To help people and communities get through the pandemic’s challenges, credit unions have stepped up their efforts in many ways through cash donations, food drives and free financial education. But a California credit union found a different way to help its school-age students and their families cope with the many stresses and anxieties created by the coronavirus crisis.
Earlier this year, the $6.6 billion Redwood Credit Union in Santa Rosa, Calif., partnered with social and emotional experts to produce videos that share age-appropriate ideas, strategies and tips to help families and their children cope with the daily difficulties of isolated lives during the pandemic.
Redwood President/CEO Brett Martinez came up with the idea after reading local newspaper reports and employee surveys, and talking to friends, families and members about how the pandemic was creating serious emotional and mental challenges. Mary-Frances Walsh, executive director of National Awareness of Mental Illness of Sonoma County, for example, reported that parents, educators, mental health professionals and emergency departments witnessed an unprecedented increase in depression, anxiety and behavioral issues among school-age children.
“Young people are grappling with social isolation, stress and the loss of normalcy brought on by the pandemic,” Walsh said. “Watching these videos as a family is an easy way to start the conversation about learning to manage feelings.”
Redwood partnered with NAMI and social/emotional learning expert and author of “Confident Parents, Confident Kids,” Jennifer Miller, to produce four videos, each tailored to a specific age group: Kindergarten through second grade; grades three through five; grades six through eight; and high-school-aged teens. Spanish language subtitles were available for all videos.
“All we’re really trying to do at the end the day in being involved with the community is that we want to do more than just write a check,” Martinez said. “We want to solve problems, and we always look at what we can do to solve those problems for our community.”
Since posting the videos on Redwood’s website and sharing them at no cost with area school districts, community non-profit organizations and members, the videos have attracted more than 30,000 views across all participating platforms.
“The videos are nothing short of amazing,” Mary Jane Burke, Marin County Superintendent of Schools, said. “While there are approximately 950 views in total for all videos, the feedback I received has been extremely positive. Some of the feedback I received [was that] the strategies shared are simple and doable; understanding that most families are facing challenges in this time felt validating; and one family isn’t alone in this, and we are all in this together.”
Most meaningful, Burke added, was that students saw themselves in the videos.
“Equity is at the core of our work,” she said. “The students in these videos represent the diversity that exists in our county. Further, our students didn’t feel alone. They felt heard by hearing their peer’s perspectives and how to overcome the isolation.”
Even though most public schools reopened two months ago, 55% of the Golden State’s public school students, including those in charter schools, were still distance learning from home as of April 30, according to EdSource, a California education, research and analysis organization in Oakland.
What also influenced Martinez to produce the video series was a lesson he learned from leading the credit union through California’s annual wildfire disasters from 2015 to 2020.
“I remember in 2017, 7,000 homes were basically destroyed overnight and 5,600 of them were within a three-mile radius of our corporate office,” he recalled. “We almost lost our corporate office that night as well.”
To help finance the recovery project, Redwood raised $32 million from 41,000 donors from the 50 states and 23 countries. The funds helped many wildfire victims reclaim their lives.
But what Martinez also realized was that after credit union employees and their families got their basic needs met for housing, clothes and food following fire disasters, they also needed mental health support.
To help employees deal with those mental health challenges, Redwood hired Mary O’Neill, a licensed psychotherapist and expert on helping people cope with stress. Last year, O’Neill appeared in a video along with Martinez to help employees and members address mental health issues during the pandemic.
“If your employees aren’t okay, it doesn’t matter. Your systems can be perfect, and you can have this, that and the other, but if your employees are not OK, you cannot deliver and do what you need to do to help others in the community during the disaster,” Martinez said.