This Year’s Annual Star Gala was the Most Successful to Date

On September 23rd, the Mountain West Credit Union Foundation hosted the 9th Annual Star Gala at the glamorous Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Each year, this event allows us to recognize some of our industries finest while raising money for programs that support the long-term success of credit unions within their communities. This year’s Gala was a tremendous success! Attendance was up 22%, and gross income grew by 14% to support the work of the Foundation.

“These award winners capture the true spirit of the credit union philosophy of people helping people,” said Dr. Dan Santangelo, Executive Director of the Mountain West Credit Union Foundation. “By pausing each year to recognize the outstanding efforts of those in the credit union movement, we are reminded of the importance of our founding principles and it reinvigorates our passion. The honorees make a difference in their communities, and in the lives of their members, every single day. It’s why we do what we do.”

Money raised from the annual gala event goes to fund Foundation programs that provide scholarships for numerous leadership, professional development and academic opportunities; financial services, development and public financial education grants; and other programs supporting credit unions in Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming, the states served by the Mountain West Credit Union Association.

Congratulations to this year’s award recipients!

Community Impact Award Winner: Partner Colorado Credit Union

community-impact-partner-coloradoOne of the founding principles of the credit union movement is the premise of “people helping people.”

The Community Impact award honors a credit union for its commitment and dedication to the community it serves. Concerned about the risks a cash-based industry poses to public safety, Partner Colorado (under the DBA of Safe Harbor Private Banking) set about building a service to the cannabis industry that offered law-abiding businesses a manner in which to conduct financial transactions.

The offering has taken millions of dollars of unprotected income off the streets and helped make doing business safer.

Community Impact Award Runner-Up: Desert Schools Federal Credit Union


Desert Schools provides employees with opportunities to regularly volunteer their time to serve non-profits throughout the three counties served by the credit union. In 2015, Desert Schools contributed 4,487 hours through 202 sponsored projects.




Credit Union of the Year (Under $100M Assets): Community Choice Credit Union

credit-union-of-the-year-community-choiceThis award recognizes a credit union for innovation and outstanding achievements in the various areas of day-to-day operations, financial prowess, and member service. In 2015, Community Choice Credit Union implemented a program built to educate members on how to read and improve their credit score, regardless of income level.

Through the one-on-one counseling sessions, credit union team members discovered that some members were paying substantially higher rates than necessary at other institutions.

While the focus of the program remained on education, the credit union was able to move members to more reasonable products to fit members’ needs and goals. This resulted in members saving over $460,000.

Credit Union of the Year Award ($100M-$500M Assets): Denver Community Credit Union

credit-union-of-the-year-denver-communityThis award recognizes a credit union for innovation and outstanding achievements in the various areas of day-to-day operations, financial prowess, and member service.

Denver Community has long provided an award-winning financial education program. The credit union introduced an online and mobile banking platform that gives members access to mobile bill pay, statements, check deposit, and fraud protection tools.

Denver Community is also a leader in the Bank On movement – pulling together non-profits, government agencies, and financial institutions to help the underserved and unbanked access financial opportunity.

Credit Union of the Year Award (Over $500M Assets): Premier Members Credit Union

credit-union-of-the-year-premier-membersThis award recognizes a credit union for innovation and outstanding achievements in the various areas of day-to-day operations, financial prowess, and member service. Premier Members Credit Union recently completed a successful merger of equals. This merger combined two healthy, well-capitalized, similar-sized credit unions in 2015.

The merger was successfully communicated and completed in-house without outside assistance, including branding, reintroduction of the credit union, and presentations to the two boards, employee groups, and member bases.

Despite the challenges of a merger, Premier Members experienced an 8.5% growth in assets and a 16.4% growth in loans.

Emerging Leader Award: Justin Wolfe, Canyon State Credit Union

emerging-leaderThe emerging leader award is presented to a credit union employee who demonstrates outstanding contributions to the credit union movement, community service and leadership qualities.

Justin Wolfe is a graduate of the Mountain West Credit Union Leadership Institute, a Credit Union Development Educator, and a scholar of the Foundation’s Executive Leadership Program. He demonstrates character, trustworthiness, and professionalism.

He was instrumental in reversing a declining membership trend and serves as a leader and role model for the local young credit union professionals group.

Distinguished Leaders

Susan Frank, Desert Schools Federal Credit Union

distinguished-leader-susan-frankSusan Frank has provided dedicated service to the credit union movement for 30 years. She is a credit union activist, spending more than ten years attending the Government Affairs Conference and Hike the Hill initiatives. Her commitment to her community is an example for all. She has implemented an employee volunteer program, a financial literacy program, community service scholarships, and a community grants program at Desert Schools.



Eva Gaudio, Elevations Credit Union

distinguished-leader-eva-gaudioFor 34 years, Eva Gaudio’s passion has been financial literacy, advocacy for the credit union movement, and commitment to community. She is instrumental in supporting legislative issues on state and national levels through grassroots advocacy, including Hike the Hill and the Governmental Affairs Conference. She has an unwavering passion for financial literacy, working to pass financial literacy standards in the state education system and leads the financial literacy program at Elevations Credit Union, reaching nearly 10,000 students in the last four years.


Carla Hedrick, Denver Community Credit Union

distinguished-leader-carla-hedrickCarla Hedrick has been a part of credit unions for more than 35 years. As chair of the Mountain West Government Affairs Committee, she made seven trips to Washington when credit unions were lobbying for the passage of The Credit Union Membership Access Act. And, in 2008, she testified on behalf of financial literacy standards in the state education system. Under her leadership, Denver Community Credit Union grew from $45 million in assets to $295 million, while never losing sight of the need to provide financial guidance and open doors to low income and credit challenged members.


Claudia Milan, Arapahoe Credit Union

distinguished-leader-claudia-milanClaudia Milan spent three decades leading, volunteering, and driving credit unions forward as an executive at five different credit unions.

She took the lead role at her once-troubled credit union, immediately repairing and rebuilding it into a leader for consumer advocacy, financial literacy, and community involvement.

Milan has served on the Colorado Division of Financial Services Board, the Colorado Credit Union Association, the Institute of Certified Credit Union Executives, CUNA Sales and Service Operations Council, CUNA HR Council, and the International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators.

About Dan Finerty

Dan Finerty is the Director of Marketing at the Mountain West Credit Union Association, a Credit Union champion, a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE), and an award-winning marketer. Dan has over 14 years of marketing experience in communications, retail, packaged goods, and, of course, Credit Unions. He believes that Credit Unions have an incredible story to tell and works with some of the brightest Credit Union professionals to help promote Credit Unions to the public. Dan holds two Bachelor’s of Science in Marketing and in Management. He is also a swell guy.

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