1st Financial Federal Credit Union (Wentzville) created the Helping People 1st Grant Program with the purpose of making a positive impact on the communities they serve. To achieve this goal, each month one of the four branches receives a $500 grant to be awarded to a charitable organization that best serves their communities. This reflects the credit union's core mission of “helping people achieve their financial dreams.” Employees are also given paid time to volunteer during work hours and hold fundraising activities to add to the overall donation.
The 1st Financial Washington Avenue branch kicked off the program by choosing Gateway 180: Homelessness Reversed, a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit in St. Louis. Since 1986, Gateway 180 has been a service for women and families affected by homelessness in the Saint Louis area. It's the largest 24-hour emergency housing organization in the state for families.
“We wanted to find an organization that served like credit unions serve - a grassroots sort of organization,” said Karen Neel, branch manager at the Washington Avenue location. “Gateway 180 keeps the families together. They try to keep that normalcy in place during a family’s tough time. They help cover the necessities while the parents have time to work on setting their path to get back on track, helping them deal with the bumps in the road.”
On top of the monthly $500 grant, 1st Financial raised funds through multiple bake sales, raffles and employee dress down days. The total gift including the grant and funds donated as a result of the weekly raffles and bake sales added up to $1600.
Additionally, a group of employees packed one hundred bag lunches for the charity. While downtown they toured the shelter, assisted with childcare and helped build a multi-purpose room for after school activities. The next day, Tracy Verner, brand ambassador, and Renee Markert, 1st Financial branch manager, gave educational seminars on basic budgeting practices, predatory lending and an overview of the services that 1st Financial offers its members.
“Credit unions were born with the philosophy of people helping people," says Verner. "Not only do we have a reputation for lower interest rates and convenient products, but we are always looking for ways to help people. With the Helping People 1st Grant Program, 1st Financial is able to empower the communities we serve with the grant, with volunteers, and our ability to really showcase the organizations that are serving our community.”
Bree DeGraw, Gateway 180 development director, was thrilled by the program.
“We are grateful for the generous donation from 1st Financial Federal Credit Union as it directly supports our mission to empower adults and families to become independent and permanently housed,” says DeGraw.
Verner was enthusiastic about the Helping People 1st grant program.
Caption (from right): Pictured are Tracy Verner, Brand Ambassador, 1st Financial Federal Credit Union; Bree DeGraw, Development Director, Gateway 180: Homelessness Reversed; and Karen Neel, Branch Manager, 1st Financial Federal Credit Union.