APRIL 13, 2022

In 2021, Corporate Initiative Specialist Carole Barker took a radical detour from her typical daily work responsibilities and embarked on an epic journey across all three of First West’s regions where she presented local charities with deeply impactful donations on behalf of the credit union, to the tune of $250,000.

Carole’s story:

It’s hard to call my journey a simple road trip because it also involved airplanes and boats! Together with local leaders like our presidents and branch managers, I got to personally present a total of $250,000 in donations from First West to 11 local charities all over B.C., from the Okanagan to the Island. And I got to meet some amazing people at these charities, who took the time to tour us through their organizations. It was…the best thing ever because my role at First West isn’t with our First West Foundation or the Community Investment team.

This amazing and special opportunity came about because of my role in corporate governance in 2021. I led the planning for our charitable incentive to encourage member participation in First West’s member vote to become a federal credit union. We asked employees to tell us what community causes they’d like the charitable incentive to support and thanks to the incredible voter turnout, the charitable incentive dollars came out to just under $100,000. Then, a surprise announcement from our CEO, Launi Skinner, announced that First West was doubling the amount and topping it up to a total of $250,000! My next task was the best part: letting the charities know that they’d been chosen to receive a big donation.​​​​​​​

Most of the charities anticipated that they might receive two or three thousand dollars, which they were extremely grateful for. However, when I called them back after the vote to tell them how much we were actually donating, I got the same reaction in every single conversation―there was silence, disbelief, tears and shock in the best possible way. It was like, “Wait, what? Are you kidding?” People were absolutely stunned and overwhelmed by First West’s generosity, realizing the incredible impact these funds would have on they work they do.

The common theme I heard was along the lines of, “We really needed this money right now, because the pandemic has really affected us.” People just haven’t been able to volunteer as much or donate as much. So these charities were over the moon to receive these donations from First West.

That’s when I set out on the epic road trip to present cheques to quite a few charities. I’ll never forget visiting Saints Rescue, an animal rescue in Mission, B.C. I hadn’t been able to connect with them over the phone before visiting and when I showed up with a couple colleagues to present the cheque, we found ourselves standing in a large pen for rescued animals and were greeted by a nosy goat and I swear the world’s tallest cow. We asked their operations manager, “Could you just open the envelope and see what’s inside?” Her reaction was priceless: “HOLY COW!” She was floored to see $23,000 on the cheque. It gave me goose bumps and brought us all so much joy.

Next I visited our Island Savings region and dropped by The Circle on Salt Spring Island. This stop really stands out to me because over a cup of tea, Janine, the Executive Director, told us about the meaningful difference that First West’s funds would have on the youth programs they provide to help kids as young as kindergarten in their interpersonal development. Our visit and donation also sparked their desire to move their business from a big bank to Island Savings, which is pretty cool.

Back where I live in our Valley First region, I arrived at Critter Aid in Summerland with our regional President to present the cheque. Critter Aid’s president started crying while I was trying to take pictures and I couldn’t see properly as I was crying too. And I also met Mr. Banks, the largest pig I’ve ever seen!

What made this experience so special for me was having the opportunity to do something totally different and meaningful. In corporate governance, much of my focus is on our democratic process, working closely with our Board of Directors, nominations for new directors, planning the AGM and handling the mechanics of member voting. But giving back is part of who we are at First West. People might not realize that we’ve included a charitable component in the democratic process for many years and have given more than $40,000 since 2014 to our signature causes.

As employees at First West, we’re encouraged to volunteer and this organization does a great job enabling opportunities outside the job description. When you go for doing something different, you’ll get way more out of it than you ever thought you would. When you get involved in something that gives back to our communities, you learn and grow so much from those experiences.

If you’re already thinking about how you’d like to give back in your community, take a few minutes to see what career opportunities could get you started!

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