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The Importance of Juneteenth

SEFCU’s familiar tag line is “Changing Lives Every Day.” That phrase is more than a slogan – it is the description of our organization’s true purpose.
 
While our branches and Member Solutions Center (MSC) will remain open this year, SEFCU is making tomorrow - Friday, June 19 - a company holiday in celebration of Juneteenth, which is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. It is a day that forever changed millions of lives – and the world.
 
We are asking all employees who do not directly serve the time sensitive needs of our members to take the day off to celebrate Juneteenth and spend some time gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation for the historical and cultural significance of the day. Those working in the branch network and MSC will also receive a paid holiday to use at their discretion.

After all that has unfolded across America, and in our communities over the past few weeks, it is clear that purposeful change remains necessary. Observing Juneteenth at SEFCU and across the state, is a small but significant step in the right direction.

As we work to change lives, we must also change minds and shift perspectives on issues related to equality and social justice. There is no place for racism, hate, and intolerance in our society. Deeply rooted misperceptions about people based solely on what they look like, how they worship, or who they love remain barriers to the progress that will bring us together and put us on a path toward inclusion and prosperity. It’s time to break down those barriers, not with violence and vitriol, but by demonstrating how much we value each other for our unique talents, creative ideas, and positive contributions.

  • I am heartened to see so many individuals, community organizations, and businesses joining the movement to advance the seemingly simple concepts of equality, justice, acceptance and tolerance. At SEFCU, we have continued to take actions to support this effort:
  • For many years, SEFCU has been committed to providing essential branch banking services to people in underserved, underrepresented communities in the Capital Region, Southern Tier, Central and Western New York, including many of the neighborhoods where protests and rallies have been occurring. Our employees are proud to serve as friendly, reliable resources for the individuals and families living and working in these culturally and economically diverse areas.
  • Employees in SEFCU’s Institute for Financial Well-Being travel throughout the state delivering live financial education seminars to people of all ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds, including children in after school programs, inner-city youth groups, senior citizens, and those just trying to get back on track. These free, interactive courses, which are also available online, help people gain the knowledge necessary to make sound financial decisions and the confidence to know that, regardless of where they are today, financial freedom is achievable in the future. 
  • Every year, SEFCU employees dedicate thousands of volunteer hours to ensure that people’s basic needs are met, communities are enriched, children learn, and our veterans receive the care and support they deserve. From mentoring city school children to renovating rooms at homeless shelters and providing respite for our healthcare heroes, our mission is to make life just a little bit better for the people we serve, especially for those who are facing challenges and overcoming personal circumstances many of us cannot even imagine.

Thanks to the generosity of our members, and support from our volunteer Board of Directors and our SEFCU staff, we also invest a significant portion of our net income back into the local communities, with an emphasis on those in racially diverse, financially challenged and underrepresented areas. The millions of dollars we provide each year are used to mentor at-risk children, deliver nourishment and shelter for the hungry and homeless, support medical research to fight heart disease and cancer, ensure quality care and enrichment for people with disabilities, and to address so many more needs in our community. Right now, we are leading a public fundraising campaign in the Capital Region called “No Neighbor Hungry.” With our media partners News10ABC and iHeartMedia, we are raising money for seven local nonprofits that are feeding people and families in our community. The need has never been greater, and to ensure that we raise as much as we can, SEFCU has matched the first $100,000 raised. This effort will result in more than $300,000 going directly to our neighbors who desperately need our help.

As we continue to support our communities, SEFCU remains focused on making improvements internally as well. From our hiring practices to our employee engagement initiatives, we strive to ensure inclusivity at all levels of the organization. Just last week, I had a thought-provoking conversation with our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee – a team of talented, dedicated and thoughtful employees that remains committed to making our organization a safe place where differences are celebrated and unique voices are magnified.

While much has been accomplished, I recognize much more needs to be done. We must continue to engage, talk to each other, and take the action steps necessary to understand and evolve. The formal recognition of Juneteenth is one of many more action steps to follow as we continue to pursue SEFCU’s purpose of changing lives every day.

Michael Castellana
President and CEO