Crashers Share Their Experiences as First-Time Attendees at GAC

Jason Stidham Bay FCU
Communications and Development Manager Jason Stidham (fifth from left) and the rest of the Bay FCU delegation with Rep. Jimmy Panetta at the Capitol.

Three credit union professionals from California and Nevada had the opportunity to be among the Crashers at this year’s Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Government Affairs Conference (GAC) in Washington, D.C. And all three—Bay FCU Communications and Development Manager Jason Stidham, Great Basin FCU Employee Development Coordinator Alexandra Christopher, and USC CU Executive Assistant Miranda Pierfax—came away with lasting memories, friendships, and a more passionate viewpoint of the credit union movement.  

Crash the GAC is sponsored by The Cooperative Trust in alliance with CUNA and gives credit union professionals under the age of 35 the chance to attend the event as well as meet with credit union executives and thought leaders from across the country. As Crashers, Stidham, Christopher, and Pierfax were invited to attend general and breakout sessions; visit the Exhibit Hall; attend social events; build relationships with other credit union young professionals; connect with more than 5,000 GAC attendees; attend mentor sessions with industry thought leaders; and participate in Hike the Hill visits.

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Great Basin FCU Employee Development Coordinator Alexandra Christopher on the first day of GAC.
 

 

The trip included a special welcome from CUNA President and CEO Jim Nussle (along with his annual selfie with the Crashers) and an inspiring speech from National Credit Union Foundation President and CEO Gigi Hyland.

“I honestly didn’t quite know what to expect before I got there, but from the very beginning, I had a feeling that we were in for something special,” Stidham said. “From being able to meet with our local lawmakers on Capitol Hill and advocate for the credit union movement, getting to know my fellow Crashers and truly becoming a family after a week together, listening to incredible speakers, and getting inspired more than I can imagine, this week has been a dream come true.”

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USC CU Executive Assistant Miranda Pierfax visiting with Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragan.
 

 

He added that Filene and the Cooperative Trust did an amazing job putting this program together, and that CUNA, the National Credit Union Foundation, and others have truly embraced the Crasher program.

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Stidham and Christopher join other Crashers with National Credit Union Foundation’s Gigi Hyland at the Herb Wegner Memorial Awards dinner.
 

 

Christopher didn’t think she would be selected and while happy to be chosen, there were nerves before the trip.

“Once there, we were greeted with other passionate young professionals all feeling the same trepidation with this being their first crash and fears of being under prepared,” she said. “It was amazing how quickly 60 strangers were able to form bonds and network to be resources to one another and even the strong friendships that were created all by the end of the week.”

She added the first day, the group worked on finding out their why, and then learned how to ignite their own fires and to prevent burnout to better serve their members and community more efficiently on the second day.

“Each day brought a new speaker; a new session; a new source of inspiration,” Christopher said.

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Christopher at the first credit union desk in the U.S. that hadn’t been used for more than 150 years. America’s Credit Union Museum brought it to GAC and encouraged attendees to post photos of themselves sitting at it.
 

 

Among the many takeaways she got from this experience, the most memorable to her were: “Have momentum, use it.”; “Find your tribe, amplify them.”; “Don’t sweat the Naysayers and Provide opportunities to others.”; “Strong questions get strong answers.”; “You don’t have to be the smartest person or the most educated person as long as you are the hardest working person.”; and “Sometimes broken things are the best building supplies.”

Pierfax also said she had the opportunity to build relationships with other young credit union professionals and learned much.

One of Pierfax’s favorite part of the trip was learning more about CUNA’s vision for diversity, equity, and inclusion within the industry. “I’m glad credit unions are recognizing this and educating their staff on how important it is,” she said.“I got to meet with a few Congressmen from my state, talk to credit union enthusiasts from all over the country, and build relationships I hope will last a lifetime,” she said. “I truly got to see the passion others have not only for the credit union industry, but for their members as well. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this trip. I was hoping it wasn’t ‘information dumping’ or learning about things that were not of interest to me. It didn’t feel like that at all. I’ve gained so much knowledge, I can’t wait to share it with my organization. Even my fellow Crashers taught me some things that I will be bringing up to our C-level.”

Stidham said his credit union, Bay FCU, does a great job of promoting the philosophy of “People Helping People,” but “being around 5,000 other passionate people who share the same passion, it’s incredibly powerful.”

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Pierfax with fellow Crashers.
 

 

All three recommend the Crash the GAC program for any young credit union professional.

“I would recommend being a Crasher at GAC to anyone who wants to learn more about credit unions,” Pierfax said. “It’s not just about advocacy. You really get to learn the whole world of credit unions and meet such wonderful people to share the experience with.”

“This experience is vital to our credit union young professionals because it shows them that other passionate peers are out there even if they aren’t located within your own credit union walls,” Christopher said. “You can bring back and use your passion to inspire and ignite others within your credit union and community to better serve your members and to spread the credit union mission. It was an experience that empowered you as an individual, allowed you to look within and discover areas of growth that you have already achieved and areas you wanted to nurture more. It gave you a network of peers that are an instant resource, so you always have a support team. It was an invaluable experience and opportunity to advocate to our government officials about the importance of credit unions. I am encouraging my coworkers to apply for future crashers.”

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