WASHINGTON -- Gaining new industry, veteran and political support, CUNA's carefully crafted "Homes for Our Troops" drive was off and running this month with two groundbreaking events in separate cities coupled with a fundraising appeal to Department of Defense associated credit unions.
The call to join "this very worthy cause in support of our men and women in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan" came from the $1.6 billion Keesler FCU in Biloxi, Miss.
"Look, flashy is not our style, but in this case myself and the members of our board at the GAC thought right away a contribution could be the right thing to do provided the group is legit," declared Scotty Broome, Keesler president/CEO, in recalling the Mississippi CU's $25,000 donation to the Washington-based Homes for Our Troops.
As it turns, out the $25,000 contribution, made with little fanfare and no publicity during CUNA's March Governmental Affairs Conference, was the largest yet by a single CU to Homes for Our Troops, winning high praise for the CU's outfront gesture in supporting an organization not well-known among veterans groups.
Now Keesler is hoping its peer 260 military CUs and others will get on the CUNA bandwagon by contributing the $300,000 needed to build two homes for wounded Iraqi vets.
The entire project, with its political and patriotic themes, is also aimed at showcasing CU advocacy and awareness and put CUs into a high profile national spotlight.
For its part, the founder of Homes for Our Troops, John Gonsalves, said he was surprised by the unexpected Keesler contribution, now being followed with donations by other CU groups.
"I never met the guy, but he and four members of their board apparently heard us speak and agreed to give us the $25,000," said Gonsalves. "The reception from everyone in the credit union movement has been fantastic, and look what this kind of publicity from credit unions means to our troops coming back from the war."
"We had hoped for $150,000 for those two homes in Golden and in St. Paul and I'll bet we exceed that," said Gonsalves.
Earlier this month ground was broken on the first home in Golden, a Denver suburb, for wounded vet Staff Sergeant Travis Strong and his family. The finished home will be presented to Strong around the Democratic convention.
The state participation in Minnesota was highlighted by the announcement that Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, would be joining special St. Paul ceremonies April 28 that will be jointly sponsored by CUNA, Homes for Our Troops, National Journal magazine and the GOP hierarchy to start work on a $150,000 home for another injured Minnesota GI.
At the GAC, Broome said he wanted assurance from CUNA that any donation was not being directed to any fly-by-night war group, and he got that clearance from Richard Gose, senior vice president of political affairs. Homes for Our Troops had actually been recommended to CUNA by Vicki Thomas, a former CUNA staffer, said Gose.
"My board and I were very touched by what this group is doing to build homes for people who could be our members," said Broome noting he has been in touch with the Defense Credit Union Council about joining in.
On that score, Defense Council officials said they applaud the CUNA project and would be making a donation.
The CUNA campaign last week was also the topic for Democratic National Committee bloggers who detailed their excitement at the groundbreaking in Golden as dignitaries huddled in a tent to brave the cold and snow to take part.
The CUNA venture has also won new laudatory comments from the Democrats.
Speaking of Strong in Golden, Leah D. Daughtry, CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee said she and her staff "are looking forward to hammering some nails, hanging some dry wall and laying some sod as this will be a labor of love for a true American hero."
"It's a tremendous honor to be here alongside Staff Sergeant Strong and his family as we break ground and see this project really begin to move forward."