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PASCAGOULA, Miss.- A yellow rose, the symbol of friendship, was pinned on each credit union professional as they arrived at the regularly scheduled quarterly meeting of the Gulf Coast Chapter of Credit Unions. And while the date and location may have been “regular,” nothing else in the lives of any of the attendees had been quite so predictable since the previous meeting, which took place two weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit. Lives were lost and miles of coastline, homes and businesses were destroyed in the Aug. 29 storm, but this event included little mention of damage, destruction, or loss. It was, instead, a celebration, a time to recognize contributions made by individuals and organizations across the country to Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. About 200 credit union officials -three to four times more than the norm – attended the dinner. Chapter President Walter Moore quickly dispensed the chapter business. The rest of the evening, speakers from CUNA, NCUA, NCUF, and Mississippi Credit Union Association (MCUA), handed out kudos for the support that area credit unions had received over the past 10 weeks. Alonzo Swann, NCUA Region III Director, called credit unions “heroes,” and praised them for their efforts to get businesses back up and running even while dealing with their own personal tragedies. John Franklin, CUNA & Affiliates COO, introduced Scott Earl, CUNA’s coordinator of disaster recovery efforts, explaining that the two CUNA officials were in the area to discover what steps need to be taken to help credit unions better prepare to serve their members in the midst of future disasters. He talked about the spirit of cooperation that he has witnessed with credit unions helping other credit unions – sharing facilities, manpower, data processing, etc. – through the trade association’s Adopt-a-Credit Union program. Franklin mused that some financial institutions might not be so cooperative. “In the banking industry, that would be like sending Dr. Kevorkian to a sick family member,” Franklin quipped. Steve Delfin, executive director of the National Credit Union Foundation, spoke of the $2.75 million in funds raised by credit unions that is being distributed to credit union employees affected by the hurricanes, more than twice the amount of money raised for victims of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. MCUA President Charles Elliott thanked credit unions outside the area for volunteering financial resources, IT support, and even “mucking out credit unions and replacing sheetrock.” He recognized a list of 16 sponsors who covered the cost of the evening’s celebration, so that credit unions could attend at no charge. Elliott concluded the presentation by reading a poem that assured credit unions that their efforts to rebuild are not in vain. Even though they have crossed the chasm, he said, the bridges they build will serve future generations. -

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