By PATRICE ADAMS
Imagine attending a huge out-of-state conference for professionals within your industry where the networking opportunities are endless. There's only one problem: You have nowhere to stay.
This was the predicament that Brent Dixon, young adult adviser at the Filene Research Institute, found himself in while attending CUNA's Governmental Affairs Conference last year. A client told Dixon it could provide accommodations, but the arrangements fell through and Dixon had to had no place to stay after he arrived in Washington. During the trip however, Dixon met up with friends, new and old, and was able to find a place to stay each night. By the end of the experience, he not only left with a story to tell, and new connections, but an idea.
Many under-30 CU professionals have little or no access to experiences like the CUNA GAC, but what if there was a way for them to experience it at little cost? From this idea, Crash the GAC was born.
The goal is to make a "lower barrier for entry and making it easier for people under 30 to attend," said Dixon. Crash the GAC creates an event that aligns with but outside of the GAC. Attendees meet up with industry professionals at local bars, restaurants and other venues, providing them with the opportunity to talk with other young CU professionals and make connections and exchange ideas.
Dixon's initial expectation was to have at least 10 crashers, but as the buzz grew, the number of attendees doubled. Crash the GAC also started to receive lots of support from vendors and providers. Palmetto Cooperative Services, a South Carolina-based CUSO, sponsored beds at a local hostel for the group, and the group also was invited by the National Credit Union Foundation to attend the Herb Wegner Awards reception free of cost. With housing and events taken care of, crashers' only expense is a plane ticket and food. Another source of support came from CUNA, which offered scholarships for full access to all GAC events at no cost. With crash events running around scheduled GAC events, attendees will get the benefit of both experiences.
"For my career, I thought it was something I did not want to miss out on," said Matt Vance, marketing and community manager for Industrial Credit Union. Vance cited the opportunity to not only learn from industry leaders at crash events but also meet other young, passionate CU professionals as reasons he signed on.
Fellow crasher Chad Helminak, Web designer and media relational manager for the Wisconsin Credit Union League, shared Vance's sentiment. He has never attended the GAC and considers the crash event a great opportunity. "I'm looking forward to being a part of the CUNA GAC, which has been regarded as the elite event within the credit union industry, and networking opportunities I will gain at crash events as well," said Helminak.
As for the future, Dixon hopes the success, support and momentum from Crash the GAC will continue, and the crashing will spread to other credit union conferences and events.