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RALEIGH, N.C. – No one can recall a credit union-backed charity campaign like this one. It has had Hollywood star power, enthusiastic and widespread support from CU employees and managers in two states and has touched the public in unexpected ways. “I don’t think we ever had a high profile project like this that has demonstrated as well the credit union spirit of `people helping people,’” declared one of the boosters, G. Mark Twisdale, senior vice president-human relations at State Employees CU in describing the “Victory Junction Gang Camp” project. The fund-raising campaign, formally announced a year ago to support seriously ill children in the southeast, has as its prime goal to finance construction of special CU-named cabins on a $24 million retreat to be opened next June in Randleman, N.C. by the nationwide “Hole in the Wall Camp” charity run by actor Paul Newman. Leading the project to raise $900,000 to build and operate retreat facilities have been the North and South Carolina Leagues spearheaded by the Carolinas Credit Union Foundation. So far $250,000 has been raised toward the goal. Since that November 2002 project announcement at a special membership meeting of the North Carolina League, scores of CUs in the Carolinas as well as Virginia have been passionate and excited campaigners for “Victory Junction” conducting bake sales, raffles, golf tournaments and giveaways to entice members and employees to dig into pockets and purses for contributions. Moreover, CUs for months have put on an array of “Victory” marketing promotions linked to product services – many of them advertised in newspapers and on billboards – all in the name of supporting “Victory Junction.” The name, “Victory Junction,” evokes another element of star power in the charity campaign. It is part of the NASCAR legend of Kyle and Pattie Petty, the North Carolina race car family, who along with Newman founded the Victory Junction Gang Camp, a non-profit member of the Hole in the Wall Gang Foundation based in New Haven, Conn. Petty is launching the North Carolina camp in honor of his late 19-year-old son, Adam, who was killed in a race track accident in May 2000. Outside of the first camp opened in 1988 in Ashford, Conn., the Newman Foundation already has five such facilities operating around the globe including one in South Africa and another near Paris. Like other camps devoted “to enriching the lives of children with life threatening illnesses by creating memorable and fun experiences,” the Newman Foundation said the opening of the Randleman facility near Raleigh will be followed by a sixth camp to open next spring near Los Angeles. Work on the California camp is to be completed at the end of December. On the 36-care Randleman property – with land donated by the Pettys – the two cabins will be named after North and South Carolina credit unions. Also on the site will be the “Larry & Hanna Johnson Spiritual Center,” a non-denominational worship facility named after the CEO of the North Carolina League who is formally retiring from the League job at yearend. Johnson, who was surprised with that honor last June at the League’s annual meeting in recognizing his 36 years of service to the industry, said he “is forever touched” by the generosity of fellow CU executives. “It’s something very meaningful to me and awfully nice to be remembered this way as one takes retirement,” said Johnson in thanking the League. Construction of the $400,000-Johnson spiritual center is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2004. Apart from League leaders, interest has remained high among middle managers in CUs across the Carolinas with two Charlotte CUs announcing last week “skip a payment” campaigns linked to donations earmarked for the Newman camp. “I just love being in a credit union because it shows that when we work together, we make things happen, unlike any other industry,” said Lori Kawulok, marketing manager at the $550 million Sharonview FCU of Charlotte. In line with the holidays, Sharonview, said Kawulok, began offering “skip a payment” starting in December for a $25 fee with $10 earmarked for the Newman charity. At the same time, the $112-million Charlotte Metro CU, which since September has been waging a popular free-checking radio, billboard and print ad campaign, called “Make Toast or Make a Difference” supporting the charity, said it also has started the “skip a payment” promotion in which $10 of the $35 fee is also paid to Victory Junction. “Our original goal from the free checking campaign was to raise $5,000, and in October we surpassed that hitting $7,000 and we had been ready to write a check to Victory Junction but branch managers think they can reach $10,000 by yearend,” said Deb McLean, vice president of marketing at Charlotte Metro. Under the “toast” campaign which debunks cheap bank giveaways like toasters and tool kits, members contribute $10 from accounts to Victory Junction. McLean said the “toast” campaign has proved popular with members who like the idea of contributing to something positive and well known as a Petty venture helping youngsters. The Metro ads read, “Instead of another toaster, we give our members the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child. Open a checking account with Charlotte Metro CU and we’ll make a $10 donation to the Victory Junction Gang Camp for kids with serious illnesses.” McLean said a meeting of North Carolina marketers in August showed there “were many who were selling t-shirts and holding raffles, but we felt the checking account was a good way of getting members to respond,” said McLean. The “Victory” campaign has apparently tapped a wellspring of sympathetic support from CU members. In an e-mail sent last week to the staff of Sharonview, the president and CEO, John Carlson, said one member “overwhelmed to the point of tears” wrote him to thank the Charlotte CU for its Victory project stating this is something “that most financial service providers would not even consider.” “Our member emphasized that we have no idea how important a camp like Victory Junction will be to critically ill children and their families,” wrote Carlson. “He actually stammered when I told him that North and South Carolina Credit Unions had committed to raise $500,000 over three years for Victory Junction Gang and had already collected half in the first nine months.” Carlson concluded that “it is a lot more rewarding to focus on helping people rather than enriching shareholders’ pockets! We are making a difference and don’t ever lose sight of that.” Though South Carolina CUs have been a bit slower “to join in the Foundation campaign, waiting for rates to go back up,” several have recently started campaigns, said James McDaniel, president of Carolina Trust FCU of Myrtle Beach, which is raffling off an $8,000 fishing boat Dec. 17. “You know there are 275,000 needy kids in a five hour radius of Randleman and so it is our philosophy that we need to do what ever we can to reach out,” said McDaniel. Apart from the boat giveaway, Carolina Trust, like other CUs has engaged in “sundry fund raising like the bake sales and letting employees dress down for the day for $5,” said McDaniel. From a marketing perspective, the tie-in with car racing has offered boundless opportunities with the Western Chapter in N.C. raising $5,300 by offering weekend passes and hotel accommodations at the Bristol Motor Speedway. Coastal FCU held “Speed Week” at three branches all decorated with NASCAR memorabilia. Staff donated $5 to wear their favorite drivers’ shirts. Oteen V.A. CU in Asheville sold “paper license plates” and votes for favorite drivers which in total raised of $250. State ECU’s Clayton branch raised $1,300 by selling Victory mascot teddy bears and a quilt made by an advisory board member. There have also been plenty of golf tournaments over the last year with the Foothills Chapter raising $5,700 on Aug. 1 with 120 golfers participating in Bethlehem. First Carolina Corporate held one in June in Pinehurst raising $25,000. Steve Elam, executive director of the Carolinas CU Foundation, said the spiritual center at Victory Junction honoring Larry Johnson, is being funded by “the generosity of North Carolina credit unions who invested over $50 million in the Community Investment Fund as well as direct contributions” to the project. Elam noted also that once Victory Junction is opened, “volunteers will be needed to help run the facility and we have been getting many calls from members on that.” Victory Junction staffers said a system for selecting medical volunteers is being worked on and will be ready early in 2004. Elam said the entire Victory project “is proof of the social responsibility” values demonstrated by CUs in the Carolinas, and a demonstration of that commitment will come in naming the two cabins after CUs in the two states. “We are considering calling them Credit Union House of North Carolina and Credit Union House of South Carolina,” said Elam, adding that a decision on that will be made before June 2004 by CU marketing directors. -

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