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Young Professionals Attend Texas GAC for the First Time
Wednesday, February 25, 2015 7:00 AM

YP at Texas GAC
Pictured left to right: Ashley Pierce, Jennifer Hughes, Attorney General Ken Paxton, Jessica Taylor, and Patti Burford.

At Cornerstone's annual Texas Governmental Affairs Conference in Austin most attendees were veterans of the event, but some vibrant Young Professionals were among the advocates for the first time—many who are members of Cornerstone's signature political engagement program, CU:ROAR.

The Texas GAC brings credit union professionals together to collaborate with one another and advocate for credit unions in Texas. This year's conference featured a number of state lawmakers who stopped in to speak to credit unions, including Sen. Charles Perry, Rep. Tan Parker, Rep. Todd Hunter, Rep. Richard Raymond, and Rep. Dan Flynn. Texas Credit Union Department Commissioner Harold Feeney and Attorney General Ken Paxton were also on hand, as well as a political satirist, Jeff Kreisler.

The First-Time Experience at GAC

A+ Federal Credit Union sent several Young Professionals to the Texas GAC, including Jessica Taylor, Jennifer Hughes, and Ashley Pierce. Generations Federal Credit Union sent another Young Professional, Sarah Rosas.

Pierce is a financial analyst at A+ FCU and reported that her first experience renewed her love for the credit union movement. "It's a real honor to be able to experience a cooperative event like this one," Pierce said. "For credit union staffers that aren't in management, the beauty of working for a cooperative isn't always that prominent because opportunities like this one aren't always available. I'm so thankful to the League for offering the opportunity to CU:ROAR teams."

Jennifer Hughes is an employee development coordinator with A+. "Hearing others speak about what's important to our community, our state, and our industry was nothing short of inspiring," Hughes said. "I found myself surrounded by CEOs, CU upper management, League management, and people with enough experience to make my title and tenure quite insignificant by comparison. I learned more than I could possibly share here, but I'm hoping you can feel the passion oozing from this to get a sense of what I took away."

Sarah Rosas was not originally intended to go, but stepped in for a colleague; and then when her public relations colleague was unable to attend at the last minute, Rosas found herself on her own. "I was nervous, scared, and anxious, but most of all determined," Rosas said, adding that if her more experienced PR colleague thought she was capable of representing their credit union, then that's exactly what she was going to do.

Rosas at first felt intimidated by veterans of the event, but she was put at ease when she found everyone to be professional and helpful. In fact, she found a big supporter in Cornerstone's Brittanie Haines.

"I clung to Brittanie like it was my first day at kindergarten," Rosas jokes. "She was gracious enough to make sure I was introduced to everyone, and she truly made me feel like I belonged. After we sat down for dinner, I realized there was a CEO to my left, a CEO to my right, and a CEO passing me butter."

Again, Rosas was put at ease when after dinner, Maria Martinez, CEO from Border Federal Credit Union, invited Rosas to her table. "I glanced over and couldn't help but admire her polished business attire combined with poised confidence," Rosas said. "I immediately knew that I wanted to be just like her when I grew up! She welcomed me into the conversation, and it wasn't long before I was her biggest fan."

At the Capitol

YPs at Texas GAC
Border FCU CEO Maria Martinez with Sarah Rosas, Generations FCU.

After the special speaking sessions at the Austin Hilton and a legislative update, attendees rode to the Capitol on a chartered bus, toured the capitol, and visited with various lawmakers in their respective offices. Our four Young Professionals had plenty to say about their experiences.

First-timer Jessica Taylor, who is a member services officer at A+, said, "My experience at the Capitol was amazing. Not being very political, I learned so much. Even though we only met with one actual representative, the interest he showed was very uplifting, and I am honored to have witnessed that he might actually care about what is going on with CUs."

Pierce said of her visits with lawmakers that nerves are just part of the game. "It takes practice to become comfortable discussing credit union issues with people who can be intimidating," Pierce said. "I got to accomplish overcoming my nerves after I spoke with one of Rep. Gonzales' staff members in front of my colleagues. I was among supportive friends who were willing to jump in whenever needed, which made the challenge a little easier."

Hughes noted that over the past year, her credit union joined the CU:ROAR program and began training their staff on a regular basis about what it means to be an advocate. "During the day at the capitol, the word 'advocate' took on a whole new meaning for me—it's time to act!" she said. "The great thing is, we were unified in our objectives; it didn't matter what our title was or what we do for the credit union. We were representing credit unions, period. We were there to make sure our representatives and senators were informed about our issues, and that's exactly what we did."

Rosas, who is the branch manager for Generations FCU in Schertz, said her experience made her look at the bigger picture of political engagement. "I didn’t realize how the whole system worked. I learned there is so much more that goes on in the background—logistics, negotiations, and the bartering process."

The Takeaways

Pierce said her biggest takeaway was a better perspective. "I can talk about advocacy all day, but it didn't become real to me until I saw it firsthand," she said. "Being politically engaged in a world where there are so many individuals that do not understand the difference between a bank and a credit union is extremely important. Can you imagine what the world would be like without us?"

Taylor, like the other Young Professionals, plans on continuing her advocacy efforts. "I now know the importance of speaking up for what I believe in," she said. "I will also be passing this on to my coworkers so they will know the importance of speaking up and getting it out there so that we can continue to do what we do."

Hughes, who has been a member of her credit union since she was 16 and an employee since 2005, says she is now an active advocate for life. "Attending this conference was such a privilege," she said. "I am grateful for the opportunity to represent my credit union and our industry."

Hughes offered a short list of takeaways to summarize her experience, and she expressed her hope that it inspires the advocate inside other young professionals:

  • GET INFORMED! Find out what's going on within our industry and your own communities.
  • COMMUNICATE! Lawmakers really do want to hear from their constituents. Every office we visited stressed this point.
  • PARTICIPATE! Find what's important to you and get involved. YOU really can make a difference.

Rosas serves as a Young Professional delegate in her chapter. Since the GAC, she's told everyone she can about political advocacy. "It's all about the vote," she said. "We need to vote to make sure the best candidate that will sway in our favor is elected. It was amazing to see so many credit unions from all over gather to take a stand for the vision and values we live and breathe every day."

Rosas' parting thoughts might sum things up for other Young Professionals hesitating to take the next step into political advocacy. "You can be and do whatever you want," Rosas said. "I only speak publicly if my grade or my career depends on it, but that day, I was Public Relations Sarah Rosas representing Generations FCU. A title does not make the person, the person makes the title."

Cornerstone Credit Union League Political and Grassroots Director April Krause shared nothing but high praise for the Young Professional first-timers. "Participating in events like the Texas Governmental Affairs Conference highlights the value of political engagement," Krause said. "There is no substitute for experiencing this firsthand. We are very pleased that part of the A+ Federal Credit Union CU:ROAR team and Sarah Rosas from Generations FCU were able to participate. We would like to see other ROAR teams and Young Professionals participate at future events. It will only make us stronger."