Award Spotlight: Outstanding Volunteer

Several Recognition Awards will be presented to New York credit union professionals and volunteers during the New York Credit Union Association’s virtual 2021 Annual Meeting & Awards Presentation, slated for 3 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 24. Today’s featured award is the Outstanding Volunteer Award, which recognizes volunteers who exemplify commitment to their credit unions and consistently embody the “people helping people” philosophy.

This year’s Outstanding Volunteer is Ron Rock, SEFCU board chairman, who has been a SEFCU volunteer for more than 32 years and has served as board chair since 2005.

With 358,905 members and $4.8 billion in assets at the end of 2020, SEFCU has grown its membership by 162% and assets by 277% since Rock’s tenure as chair began 15 years ago. But it was during the pandemic that Rock’s leadership rose to new heights, said Michael Castellana, SEFCU president/CEO, who nominated Rock.

“One thing a global pandemic made painfully obvious – all hopes are lost without strong leadership,” said Castellana. “We, at SEFCU, are grateful that our Board Chair, Ron Rock, has lived up to his name. In these tumultuous times, Mr. Rock has been the solid anchor that has enabled us to put employee and member safety first. His steadfast leadership has allowed us to continue our dedication to supporting the homeless, veterans and those facing food insecurity, all of whom saw their plight worsen during COVID-19.”

In early March 2020, SEFCU had the foresight to move to work-from-home capabilities before the pandemic rooted itself in the Capital Region, and the credit union was one of the first to move to drive-thru-only locations for the safety of employees and our members. SEFCU was also quick to launch programs similar to other financial institutions, such as loan skip-a-pay programs, eliminating interest on student loans, fees waivers and participating in the SBA’ Paycheck Protection Program. But under Rock’s leadership, the credit union took bold initiatives to make a significant difference in the lives of members, the community and its employees, Castellana explained.

To provide members with personal service safely, SEFCU accelerated its purchase and installation of additional video teller machines and in early spring conducted 20,000 wellness calls to the most vulnerable members. SEFCU also made donations to food pantries and businesses, provided meals and partnered with local media to match community funds raised, with two community campaigns raising more than $667,000 to fight hunger in local communities.

And as PPE became scarce, SEFCU donated 2,250 N95 masks to hospitals and first responders and provided nearly 1,000 surgical masks to nonprofit shelters. SEFCU was the catalyst in creating a plan to support the Albany health care community in anticipation of the surge in local cases, with Heroes Landing at the Hilton Garden Inn welcoming 526 front-line health care workers in May 2020. The respite center was staffed by SEFCU employees 24/7.

Further, SEFCU’s Institute for Financial Well-Being, turned a long-range plan into reality by converting all its in-person events to live, instructor-led online offerings with members and non-members across 15 states attending financial education programs from their homes.

On the employee front, SEFCU organized a weekly COVID-19 surveillance testing program for on-site employees and those in other critical roles. By the end of 2020, more than 2,000 saliva tests had been administered. The offering was very well received with 77% of all eligible employees participating and gaining much needed peace of mind on a weekly basis, Castellana said.

And despite the pandemic, Rock continued to focus the board on its work in expanding diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, developing progressive policies around board recruitment. SEFCU established a standalone DEI committee and added inclusion as its newest corporate tenant. SEFCU also contracted with an outside consulting agency to ensure the credit union continuously improves and evolves its DEI efforts.

In 2020, SEFCU was voted best bank/credit union by Times Union readers for the 14th consecutive year, “the truest testament to not only the credit union but to the never-ending guidance, support and leadership of Board Chair Ron Rock,” Castellana said. “His steady leadership, financial acumen and engaging style have led to real, tangible results for SEFCU members.”

Rock is currently employed by the law firm Brown & Weinraub, PLLC and he brings extensive financial experience to his position on the SEFCU board. His New York State government career spanned 30 years and he was appointed by four different governors to various senior leadership positions, including secretary of transportation, first deputy in the Division of the Budget and chairman of the New York Higher Education Capital Committee.

For more than 25 years, he served as chief architect of the state’s multi-year transportation plans encompassing approximately $100 billion of funding and, as first deputy in the Division of Budget, Rock was instrumental in creating fiscally responsible state spending plans that totaled hundreds of billions of dollars.

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