Getting the Inside Scoop on GAC with N.J. Crasher Amanda Meeker
in Emerging Leaders
By: Natalie Spangenberg, NJCUL Marketing and Communications Specialist

Every year, credit unions head to Washington, DC for the Credit Union National Association's (CUNA) Annual Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) where attendees get directly involved in industry and advocacy issues. For young professionals across the country, this is an opportunity to get hands-on experience and Crash the GAC, where one young professional from each state is selected to attend as their state’s “Crasher.” This year, New Jersey selected Amanda Meeker from Jersey Shore FCU to represent the state.

 Photo Courtesy of: Amanda Meeker.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Amanda upon her return home and learn about her experience and get the inside scoop on what the Crash program at GAC is all about!

How did you feel when you found out you were chosen to be the New Jersey Crasher for GAC?
I was nervous as anything but really excited as well to be chosen to represent the state of New Jersey. I still live at home, never went away to college so to me, this was a whole new ball game. I was petrified!

Most of the crashers went right to their CEO when they found out. When I got my acceptance, I literally sat there, looked at it, and debated on even wanting to share it with anybody because I was so nervous. I thought to myself, “Do I think I can even do this?” But, considering the opportunity, I decided to leave my comfort zone. I told my CEO, Jim, and he thought it was a great experience and that I should do it. That same day, I accepted.

I wasn’t alone. There were a hundred of us there. That was the biggest group they've had so far.

What was your experience like during that week in Washington?
I got there Friday afternoon and didn't know anybody. My roommate, Morgan, from North Carolina, was the first person I actually met. We kind of connected immediately.

Saturday, Crashers went to the National Union Building for a team building day where we got to know each other and our mentors. I had mentor Blake Woods, who was there to help guide 25 of us through GAC. Any questions we had, he was there to help us.

Sunday was kind of the start of the GAC. We had a lot of mentor sessions. We spoke with talent development expert Andy Janning. Gigi Highland, Executive Director of the National Credit Union Foundation, spoke to us. Antonio Neves, the emcee for the whole event. Michael Armstrong, the young CEO of the United Arkansas Credit Union. And CUNA President/CEO Jim Nussle himself actually sat with us, one-on-one. These mentors talked to us about what a credit union is, the history of the credit union, what Filene and CUNA do, etc. Some of them spoke on how to build our personality and characters in the workplace as well.

Andy’s most memorable quote was, “Nothing grows at the summit (referring to GAC), growth occurs in the valley on the way down (back at home).” He told us we should pick one word, one picture, one change, and one gift each day that we learned. That was cool.

Monday was the long day that started at 7:15 in the morning with a breakfast talk with Filene research, then general sessions with the other attendees. Everybody at GAC was at this Opening Session. John Kerry was there. He was great!

Then we visited the exhibit hall. There, I learned about the “Open Your Eyes” campaign, a nationwide marketing campaign to get anybody that's not familiar with credit unions to understand what credit unions are and how we are like banks, but better. I got to take a picture at their booth where I got to put hearts around my eyes to show that we're opening our eyes to our credit unions!

GAC Interview3
Photo Courtesy of: Lauren Davis.

Monday included a conversation with Ryan Donovan, CAO at CUNA, and Brad Green, Treasurer of CUNA who spoke to us about credit union advocacy. Then the Wegner reception, which is like prom at GAC. Then we had Thunder Punch, a late-night, fun time to interact with everybody – it wasn’t just limited to Crashers.

Tuesday was exciting because we had Vice President Mike Pence come and speak to us! That was a surprise. Security was kind of cool. I've never been through secret service security. Pence spoke about success stories he's heard from credit unions, in particular, a story of how this one credit union went above and beyond to help someone who had a fire get back on their feet.

We then had our professional headshots taken. One of the mentors was able to get all hundred of us headshots, which was nice.

That night I attended the New Jersey delegation dinner, where Representative Mikie Sherrill stopped by to say hello.

During the dinner, we talked about Hike-the-Hill a bit, but for the most part it was just getting together and thanking everybody for coming and representing New Jersey.

Wednesday was our big Hike-the-Hill event. I got to visit the offices of Menendez, Payne, Van Drew, and Pascrell.

Thursday was my last day, a finale for just the crashes at the GAC at Credit Union House.

So that was my long week!

Being a young professional at the age of 24, were you always familiar with credit unions or did you just become more familiar in recent years due to your work at Jersey Shore FCU?
I had really no idea. My grandpa had a credit union account forever. He just mentioned that he wanted me to have one, so I had one, but didn't really know much about them. I applied at Jersey Shore FCU because I had an account here. When I got the job, I still wasn't very familiar with the movement at all, and I really wanted to take this experience to broaden my knowledge about credit unions, especially since I work here full-time now. I definitely learned a lot.

I think that the young professionals there, they all had different agendas. I was actually one of the younger professionals there at 24. I think the youngest was 22, but they went all the way up to I believe 50 because the program was open to those “35 at heart.” I wanted to network, but I was more geared towards the learning aspect of it.

Photo Courtesy of: Lauren Davis.

Has it opened your eyes more to the history of the credit union movement and given you more of a reason to work hard and stay within the industry?
Yes. I think it was that Monday when I came back, I had a member who experienced a scam. I really wanted to go the extra mile for him, especially having just come back from GAC. I thought of every possible solution I could. I finally thought of something a bit out of the box. “Why don't you go to Walmart and see if they can place a stop payment on these checks?” It was over the weekend so the check would not have been sent until Monday. And low and behold, he went there, they placed a stop and he actually got his nine thousand dollars back. He was so thankful; it made me happy.

I wouldn't have gone the extra mile if I hadn’t just come back from my experience at GAC. I learned that New Jersey does not have as much history of credit unions like the Midwest does, which has more of that love for credit unions. Going in there I was like, “Okay, these people really love credit unions. I don't know if I'm going to fit in with them.” But I enjoyed their thoughts about the industry; I learned a lot from them that I wanted to bring to the table here and bring back to New Jersey so that credit unions can become more of a “thing” here.

Was there a moment or experience that you would say impacted you the most?
I think being able to talk to a hundred young professionals. I wouldn't say this was one day or one hour, but over the course of the entire week, of all the things we were doing, those free times we were able to go out to dinner together, talking to each other on the same level. Connecting with that young professional with a similar title as me or on the same level as me, where they’re able to give me information on fraud reduction or debit card products or their future projects that they plan on doing. The whole experience was really valuable.

That was impactful to me and I really tried to use that to the best of my ability while I was there. So just being able to talk to them and get knowledge across the board was really what I liked.

Photo Courtesy of: Lauren Davis.

Is there any advice you have that can help future Crashers going into this for the first time?
It's really an experience and I think it's one you have to be prepared for. You're not getting sleep. You're going to soak up every moment. Even though I keep making jokes that I didn't get any sleep, I could've gone to sleep. I could have left early. But I didn't want to.

Not only are you going to learn a lot about credit unions, you're going to have the opportunity to network with young professionals that do what you do all across the United States.

For more information on how to get involved in next year's Crash the GAC program, click here!