Man Seeking To 'Change The Planet' Appeals To CUs To Help Him Do So

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The recent CUES' annual convention here brought in credit union CEOs, technology consultants, and an international slate of economists from Cornell, Harvard and the London Business School. But the warmest and most enthusiastic response was generated by a man who describes himself as someone who works with "poor children, welfare mothers and displaced steelworkers" in the Pittsburgh area.

Bill Strickland, CEO of the Manchester Craftsman's Guild and the Bidwell Training Center, deliberately chose the toughest, highest-crime area of Pittsburgh when he built his training facilities. And instead of bars on the windows and an institutional look, Strickland designed a bright building with artwork on the walls, handcrafted furniture and flowers in the hallways.

"What I want people on the boards of credit unions to know is, environment breeds behavior," he said. "It actually changes people's perspective on life. If you build a world-class environment, people act differently. If expectations are set low, people walk low. But if you set expectations where people reach for something, they reach for it."

"We can't teach a kid algebra who doesn't want to live," he added.

Strickland's Pittsburgh training center has expanded over the years to include a culinary school, a pharmaceutical program, a chemical lab, a greenhouse and a music hall. Every program has placement services that help graduates get jobs. He is in the process of opening centers in San Francisco, Cincinnati, and Grand Rapids, Mich. He would like to open more training facilities in other cities, and asked the CU movement for any assistance it can offer.

"I want to change the planet, I really do," he said. "I want to affect as many people's lives as I can. It is cheaper than sending people to prison, and with a lot better results."

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