e009. Just Getting Started with Blessing Allison

Blessing Allison (she/her) is the Director of Learning & Development at Red River Federal Credit Union. Based in Texarkana, Texas, Red River Federal Credit Union employs over 350 local residents to manage over $1 billion in assets. Their membership is over 110,000 strong.

In this episode, Blessing talks about the importance of just getting started.


Full episode below…

Full Interview with Blessing Allison

Full Interview Transcript

[00:00:46] Amy: Welcome back to including you. I’m your host, Amy C.
Waninger. My guest today is Blessing Allison, Blessing is the director of
learning and development at the red river federal credit union, based in
Texarkana, Texas red river credit union employs over 350 local residents. They
manage over a billion dollars in assets and their membership is over 110,000
strong blending.
[00:01:09] Amy: Blessing welcome to the show.
[00:01:10] Blessing: Hi, Amy. Thank you for having me.
[00:01:13] Amy: I am really excited to talk to you. My understanding is that
you all are pretty new in your diversity and inclusion journey, is that correct?
[00:01:19] Blessing: Yeah, so we are fairly new and actually defining what our
DNI journey and strategy is, absolutely.
[00:01:30] Amy: Why was this the priority for the credit union?
[00:01:33] Blessing: When you really think about credit unions and how we
were founded way back away, it truly was credit unions were people helping
people, right? It was a group of people coming together because we, the people
couldn’t work with the bank or they didn’t want to pay the high interest.

[00:01:50] Blessing: So that diversity and inclusion are truly, if you think about
it at the heart of credit union. So, it’s been there all along and the priority really
stemmed from really taking that heart and defining what that needs to look like
today in today’s world, a lot has changed from when credit union started.
[00:02:12] Blessing: So today strategically, what does that look like? And I
think society has really challenged a lot of organizations to look at themselves
and to define this is our strategy, this is our commitment, this is who we are
when it comes to DENI, and then to be more transparent with that, and I think
that was really the priority for us was diversity,
[00:02:35] Blessing: equity inclusion has been at the heart, but have we defined
it? Have we really showed up for the public saying, this is our heart, this is why
we do what we do, and this is why it’s important to us.
[00:02:49] Amy: And so, I know that you’re early in your journey, but what
have you done so far? What do you feel like is working to kinda move you
forward into the space within the credit union?
[00:02:58] Blessing: Absolutely, education I would say number one, and I think
that goes without saying for anything else is when you really set a tone, because
culture was so important, when it comes to DENI, and we really wanted to
make sure that the employees that we had here really felt like they had a voice
and that was our number one priority.
[00:03:19] Blessing: So, the first thing that we did was just to launch in the
ERG groups, but then we kinda had to take a step back and realize like ERG
may mean something to me because I’ve been researching and diving into this
whole diversity and inclusion, but for my staff, they’ve never heard ERGs
before, and so even going back to say, this is what
[00:03:42] Blessing: an employee resource group is, and this is why it’s
important to the credit union, this is why it’s valuable to you as an employee,
and once they captured that vision, it’s just taken off. So we’ve really enjoyed
our ERGs and they’ve really been beneficial in the education to even our
communities to then go out and say, hey, this is what we represent here
[00:04:07] Blessing: and we wanna blend the lines between our organization
and what our communities look like. So that’s been a huge success, we’ve had a
blast with the celebration pieces of it. Our employees have really loved
celebrating what makes them, who they are, and then we’ve seen that in those
celebrations, that excitement is spilling over into the community and into the

employees are feeling like they’re allowed to be their authentic self at work, or
maybe before they thought they could be, but they weren’t
[00:04:39] Blessing: exactly sure, and now it’s actually given them a platform to
be, this is who I am, and I’m excited to be here, and not only that, but it’s
valuable for me to be who I am at red river credit union.
[00:04:53] Amy: So how many ERGs have you launched so far?
[00:04:56] Blessing: Oh I think we’ve launched about six. I would have to go
look. So, we have our Latin X group,
[00:05:03] Blessing: we have our teal vets, so teal is our brand color, we’ve
actually used the word teal as our acronym to define our core values. That was
something we did when we really started doing our DENI strategy when we
focused on the culture was to say, this is our DENI commitment, his is who we
are as a company.
[00:05:24] Blessing: So, our core values were defined. So, in our core values,
its team focused, excellent authenticity and leading in innovation, and the
authenticity is so important for DENI, because that truly is how you bring in the
trust factor when you’re working with DENI strategies. So, we have our teal
vets, our Latinx, we have our LGBTQ, ERG, (inaudible) pride and then we have
our women’s group so far and our they call our RRUBR our red river un
apology, black group as well,
[00:06:00] Blessing: and they’re very awesome.
[00:06:04] Amy: So, when you started these ERGs, was it a, different
companies have different models? Was it a top down sort of thing where you
said, okay, we’re gonna launch ERGs and you went and recruited people to be
part of them, or were these more grassroots efforts that people came to you and
said, we wanna start a group for ourselves so we can stay connected?
[00:06:22] Blessing: So, it started from the top down, and luckily what we’re
seeing is we’re starting to see the grassroots one come about now so I’m excited
about that, because like I said, we really had to take a step back and really
educate our staff on what ERGs were, why they were vital to a DENI program
why they were important to us,
[00:06:45] Blessing: and what we did, what I found to be the most organic way
to start an ERG was to take a diversity and inclusion calendar and start

