both are extremely passionate about this program and what it does to support the families in your community. What does Project Hope mean to you on a personal level?
Heather: I was born and raised in Commerce City. It’s my home and I feel very strongly about doing all I can to support the people who live here. We have a lot of underserved people in our community. All my life, I’ve known people who need services like these – including my own family.
That’s where it becomes so personal for me. When I was a child, I walked to the local elementary school every day for lunch throughout the entire summer break. For many of my friends and neighbors, programs like Project Hope have made difficult situations a bit more manageable. I do a lot of community work and understand deeply how important those programs are because I live it.
I can also say with confidence that Project Hope is one of the most personally rewarding things I do all year. For our winter fest, we ask kids to write letters to Santa and there are always kids who ask Santa for things like socks or underwear. These are young, elementary age children, who you’d think would be asking for the latest toys, but instead they are asking for things like enough food for their moms to be able to make them dinner. It just breaks your heart.
Rainy: To me, people helping people means helping people all the time– in the good times and the bad. I always feel like the benefit to mefrom community service is so much greater than the service I provide. I want my team to understand that too.
It’s my desire for every staff member at Community Choice to recognize the incredible value of getting involved in your community and helping people when they need it the most. It changes your entire outlook. There is such a joy to knowing you’re doing what you can to make a difference.
Q: How doe Project Hope tie into the bigger picture of what Community Choice is trying to do within your community?
Rainy: The need for programs that help people get back on their feet in this community is tremendous. As a Credit Union, we want to be able to recognize the true needs of our community so we can be part of the solution.
Of course, as a Credit Union, we want the people in our community to have the resources they need to improve their financial outlook. But we also want them to have a strong foundation on every level. It’s challenging to address someone’s financial needs when they don’t even know how they are going to feed their children.
We want Community Choice to be a resource for people that goes beyond financial services. It’s about relationships.I believe that when you focus on building meaningful relationships that support people through the good and bad times in their lives, that builds loyalty and trust. That’s what we’re about.
We want them to think of us when they need financial services. But our purpose is about more than a transaction. It’s about being so connected that we are able to help people with what they reallyneed, not just what we think they might need.
Q: How is Project Hope able to feed so many families and how are you working to ensure the program continues to grow?
Rainy: As is true of most effective programs, they key is partnerships. It takes all of us, the school district, the city, local businesses, and many community partners to keep Project Hope alive.
We also rely on liaisons at each elementary school who are tasked with getting to know the children at that school and their situations. Without them, we would have a difficult time knowing which children are really in need.
Heather: At the moment, Community Choice funds the full dollar amount of the program. Collaborating with the Food Bank ensures that the money we donate to the program is stretched as far as it can go because the Food Bank has relationships with suppliers that allows them to get quality food for pennies on the dollar.
The food is largely fresh – fresh produce, dairy, and meat. It’s not just canned goods. It’s whole, nutritious food. Without the partnerships and relationships that the Food Bank has built over the years, we wouldn’t be able to supply the families with such high-quality items.
But our goal is to get more partners to work with us so that we can help even more families. We are committed to the long-term sustainability of the program and will do everything possible to ensure it remains fully funded.
Rainy: Last year, there were three gentlemen who saw us getting set up for the toy drive. They came over and asked if they could help us work, doing whatever we needed, in exchange for taking one toy home to their children. That really moved me. These men were willing to work all afternoon so their child would have a toy.
It’s experiences like this that fuel our passion to ensure that no one in our community goes to bed hungry or wakes up on Christmas morning without a toy for their child to open. The people in our community are loving, hardworking, good people, who want a better future for their families. We want to support them in every way we can.