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SchoolsFirst FCU Lives the ‘People Helping People’ Philosophy

SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union raises a quarter-million dollars for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals annually – and is creating a community of volunteers, leaders and advocates in the process.

Members and teammembers of SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, based in Orange County, California, get an A+ as a partner with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMN Hospitals) and Credit Unions for Kids (CU4Kids). SchoolsFirst FCU raised and donated $643,011 in 2018 and 2019 for CMNH and affiliated hospitals, including Children’s Hospital of Orange County, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego. These are impressive numbers, but their impact goes well beyond the dollars raised. Through their work with CU4Kids and CMNH, SchoolsFirst FCU is living the people helping people philosophy that credit unions share and creating a community of volunteers, leaders and advocates in the process.

Commitment to the cause runs deep at SchoolsFirst FCU. Bill Cheney, President and CEO was named to CMN Hospitals Board of Trustees this year in recognition of his years of dedicated involvement. Bill has been an active advocate for CMN Hospitals for more than 30 years. The credit union’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Jose Lara, is the current Chair for the CU4Kids Advisory Board and Dana Schuller, Chief Administrative Officer, has been a member of the Board since its inception over 10 years ago.

“We are enthusiastic champions of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and CU4Kids,” says Cheney, “Supporting our local children’s hospitals and helping kids and their families during difficult times speaks directly to our values as a credit union. We exist to foster the financial well-being of our Members and the overall health of the communities we serve. This aligns perfectly with our work with CU4Kids.”

Above: SchoolsFirst selling Miracle Balloon Icons in their branches


It’s no surprise that SchoolsFirst FCU achieves so much in their work with CU4Kids. They serve school employees and their families in California – a natural fit for the CMN Hospitals cause. They’re the 5th largest credit union in the country and the largest serving school employees, with over 1.1 million Members and more than $21 billion in assets.

Diana Kot, Vice President, Membership Development and Advocacy at SchoolsFirst FCU, acknowledges that while their size and financial strength enables them to marshal significant resources for CU4Kids fundraising and charity work, it’s really the combined effort of all credit unions, large and small, that makes the difference. Says Kot, “We are working together as one credit union movement for a common purpose, to save children’s lives.”

“CU4Kids fundraising doesn’t just fit the credit union philosophy of people helping people, it visibly demonstrates the positive impact we’re having in our Members’ lives and in the communities where they live and work,” Kot continues. “For us, it’s a powerful combination — life-saving CU4Kids programs with the passionate support of our team.”

Above: SchoolsFirst hosting a bake sale


One of the credit union’s premier charity activities is the CHOC Walk to benefit Children’s Hospital of Orange County. “We’ve had a longstanding relationship with CHOC, going back to when SchoolsFirst FCU was Orange County Teachers Federal Credit Union,” says Joshua Smith, SchoolsFirst FCU Executive Director, Credit Union Advocacy. “The CHOC Walk takes place inside Disneyland, near our headquarters. Last year we had 300 people show support by joining our CHOC Walk team, whether they signed up to walk or simply raised money for the event.”

CHOC Walk participants must complete the course before Disneyland opens to the public, which means they arrive for the event in the wee hours of the morning. “But do you know what’s great? It’s local credit unions, participating together,” says Smith. “We are all wearing our CHOC Walk shirts and there are typically about a thousand local credit union Members and teammembers standing out in front of Disneyland, early in the morning, ready to do this walk together. It’s inspiring.”

The credit union also runs general fundraising campaigns throughout the year. According to Smith, charity on the job is increasingly important: “Being able to work for an organization that has an innate sense of social responsibility – and the willingness to act on it – makes people feel that they’re part of something bigger and their job more meaningful.”


Above: SchoolsFirst at CHOC Walk


For Member Contact Center manager Lorna Quinn, an interest in workplace philanthropy has led to leadership opportunities, both inside and outside the credit union. Quinn works with Smith on SchoolsFirst FCU’s advocacy committee, which Smith describes as a team of “volunteer advocates” who are passionate about what we do and why we do it.” In 2019, Quinn also joined CU4Kids’ Project 2025, a program for emerging leaders in the credit union movement.

“Project 2025 has not only allowed me to get to work on a charitable cause I care about and give back to my community in an impactful way, but to also participate in professional development opportunities that I couldn’t receive anywhere else,” Quinn says. “By collaborating with peers, we have the chance to connect with industry leaders, learn how to strategically plan, thoroughly research ideas, and more.”

Above: Project 2025 Participants meeting at CMN Hospitals headquarters 

For Kot, CU4Kids fundraising is both a way to give back and an opportunity to collaborate with other industry leaders. Kot helps to organize the credit union’s participation in the California and Nevada Credit Union League’s annual wine auction for CMN Hospitals, which this year raised more than $1 million despite moving it online to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.


Raising $1+ million is a cool feat, but Kot also sees a benefit in the relationships built between credit unions. “Working cooperatively for the greater good is one of the values that makes credit unions different,” says Kot. “CU4Kids fundraising brings that value to life.”

Kot continues, “The reason we support CMN Hospitals and CU4Kids is because they give our Members and our team – along with every credit unions across the country – a wonderful legacy at children’s hospitals across the country, funding breakthrough research that provides the best care for kids and their families. Credit unions are driven by the philosophy of “people helping people”, and our support of CMN Hospitals is a great example of the ways credit unions give back and support their communities.”


Written by Gayle Sato