recognizing events that are on the calendar worldwide, that people are
celebrating already, because that was just a natural, those topics were already
being discussed,
[00:07:06] Blessing: people were already aware, and so we would take this
event maybe like Hispanic heritage month is coming up, and that was one of our
first that we did, and so we took the event and we formed a group, just said,
hey, if you wanna help us plan events, topics for Hispanic heritage month,
anyone can join,
[00:07:24] Blessing: and so, from that, it was a planning committee that then
transitioned into, hey, this isn’t employee resource group, and what’s your
vision? What do you wanna see come from this? So that’s how we just slipped it
in without it being like, oh, this is an ERG and we’re gonna start it today, and so
that has worked,
[00:07:44] Blessing: and now, as employees are learning the value of that,
they’re coming with their own and saying, Hey, we wanna start this group or
this, so it’s been exciting to see.
[00:07:54] Amy: You mentioned a community aspect, my guess is that this is
going to help you spread the word about the credit union and what services the
credit union provides in different communities, where you have branches and
where you have operations,
[00:08:08] Amy: but also probably help not just bring folks in, but help
understand, help the credit union understand, what are the specific needs of
those communities. So, you’re bringing something different to market maybe
than you would out this input, is that correct?
[00:08:22] Blessing: Yeah, absolutely. One of the fun things that we’ve really
taken on was our Hispanic heritage group and our RUB group.
[00:08:31] Blessing: They really love food, food is very much a part of their
culture, and so what we’ve done is a lot of times, like in Hispanic heritage
month, we’ve had these food truck Fridays where they pick vendors of their
community to come and set up in some of our branch parking lots to sell food,
and what it’s done is of brought more of that community to us, but then it allows
us to go and meet them,
[00:08:56] Blessing: and we’ve been able to make a lot of partnerships that way,
and showing, hey, these are products and services that could help your business,

but we’re also learning more of, did we actually have a good product for, excuse
me, for that business? Was it as good as we thought it was? Because now we’re
actually getting to talk to the communities to really, like you said, learn, we may
think it’s a great product, but when it actually penetrates that community, does it
serve their financial needs, which is our ultimate goal here.
[00:09:27] Amy: And your credit union was actually formed from a veteran’s
group, right? From a group of army recruit. Can you talk a little bit about the
founding of the credit union? Because I think the credit union’s founding almost
feeds into this notion of, folks who maybe were not well served by
[00:09:42] Amy: traditional banks, traditional financial services vehicles, and
now you’re taking that to a next evolution of service. Can you talk a little bit
about that?
[00:09:51] Blessing: Absolutely. So, we started back in 1948. I think we had a
total of six people. I think it was like 46, $48 in the group, and going back a
little bit further than that, in the financial world, I started in banks, nothing
wrong with them at all.
[00:10:06] Blessing: I know some great people who work there, but when I
started, I had a lot of coworkers who were going to red river credit union, and I
was like, what’s so great about that, and I started looking and I was like, man,
our products and services seem very similar, and at the time I actually found a
course through our learning management system that talked about the difference
between a credit union and a bank.
[00:10:30] Blessing: Because I was just curious, like why are all my coworkers
going to work for this credit union? And it really talked about how, back, I can’t
even remember the time, but I think Germany was the original group was bakers
or farmers that couldn’t afford to borrow money from the payday lenders, from
the banks who came together to say, hey, we’re a group of farmers and we’re
gonna help each other out.
[00:10:54] Blessing: So we’ll all put some money in, and as Amy, as you need
it, I’m gonna give you some, you’re gonna pay it back into the pot, and so it
really was all about people helping people financially reach goals that otherwise
they would not be able to meet, and when I read that and knowing to like our
board of directors are completely volunteer, we’re technically classified as a, not
for profit.

