Utah CU Creates Program To Help Employees Facing Crisis; One Mom's Story After Cancer Diagnosis

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Good news, you're pregnant. Bad news, you have cancer.

For America First Credit Union Auditor Melinda Stoor, there was no question about what she had to do.

"Who do you want to perform the abortion?" she recalled the doctor asking her when she learned that the treatment for a rare form of lymphoma would require chemotherapy.

Fourteen weeks along and grateful that the unborn child saved her life by helping doctors discover the stage IV tumor that enveloped her entire left lung, Stoor said it was only fair to give him the same fighting chance that she was about to receive.

With the support of her family, her co-workers and a generous program at America First CU that helps families in crisis, Stoor braved many months of treatment that included four different chemotherapy drugs while the baby grew inside her.

Kent Streuling, VP of Human Services, developed the "Care A Lot Fund," a non-profit corporation designed to help employees in need.

Admittedly, getting started was a ''daunting task" that included a lot of paperwork and effort, but "it's worth it" to the CU's 1,300 employees and their families, Streuling said.

Since its inception in 1998, the proceeds have assisted families in crisis with everything from house payments, gravestone purchases, gas and furniture.

For example, he said, after the mother of four boys and the wife of a top executive died on Christmas day, the CU sent a team over to stock his family's freezer with enough food to last a month.

When an employee traveling home from a vacation broke her neck in a car accident, the Care A Lot group paid for her husband's housing to be by her side during recovery. Just after returning to work, her father died. The CU stepped up again and paid for her to get back home for the funeral.

"Today, I have a request for a couple that just got married and the husband was killed in a motorcycle accident," Streuling said. Others who have benefited from the program included flood victims, a family that lost their home in a fire, and many with sick children. The program also treats the families of newborns to a dinner.

While Stoor, a 19-year employee, had accumulated enough leave to cover her cancer treatment, Streuling said, the Care A lot Fund provided gift certificates and additional leave to help her care for her newborn, born eight weeks early.

"(The Care A lot Fund) started when one of the employees' children got cancer," Streuling said. "All of the sudden, we had all of these departments trying to do fundraisers to help these people."

He said his idea, borrowed from a scaled down version at his previous job, was to get everybody to pool his or her resources in the true credit union spirit.

Today, he said, 80% of the employees have anywhere from $1 to $25 a paycheck taken as an automatic deduction for Care A lot.

Stoor, the mother of three other children, ages 11, 8 and 5, at the time, said she is grateful that it exists.

"My daughter was just turning 12 at the time and it was quite hard for her," she said. "The two boys were great, but they kept asking why mommies lose their hair when they have babies. I was quite a sight."

Stoor's battle inspired others who often turned to her for advice when faced with their own challenges, she said.

"People here at the credit union just started calling me," she said. "Just to be able to talk to them and help them as they were able to help me made me feel pretty good."

Stoor said she felt honored when her fellow employees joined her in supporting the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life fundraiser last month. Their team, June Bugs for the Cure, included more than 100 participants with connections to the $3.1-billion credit union. Together, they collected $7,120, which included a $1,000 corporate donation from America First.

Stoor said she proudly made the survivor lap with Aaron, 3, whom she calls her fellow survivor for all he endured inside the womb.

"First of all, I'm just grateful to be here to participate," she said. "And to be able to help others have an easier time emotionally feels great."

Perhaps most touching, she said, is knowing that her co-workers care (even about an internal auditor, she joked).

Both mom and baby are doing great, mom said.

"I play indoor soccer and softball and coach the kids' teams."

As for Aaron, "He is the absolute sweetest, most curious, mischievous boy," Stoor said. "There are no side effects that we can tell from the chemotherapy."

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