Five DE&I Advocates Who Are Changing Lives and Communities

diverse volunteers in white volunteer shirts pointing
By Jason Harpenau

4 minutes

CO-OP Financial Services’ employees share their experiences.

Sponsored by CUES Supplier member CO-OP Financial Services

Credit unions throughout our movement are setting in motion their own diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Honoring the uniqueness of individuals deepens our respect for one another, levels the playing field, and teaches us that we can truly make a difference in the lives of others—and ultimately enact change for the good of all.

Since CO-OP Financial Services formed its DE&I Council eight months ago, its mission has been embraced throughout the organization. While the Council’s initiatives are focused on ensuring a fair and equitable workplace for all, they are also helping to advance what it means to truly live DE&I values. 

To recognize community heroes within CO-OP—and inspire others to answer the call—the Council themed October “Profiles in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Month.” The company gave employees a platform for sharing their experiences as advocates—via our weekly employee newsletter and daily updates to our intranet. This is a best practice we feel can adopted throughout the credit union movement.  

Here are a few of our employees’ stories.

Working for Social Justice

Peacefully assembling to protest ills in our society—racism and other social injustices—is a cherished American freedom. This right and even duty hit home this summer with Alfonso Fernandez, CO-OP director of experience performance.

Organizing friends and family, Alfonso and his team provided water, snacks and face masks for peaceful protesters in Los Angeles, raising nearly $1,000 in the process.  

As he set up his rest stop at L.A. City Hall one Saturday, he discovered an outpouring of support from strangers around him—who donated additional supplies throughout the day to bring much-needed relief to those marching for social justice.

Nurturing Future Female Leaders

Katrina Beery, a discovery advisor for CO-OP, believes in enhancing the lives of women and, accordingly, volunteers with Des Moines, Iowa’s Young Women’s Resource Center.

Serving those ages 10 to 21, YWRC provides counseling and support, including after-school programs tailored for Latinx and African-American girls and young women, and those grappling with the complexities of teen pregnancy.  

In these programs, YWRC promotes positive body image, self-esteem, reproductive health and healthy relationships—and reinforces five key values close to Katrina’s heart: equity, resiliency, accessibility, community and advocacy.

Getting Out the Vote

CO-OP Senior Product Manager Julio Valle is a graduate of Hispanic Austin Leadership, an inclusive nine-month program based in Austin, Texas, that develops young leaders and sponsors community-impact projects.

Part of HAL’s civic engagement group, Julio led an initiative to promote voter engagement by first identifying how individuals across the community fit into five categories of voters (null, awareness, voting, activism and public service) and then inspiring them to move to the next level. Julio’s group also attended and sponsored several civic events, including hosting a candidate forum for the local Hispanic community.  

Valle soon emerged as a voice for his community through an interview with a local Spanish newspaper—and he now counts among his friends many people whose lives he touched through HAL.

Strengthening Ties, Serving Others

Christina Ousley, senior recruiter for CO-OP, is a member of the Chingona Community, a group of female professionals, activists and leaders who network, motivate and empower one another. 

Before the pandemic, the Chingona Community met monthly to perform service projects and learn from guest speakers. Today the group participates in what it calls “Chingona Shirt Friday” and uses social media group pages to stay connected.  

Chingona Community members are supported through member of the month programs and serve their communities through such projects as a drive-by food drive benefitting the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Christina values the organization for the comradery it provides, as well as the opportunity to share experiences and help others find employment. Equally important to her is the group’s focus on developing strong women who, in turn, strengthen communities.

Raising Awareness for Cytomegalovirus

For CO-OP Communications Manager Paul Devereaux, the journey to advocacy was inspired by his daughter, Pippa, who was born with developmental disabilities and health issues resulting from a little-known virus called cytomegalovirus that she contracted in the womb.

Though there are precautions pregnant women can take to prevent contracting and passing CMV on to their newborns, too many are unaware of the virus.  

So, in 2017, Paul and his wife Amanda worked with Iowa legislators to pass a new bill called “Pippa’s Law,” requiring physicians to inform pregnant women of both the dangers of CMV and how to respond should symptoms emerge after birth.

Amanda is now program director for the National CMV Foundation—and the two parents remain active advocates for inclusion and equity for all children coping with disabilities.

Getting Involved, Staying Engaged

As a credit union community, the concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion underscore our very mission. And, how we live DE&I values both within and outside the workplace can profoundly impact those around us, including the members we serve. Regularly highlighting the individuals within your organization that live these values can not only strengthen the efficacy of your DE&I efforts but also inspire others to do the same.

Jason Harpenau serves as client business executive for CO-OP Financial Services, Rancho Cucamonga, California, and captain of the education and awareness team on CO-OP’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council. 

Attend a related learning event

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Cornell Certificate Program
February 17-April 13, 2021
Online program
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