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Houston Highway's High Road to Advocacy
Friday, July 17, 2015 7:00 AM

Houston Highway Credit Union has a strong CU:ROAR grassroots advocacy team that includes a staff of six go-getters whose first priority begins and ends with the success of the credit union movement. But they didn't get that way by chance. Their leader, President and CEO Craig Atkinson, has set the tone for advancement and a high bar for achievement that keeps this motivated group of professionals primed for great things.

"When someone asks, What keeps you up at night? I think legislative and regulatory issues," Atkinson said. "Legislation and regulation is the one thing that can put you out of business extremely quickly with little to no notice. It is imperative we stay engaged to minimize the chances that will ever happen."

Atkinson, whose credentials include a string of professional designations—SCMS, CUDE, CUERME, CCUFC, and CUCE—takes direct responsibility for energizing and motivating his staff; and he is unwavering about the benefits training provides for career development (Leaguer, May 29, 2015). Of his 20 employees, six are currently attending the Southwest CUNA Management School and five are already designated Credit Union Development Educators (CUDE), with two more set to attend the school in September.

"We are dedicated to the CU industry," Atkinson said. "I believe when you get staff engaged in training and education, you not only enhance their careers and earning potential, you create an employee that cares more about the industry than others. Then advocacy becomes another invaluable spoke on that wheel."

But grassroots advocacy is more than talking to legislators. Atkinson staunchly encourages his team's attendance at chapter meetings and other events as well. "I know that the more individuals are engaged in the movement, the more successful they will become long term," he said. "I take staff development extremely seriously and advocacy is a part of that."

Atkinson makes sure to include members of Cornerstone Young Professionals on his CU:ROAR team. Houston Highway Special Projects and Research Manager Austin McCafferty has been an avid credit union advocate at local, state, and nationwide events such as Hike the Hill and the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference as a "crasher." McCafferty is flanked by equally dynamic credit union activists. Atkinson's son Joshua is an advisory director on the Cornerstone board of directors, and Kevin Conn is a YP advisor and a member of the league's Grassroots Advocacy Subcommittee.

During the Texas Legislative session, when Cornerstone Credit Union League advocacy leaders asked for help in engaging with lawmakers regarding a pending bill, Atkinson's staff answered the call with immediate action. McCafferty led the CU:ROAR team in contacting their state legislators, and he trained them on how to make effective calls.

"After the drive to communicate with legislators," Atkinson said, "the team was able to relate success stories. Employees loved seeing that results at the state level were tangible."

To all of his staff, Atkinson emphasizes how important it is to be heard. "We may not always prevail, but not being heard is a travesty. It's actually simple; it starts with asking questions and making statements. If you think it’s important for your supervisor to actively listen to your thoughts and ideas, don’t you think it’s important to have your legislators and regulators hear them as well?"

McCafferty agrees that it's vital to be engaged in programs like CU:ROAR. If you need help getting started, he suggests first contacting your league. "Cornerstone Credit Union League has an excellent political action team that can get you started on the progression of advocating at your credit union." He also recommends speaking with your credit union's executives too. "The only way they will know you are interested is if you speak up, and they will be key to getting involved."

Cornerstone Political and Grassroots Director April Krause said Houston Highway has become a leader in the movement. “I am very excited about the involvement of Houston Highway Credit Union. With Craig Atkinson's leadership and his pacesetting CU:ROAR team, they continually set the standard for other grassroots advocacy teams to emulate, not only in the Cornerstone region, but nationally.”

The heart of advocacy beats with the highest intent and commitment of many dedicated people helping people. Perhaps Austin McCafferty said it best. "The members I serve are the reason I work in this industry. Having a voice for credit unions means having a voice for members. That's the truth behind why it matters."