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2023 CUNA GAC: Michigan's First-Time Attendees Share their Experiences

This year’s trip to Washington, D.C. for the 2023 CUNA GAC included nearly 160 Michigan credit union professionals — about 40 of which were first-time attendees.

CUNA’s five-day event offers attendees many opportunities to learn from speakers and breakout sessions, network with colleagues and, of course, advocate for credit union priorities.

MCUL talked with some of this year’s first-time attendees from Michigan to see what made their inaugural visit memorable. One of the takeaways from these attendees was not only the opportunity to advocate in DC, but a chance to learn how to develop a stronger voice for the credit union movement.

“I learned that continuing the advocacy outside of events like these and taking it back to your community and credit union is the most important part,” said Courtney Stonehouse, manager of collections for Thornapple Credit Union. “Credit unions have an influence if we continue to do the work we do every day of ‘people helping people’ and building relationships of trust.”

Rachelle Kippe, SVP of lending for Financial Plus Credit Union, had a similar thought. She called the GAC “priceless,” saying it was the best conference she’s ever attended. Kippe attributed much of that value to learning how to better advocate for the movement, “This has been something that sometimes is on the back burner and the tools and ideas provided will allow us to keep it in the forefront.”

Another first-time attendee elaborated on Kippe’s point, answering what it might look like to keep advocacy in the forefront.

“The credit union movement is very well known to those of us in the credit union circle. What I learned though is there are opportunities to better promote our power to helping our members through every channel available to us, and it takes a collaborative thought process and commitment to communicating how we provide that help and support to our communities,” said TBA Credit Union Chief Lending Officer Chriss Milliron. “Luckily, there are fairly straightforward ways to do this with support from CUNA, our local MCUL chapter partners and our partner credit unions!”

Echoing those sentiments about collaboration was Tammy Tompkins, EVP of Family Financial Credit union, who said “it was incredibly humbling to participate in the advocacy and to witness that our voices are impactful not only collectively but individually.”

Other attendees were impacted by the many ways the GAC made them think about the overall mission of the credit union movement in new ways.

For Ashley Johnson, overdraft privilege & fraud administrator for Dort Financial Credit Union, it was all about seeing the nuts and bolts of how the industry works, “[I learned] what it truly takes to make sure we are helping to provide for our communities. I think that I have just always taken for granted that products and services just were, and never questioned the effort put forth by credit union higher ups or our leagues. It gave me a new appreciation.”

Similarly, the GAC gave Maria Zagoroski, operations and member experience at Monroe Community Credit Union, an opportunity to recognize “that a lot of people care enough about credit unions to put tremendous time and effort into making them accessible, functional and true to their mission for the benefit of all.”

Michigan’s first-timers also mentioned how special the guest speakers and breakout sessions were, both of which gave them many different perspectives on current credit union issues.

Also of note was the networking — specifically being able to do so with such a large gathering of professionals from across the country.

“There were a ton of opportunities during the day and in the evenings after the conference to connect, socialize and get to know more about the folks in our industry,” said TBA’s Milliron. “My biggest takeaway is that we have a strong movement with a lot of committed individuals working to serve our individual communities across the state and country!”

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