By: Grant Gallagher, External Affairs & Financial Education Specialist at Affinity FCU
NJ’s own “non-fist pumping fist pumper”
When I received my first email about “Crash the GAC” from Candice Nigro, VP of Marketing, Communications & Business Development of the New Jersey Credit Union League, in 2013, I thought it sounded like an interesting concept. I had heard good things about the GAC from my senior leadership prior to my attendance as a crasher, and as someone who has their hand in credit union regulatory and legislative advocacy on a regular basis, a “free ride” to the premier conference covering this topic seemed almost too good to be true. I applied my first year, to my disappointment, with no success. Fast forward to January 16, 2015, the day I received my application outcome (and acceptance!) as a crasher, a day that would, unknowingly to me at the time, change my personal and professional life forever.
To “Crash the GAC” to some means to go and be disruptive. Shake up an institution that has the median age of 110 and has forgotten that the future of credit unions lies in the hands of a generation more comfortable tweeting to an audience of 1,000+ followers than picking up the phone and calling a single individual. To me, “Crashing” was a 144-hour crash course in credit unions, cooperatives, advocacy, networking, training, and much more. Despite my familiarity with issues such as preserving the not-for-profit tax status of credit unions, stopping merchant and retailer data breaches, increasing the MBL cap, relieving regulatory burden, and the need for access to supplemental capital, it was not until after hearing numerous anecdotes in regards to how these issues are directly impacting other credit unions on a day-to-day basis, that the urgency, and my understanding, of these issues became exponentially clearer.
Trying to summarize the experience of a crasher in the space I have here is an unjust task. Not even Mark Twain or E.E. Cummings could pen the words succinctly enough to fill such a space. Regardless, I will try: The experience was awesome; the people even more incredible. Just to clarify, when I say “awesome”, I do not mean it in the all too common use as “neat”, “cool”, “great”, or “terrific”, I mean it quite literally as “inspiring awe”. The crashers were led by James Marshall of the Cooperative Trust, a subset of the Filene Research Institute. Within moments of meeting this amazing group he miraculously crafted, I couldn’t believe I had lived my life without knowing them prior to becoming a crasher. I met 52 credit union advocate crashers, and 4 crasher leaders, and one incredible photographer, in Washington, D.C., and left with 57 new friends. The crashers did not just network; we bonded, we laughed, we cried, we formed inside jokes within hours of meeting, and we formed a network of friends that stretches from Alaska to Florida.
While the breakout sessions, exhibit floor, receptions, and general sessions were brimming with compelling individuals and inspiring speakers such as Gen. Stanley McChrystal, USA (Ret.); former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer; and chair, president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group Arianna Huffington; the “pièce de résistance” was truly the small group roundtable sessions every morning/afternoon. These sessions would occur every day and would feature four speakers from CUNA, Filene, CUNA Councils, other state leagues, cooperatives, NCUF, and more. They were structured so that each of the individuals would present for 10 minutes on their area of expertise, and then the small table discussions would commence, with a speaker assigned to each of the four small groups to discuss the presentation, their topic of expertise, or any burning questions that any of the crashers may have had in regards to anything in the credit union world. Rinse and repeat, until all speakers had their chance to present. The discussions most importantly stressed that the crashers’ opinions were important and valued. All of the guest speakers made it clear that the future of credit unions is in our hands, took our questions, comments, and opinions seriously; as a young professional, that is an unfortunately rare commodity to come by.
Most of the small table sessions took place at 7 a.m., after a late night, and it may only be those of you that know me, and my distaste for mornings, that will truly appreciate just how much more powerful that makes my accolade for those sessions. I am happy to divulge that I love to sleep, but in the six days I spent crashing the GAC, I slept a total of 17 hours. If I could do it all over again, I would not change a single second. Both the days and nights were long, but when you are in the midst of a once in a lifetime opportunity, you realize you can sleep when you’re dead. Despite lack of sleep, all 52 of us still managed to happily keep to our daily, grueling 18-hour schedules.
When I received that first email back in 2013, I never thought it would lead to an experience that I, and all 51 other crashers unanimously, would call “life changing”. My experience has inspired me to pursue forming a young professionals network, has given me the passion to make sure the voices of young credit union professionals are heard, has strengthened my belief in cooperatives, and that the greatness provided by them is greater than the sum of their parts, and it has solidified a place in my heart for credit unions. It was an incredible privilege to #CrashtheGAC2015, and while I cannot express my thanks to the magnitude it is deserved, my sentiments go out to Filene Research Institute/The Cooperative Trust, CUNA and The Foundation, to the New Jersey Credit Union League, my boss Lauretta Farrell, and to all of the leadership from Affinity Federal Credit Union, who not only joined me in attendance, and for a selfie, at the crasher’s annual party THUNDERPUNCH, but also encourage my professional development on a regular basis. Thank you all for your encouragement and support of myself, and of the crash program.
Lastly, to anyone who has the opportunity to send a young professional to “Crash the GAC”, I would highly encourage it. It is an investment in the young professionals in your credit union that has an exponential potential return. The CUNA GAC that you know and love is only a tenth of the content and experience that the crashers receive. To those young professionals who have not considered applying, or have applied and not been selected, it is an experience you will never forget and something worth pursuing unyieldingly. To my fellow NJ applicants for Crash the GAC 2016, I offer you the best of luck; as someone who is already planning next year’s application, I hear you are up against some stiff competition.
To get a firsthand look of my experience “Crashing the GAC” see my photos/live tweets by following me on Twitter @thegrantg.
The views and opinions expressed above are solely my own and do not reflect those of Affinity Federal Credit Union, the New Jersey Credit Union League, or Filene/the Cooperative Trust.