2021 Star Gala Celebrates Resilience and Accomplishment

On September 24, after a year of hiatus, the Mountain West Credit Union Foundation held its 13th Annual Gala to honor members for their extraordinary efforts during the 2020 pandemic. Held at the Vehicle Vault in Parker, Colorado, the Star Gala highlighted those who best exemplified the Foundation’s “People Helping People” corporate philosophy over the past year. The Gala provided dinner and live music to credit union professionals from Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming.

Event coordinator Diana Adell expressed that the event was well received and enjoyed by its nearly 200 attendees. “Everyone seemed really happy to be able to finally be together. The Gala celebrated our members’ resilience, successes, and accomplishments through a challenging year.” The Gala gave members who had been through leadership programs and training since the pandemic began to reconnect with one another.

Crowd favorites Spinphony and Black Iris Collective provided exceptional entertainment and a fantastic backdrop for the energetic social atmosphere, while the delicious food was enjoyed right down to the last dessert.

“Our staff did an incredible job with all aspects of the Gala,” Diana shares. “Everyone was genuinely excited to be there. I’m so thankful and humbled to have been a part of such a special event.”

Awards Recognize Individual, Community Achievements

The circumstances of 2020 created many unexpected challenges, but the 2021 awards recognized the excellence with which credit union membership rose to the occasion and served their communities. Recognition awards were presented to outstanding credit unions and employees in five categories – the Outstanding Young Professionals Award, the Emerging Leader Award, the Distinguished Leader Award, the Credit Union of the Year Award, and the Community Impact Award.

Outstanding Young Professionals:

Shawnae Case, Trona Valley Federal Credit Union
Jennifer Geesaman, [Gees-men] Colorado Credit Union
Kitsi Hubbard, Canvas Credit Union
Kelly Mobley, Vantage West Credit Union
Whitney Thomas, Colorado Credit Union
Tina Wickes, Columbine Federal Credit Union
William Wine, StagePoint Federal Credit Union

This award recognized the credit union professionals under 40 years of age who brought consistent passion, competence, and leadership to their careers and credit unions during 2020-2021.

Emerging Leader Award:
LaTrice Brewster, Horizons North Credit Union

The Emerging Leader award honored the exceptional contributions of a rising CU professional who exhibited the highest standard of professionalism, community service, and excellence.

Ms. Brewster is the marketing director at Horizons North Credit Union. The speaker, author, and leader is known for getting involved and creating success across the organization. Her passionate leadership extends beyond her career and into the community. She serves on the Board for the Five Star Education Foundation, mentors future leaders through Junior Achievement, and helps to provide meals to underserved populations with Totes of Hope. LaTrice participates in her credit union’s Adopt a Family program and coordinates the annual student art show.

Distinguished Leader Award: James Knoff, Board Treasurer, Pima Federal Credit Union; and Supervisory Committee Chair, Tucson Old Pueblo Credit Union

The Distinguished Leader Award recognized leaders from MWCUA’s three-state region that have exhibited substantial and longstanding service to the credit union community.

James Knoff has been a tireless supporter of the CU movement for more than 55 years, beginning his career as an examiner for the Bureau of Credit Unions – the predecessor organization to the NCUA. He served on the Arizona Credit Union League board for nearly a decade and was named the League’s Very Outstanding Credit Union Person in 2002. Mr. Knoff is a generous community volunteer, a chapter leader, a mentor to other CU CEOs, and a tireless proponent of Credit Unions for Kids.

Mr. Knoff’s long list of achievements will be recorded in the Hall of Leaders at the Credit Union House in Washington, D.C.

Credit Unions of the Year:
Fitzsimons Credit Union
Meridian Trust Federal Credit Union

Fitzsimons Credit Union used innovation to expand services to their members and grow their membership base despite the healthcare crisis. Their pandemic relief programs included auto and home equity loan deferrals and short-term signature loans to assist with immediate expenses. However, the credit union also ramped up community involvement, raising funds for nonprofits and sponsoring weekly food deliveries to local hospitals.

Fitzsimons not only grew their member base but took on initiatives to better serve them through technology. The credit union developed a new, bilingual mobile-friendly website, added an Interactive teller machine, and instituted text alerts to fight fraud. These innovations earned Fitzsimons a first-place state and second-place national Louise Herring Award.

Meridian Trust Federal Credit Union reported a net worth ratio of almost 10%, and it is above its category peers in ROA, loan-to-share, and revenue per member. They made significant technology investments for their members in 2020, with a new online and mobile banking provider, an automated direct deposit switch solution, and a new website. Meridian opened its 11th branch location and invested in additional staff training.

Meridian is a passionate political advocate for the CU movement, hosting meetings and raising money for grassroots advocacy efforts. In November, the credit union unveiled the Flags for Heroes program. The program honored veterans, military, police, teachers, healthcare workers, or family members who had positively impacted others’ lives. Over 500 flags were purchased and displayed at credit union locations, providing a rallying point for the community during a difficult time.

Community Impact Award:
OneAZ Credit Union

The Community Impact Award recognized the most outstanding representation of the movement’s “People Helping People” community core value. The OneAZ Community Foundation provides charitable donations to improve the lives of members, associates, and the communities served by the credit union. The Foundation raises funds and distributes grants for community non-profits involved in one or more of the five pillars of support: Children’s Health, Food Banks, Financial Education, Veterans’ Interests, and Local Youth Programs. Since 2015, the Foundation has given close to $600,000 to non-profit organizations throughout Arizona.

During the pandemic, many Arizona private non-profits suffered due to loss of funding, forced temporary closure, and lack of volunteers. OneAZ Credit Union’s Community Foundation rapidly mobilized and rolled out an emergency COVID-19 Community Impact Grant program. Within two weeks, 100 Arizona non-profits were each awarded $2,000 grants, amassing a total community investment of $200,000.

Event Sponsor Appreciation

The Annual Gala could not be such a success without the support of our membership and partners. The Foundation would like to thank the following organizations for their sponsorship and contributions.

Gold Sponsors:
Alloya Corporate Credit Union
Ent Credit Union
OneAZ Credit Union
Mountain West Credit Union Foundation

Silver Sponsors:
Canvas Credit Union
Sentric Consulting
Westerra Credit Union

Bronze Sponsors:
Bellco Credit Union
Blue Federal Credit Union
Centennial Lending
Colorado Credit Union
CUNA Mutual Group
Elevations Credit Union
Fitzsimons Credit Union
Horizons North Credit Union
Meridian Trust Federal Credit Union
Pima Federal Credit Union
Sooper Credit Union
Space Age Federal Credit Union
Tucson Old Pueblo Credit Union
Trona Valley Community Federal Credit Union

Photography Sponsor:
Arizona Federal Credit Union

Affiliate Sponsors:
Kirchhof Group
First Credit Union

New Initiative Announced

Dr. Dan Santangelo announced the Credit Unions for Hunger Relief Initiative, a program designed for credit unions to have tangible impact on reducing food insecurity in their local community. Look for more on this initiative in our next blog.