CU Learns Lessons In Implementing Staff Community Service Program

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When Telesis Community Credit Union set up its community service program in early 2002, management figured giving employees four hours off per week to use for volunteer time would be beneficial for all, including local charities.

More than two years later, Richard Cooper, vice president of government and community relations for Telesis, told The Credit Union Journal the program was "well intended, but doesn't get used as much as I thought it would."

Does that mean Cooper is unhappy with the philanthropic mindset of the staff at Telesis? Hardly. The reason the four-hours-per-week program has been underutilized is that short amount of time is not nearly enough to accommodate the remarkable number of hours employees of the credit union have given to the community-nearly all on their own time.

"When we first started, we anticipated our people would spend the time at senior centers or library groups. What we discovered is that four hours is not sufficient for participating in a charity," explained Cooper. "Those organizations want someone who can be there on a regular basis during the daytime. They need a part-time receptionist, or help serving or delivering lunches. So we weren't really able to fulfill their needs."

"As it has turned out, though, our employees have given more time and more money than originally planned," he added.

The majority of the time donated by Telesis staff members tends to be at evening or weekend fundraisers, said Cooper. For example, employees participate in numerous walkathons, including those to benefit the March of Dimes and Multiple Sclerosis organizations in Simi Valley, the Brenda Mehling Cancer Fund in Santa Clarita, the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda, Walk of Ages/Alzheimer's Association in Thousand Oaks, AIDS Walk Los Angeles, and Pet Orphans Fund in Van Nuys.

"The Pet Orphans Fund rescues dogs from the pound or from bad situations and places them in good homes," said Cooper. "We also raise money for Valley Village, which works with developmentally disabled adults and children in our area. At the recent Valley Village fundraiser, we had 12 volunteers who sold tickets and manned registration tables."

Another way the CU lends a hand to Valley Village is by participating in afternoon programs for children in special education classes. Telesis staff members put on parties for numerous holidays, including Valentine's Day and Easter.

More Helping Hand Programs

Telesis has nine branches in its service area, which includes the San Fernando Valley, the Santa Clarita Valley and Ventura County. The credit union is involved in many other local programs, including co-sponsoring Mid Valley Clean Up Day the past two years with the Mid Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Chatsworth chapter of Girl Scouts of America, the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, Jewish Women International, Friends of the Library groups in Simi Valley and Santa Clarita, Habitat for Humanity in Pacoima, and Haven Hills-a domestic abuse shelter that serves the San Fernando Valley.

Cooper said Telesis is in the process of evaluating a new community service program that better reflects the efforts its staff members make. A certain amount of volunteer work will earn the employee time off-for example, 20 hours of community service would equal one extra vacation day.

"We see the work our people do as taking the credit union ideal out into the community," he said. "We are not Bank of America, so we don't have a huge budget or a branch on every corner. But we are a presence in our communities. Community service is a symbiotic relationship -it benefits the community and helps us build business by getting our name out there. Once people know you are interested in the community, there is no end to the opportunities."

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