In 2012, Bruce Foulke, the president/CEO of the $1.1 billion American Heritage Federal Credit Union of Philadelphia, ranks among the CU doers, or is, as the World Council of Credit Unions puts it, “a special breed” when it comes to overseas charity work.
That’s why it was no big deal for the CEO to make his second trip to the Kenyan outback last December, spending three days repairing fences and cleaning out buildings at a rural orphanage and donning a Santa Claus suit to hand out gifts.
Foulke contends he and his CU have a long history of fundraising and charity work in metro Philadelphia, ranging from building houses for Habitat for Humanity to collecting cans for food banks and toys for the firefighters.
“What we did in Kenya is just an extension of our work to help people who are extremely poor, and to me this was the worst poverty I’ve seen in my entire life,” said Foulke, who in the past has spent time aiding low-income families in Appalachia.
Foulke said his work at the Busia Orphanage was a life-changing experience.
Since 2001, American Heritage has been a leader in the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association and the World Council of Credit Unions to help Kenya credit unions promote farm self sufficiency through cooperative credit programs.
Over the past decade, American Heritage has hosted a number of Kenyan CU representatives visiting the U.S., and two years ago the CU also began supporting the orphanage with $27,000 in contributions to cover food for residents and staff.
This was Foulke’s first visit to the orphanage.It was in 2009, he said, that he heard about the dire needs of the orphanage, which had housed homeless children, many of whom lost their parents to HIV/AIDS.
Supporting the orphanage financially is one thing, he said, but American Heritage has always been actively engaged with the charities it supports, and so when the opportunity presented itself, he decided to make the trip to Africa joined by WOCCU President/CEO Brian Branch.
Also making the Kenyan trip was Rick Myxter, the PCUA’s director of small credit union development, with the group spending three days working at the orphanage.
Branch recalled preparations for the Kenyan trip were extensive “since we had to talk our way through customs, taking seven duffel bags of toys and other Christmas gifts.” The bags would have counted as excess baggage, but agents in the end let the supplies on board.
Once in Nairobi, Foulke said he went shopping to find more gifts for the orphans. He also found something else and couldn’t resist. Donning a white beard and red suit, Foulke delivered a sack full of toys, games and books to the 85 residents of the orphanage.
"I don't know how many of the kids knew who Santa Claus was, but you could tell they didn't know what a present was because they never had anything of their own before," Foulke said.