Hundreds of thousands of evacuees who fled Florida are trying to find shelter and food in neighboring states, including Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and the Carolinas. Stores are scrambling to restock shelves with basic supplies, including water.
That's why I made the decision Monday morning to postpone this year’s Visionary Conference. We have notified our hotels to free up space so it may be better used to house evacuees as well as the first responders who are staging in our area, just outside Irma's track.
When I started planning our first Visionary Conference, I was thinking in terms of a specific location — the Mobile Bay area has not experienced a significant hurricane strike since 2005. I failed to think like a cooperative that serves credit unions from Boston to Corpus Christi, from Kansas to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Few hurricane seasons have gone by without impacting some part of the United States.
So, I will move our Visionary Conference to the Spring, outside the peak hurricane months of August through October. We are coordinating with our hotel, as well as next year’s conference schedules, to produce a list of options. Then, we’ll vote for the best date as a cooperative.
Many credit unions have already been generous in offers to donate to the credit unions impacted by Harvey and Irma. I would ask the movement to consider supporting the rebuilding of St. Thomas FCU. The credit union serves more than 7,500 members, 15% of the island’s 51,000 residents, and it is the largest locally based financial institution on the island.
As a U.S. territory, the USVI is often overlooked, but it has has been devastated. No one on St. Thomas escaped the severe damage of Irma. St. Thomas FCU's management is working to repair enough of the building’s structure to allow the credit union to open to members who will need cash in a world that suddenly stopped accepted plastic and ApplePay. But it's a battle. The building is currently being powered by a generator and the credit union has limited access to fuel. There's no internet for data communications. Text is about the only reliable communication channel right now.
The people of St. Thomas will need a great deal of help in rebuilding. Their credit union is the best way to channel funds to those in the most need.
"We hope the people impacted by Irma will get the help they need," says Jonathan P. Matthews, CEO of Southland FCU in Lufkin, TX, and board chair of CU*SOUTH. "This makes those of us who have a home and job appreciate our blessings. I hope credit unions in our CUSO understand we will assist in their disaster recovery.”
I was looking forward to working on our cooperative theme at this year's Visionary Conference, and attendance this year was up more than 50% over last year. As we look forward to Spring 2018, we will set an even bigger table — and build a stronger ark — to carry us together in our mission to serve our members and our communities.