[00:11:17] Blessing: So, anything that we profit has to be poured back into our
membership base. It’s just a different way to work in the financial world when
you know that’s your foundation, and so it wasn’t long after doing that course
that I knew credit unions were the only way for me to go, and I’ve been here
ever since, but for us, we have a huge army depo that is out here not is
essentially what started us, was that coming together, needing a place to borrow
[00:11:48] Blessing: So, it used to just be for the army depo, hence our name,
and then it has evolved into all the communities around, one thing we still strive
on is a lot of military bases or army depots. They will have contracts that end,
they will have funding that stops, and so a lot of these people will go through
layoffs uncertainties about how long that contract’s gonna be,
[00:12:13] Blessing: and we always prioritize that. So, if we know this group of
people are gonna be laid off, they’ve gotten loans with us, we’re already having
a game of place to reach out and say, hey, this is how we’re gonna help you to
make sure you’re not losing your home during this time, you’re not losing your
vehicles, things like that.
[00:12:30] Blessing: So, it’s a really neat thing to be behind.
[00:12:34] Amy: You know, the fact that you’re in the community already, and
you’ve got not just roots in the community, but you’re there. Makes those
conversations so much easier and so much more natural, I think, than I’ve gotten
these, I’ve gotten these emails from the big banks before, right?
[00:12:51] Amy: So big bank USA, says we know that people are falling on
hard times. If you need help call this 800 number, and there’s you feel like,
yeah, the number’s there, but I don’t know if I should call it, but when it is,
blessing in the office, down the street is calling me because she knows me
[00:13:07] Amy: to say, hey, I understand what’s happening, we’ve been
working on this, we have a plan for you. I think that makes a big difference, and
especially for folks who would not have a trusted banking relationship,
otherwise, because they’ve been excluded from the financial services industry
or, either financial services, historically.
[00:13:29] Amy: And so, I think that marriage of not just the mission, but the
local presence is really valuable to people who have been excluded in the past.

[00:13:40] Blessing: Absolutely, and it’s even thinking of ways as a credit
union, there’s more ways that we can develop, maybe even lending needs for
our areas. Like you’ll find, payday lenders are prominent in minority
[00:13:54] Blessing: and so, one of the biggest things that we are passionate
about is financial literacy and going into those same communities that these
payday loans are targeting, who don’t have laws to say how much interest they
could charge so they could charge whatever they want to go in and say, let us
help you create a budget,
[00:14:14] Blessing: let us help you create a trust or a will for something that
happens, or we’ve even got some service groups that can help with Medicaid
when it comes time for that. So really, the partnership is there from the moment
they become one of us till they no longer need us, and it’s what can we do in
every stage of your life to be that financial ally for our communities that we
[00:14:42] Blessing: and we do prominently serve the minority communities, a
lot of credit unions that is their field of membership.
[00:14:51] Amy: And so, you have operations, not just in Texarkana, but in four
states, correct?
Blessing:Yes. Yeah.
Amy: And so, are the communities that you’re serving in all four states, are they
similar? or do they differ by geography?
[00:15:03] Blessing: They do very much differ. So, we have Texarkana, Texas,
we do go almost all the way out to Dallas. So, we are expanding out that way,
Marshall Greenville, things like that. We go up to Arkansas and then Louisiana
and Mississippi look very different than our Arkansas and Texas. So, I would
say Arkansas is predominantly Hispanic as far as our communities,
[00:15:28] Blessing: and then in Mississippi, we’re in a Delta area. So that’s a
minority area as well, and it’s a very poor area, but we’ve got two branches
located out there and a wonderful staff that really has worked with the
community and serves it very well. No, it looks very different.
[00:15:47] Amy: Yeah. So, serving the black community in the Delta space

Blessing: Yes.
[00:15:49] Amy: And then more Hispanic community in the, it’s not really the
middle of the country, but I think of Arkansas, the middle of the Texas just in
my head where the geography goes. No, that’s fascinating. Building that
connection in inside the organization, to the community, outside the
organization and helping bridge that gap and build the communication channels
back and forth is really important.
[00:16:12] Amy: What’s next for red river in this journey that you’re on?
[00:16:16] Blessing: Absolutely, so I feel the last two years, like I said, we
focused on our employee resource group, we focused on leadership training,
really teaching, what diversity and inclusion is, because one of the questions
that I have found that you get a lot when you’re
[00:16:31] Blessing: celebrating and honoring diversity is if you’re preaching
inclusion, blessing, why are you so focused on diversity? And so really that
education piece of learning that, without knowing what makes you and I
different, we cannot be inclusive as an organization because what makes Amy
successful is not what makes Blessing successful,
[00:16:51] Blessing: and I need in knowing what makes this different, I know
what resources you need, and I know what resources I need. So, I feel like that
has been our focus, so my heart for 2023 is that we will move more into the
equity pieces. So really finding like you asked earlier, we’re very different in the
communities that we serve based on our branch locations.
[00:17:14] Blessing: So really, narrowing down that member experience to
make sure that the branches are focused on what Texas needs may not be, what
Mississippi needs and how do we serve and offer a personalized experience
equity wise to the communities that we’re in, because we don’t wanna just be in
the communities, we want to be part of that community.
[00:17:38] Blessing: So that’s where I’m looking to go at 2023 is to really focus
on products and services, what our branch looks like and making sure that trust
and those needs are being met in each of the communities that we’re in
[00:17:53] Amy: Blessing, I wanna thank you for sharing about the credit union
history your mission to this point

[00:17:58] Amy: and what’s next for you? Thank you so much.
Blessing: Yeah, it was a pleasure.
Amy: I’m really glad to have you on the show. Thank you.
Blessing: Thanks Amy.

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Amy C. Waninger Author Bio

Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com

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