Some people turn grave personal challenges into lifelong missions. Ron Amstutz, executive vice president of $3 billion asset Desert Schools Federal Credit Union, Phoenix, is such an individual.
His son, Trevor, was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome at the age of five, on the weekend after the Amstutz family moved to Arizona. It was a Saturday, on Memorial Day weekend, when most other families were busy celebrating the holiday.
Trevor didn’t receive a speedy diagnosis. He had to undergo numerous tests and spent about three weeks in the hospital.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system. While most patients recover from even the most severe cases of the syndrome, in some cases patients become temporarily paralyzed, at which point the disorder is life-threatening and considered a medical emergency.
The recovery can take weeks, months, or years. After Trevor’s hospital stay, he remained in a wheelchair for two months.
Fortunately, Trevor is now a healthy 18-year-old, his dad is happy to report. But that early experience gave the Amstutz family personal perspective on the importance of supporting children’s hospitals.
Amstutz established a charity golf tournament in 1999 to benefit Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) through Credit Unions for Kids. The first year it raised $10,000. Since then, the annual golf tournament alone has contributed $1.2 million to the cause—raising a record $232,000 in 2009 and $217,000 in 2010.
The credit union also regularly holds membership change drives, bowl-a-thons, barbecues, and other events. These efforts, combined, helped Desert Schools Federal to become the No. 1 U.S. credit union for CMN fund raising, contributing more than $2 million since 1998.
The Phoenix Children’s Hospital, where Trevor stayed, has a “1 Darn Cool School,” where long-term patients attend classes during their hospital stays. “It’s the only CMN hospital in the country that has a school,” says Amstutz. “A majority of the funds from Arizona’s credit unions’ donations go to that.”
The funding goes to teachers’ salaries, books, computers, Internet access, and school supplies. The school also helps kids transition back to regular school, says Amstutz. The hospital school arranges to have photos of the patients’ classmates delivered to the patients, and teachers work with the patients’ regular teachers to make the transition easier.
“Every student I’ve talked with has said that was extremely helpful,” says Amstutz.
Are the Amstutz kids following in their philanthropic dad’s footsteps? Yes, but it wasn’t automatic, he says. For example, for a long time Trevor didn’t want to go back to visit the hospital where he had stayed. It was a difficult memory for him.
Then in 2008, when Amstutz received CMN’s prestigious Credit Unions for Kids Miracle Maker Award, the family traveled with him to Disney World for the presentation. Trevor kept things in perspective for his father saying, “You know, it’s because of me, Dad, that you got this award.”
Trevor, whom his father describes as the “outgoing class clown of the family,” and the other four Amstutz children have all found ways to give back through various volunteering venues. Amstutz encourages them to find their own passions for volunteering, through projects of personal interest.
“If you don’t do that, they won’t be interested,” he says. “If you don’t enjoy the volunteering, it’s not something you’re going to continue doing.”
When Amstutz received the Miracle Maker Award, Joe Dearborn, executive director of Credit Unions for Kids, said of him, “Ron’s commitment to CMN and the Credit Unions for Kids program has been remarkable over the last decade. We are grateful for his support and congratulate him on this well-deserved honor.”
“Ron fills a huge need in the community, and his commitment to the school is all-consuming,” says Jason Meyers, Desert Schools Federal’s director of public relations, who nominated Amstutz as a CU Hero. “He has been the driving force behind fund raising for the school since 1998.
“Ron spends part of every day planning events, while striving each year to exceed the credit union’s level of giving. And every January, it’s an inspirational time for him when he has the privilege of presenting a check to the kids and staff at the hospital.”
Meyers says Amstutz volunteers about 150 hours annually in pursuit of “his life’s mission” to raise $1 for every Desert Schools Federal member—currently at more than 370,000.
Amstutz says the most difficult part of fund raising is that people are solicited by so many different organizations. It was partly because of this that the credit union decided several years ago to narrow its fund-raising efforts to just two charitable organizations: Phoenix Children’s Hospital/CMN and United Way.
“That brought the focus on those organizations,” he explains. “Our support of the hospital covered a lot of things, and through United Way, we felt we were making a bigger impact on our community.” It’s a more defined approach, rather than piecemeal through individual community charities, he says. The credit union’s community development director, however, does work with various community nonprofits for special projects.
Amstutz admits his experience with his son’s illness was devastating and unexpected. He plans to continue to find ways to help families in similar situations.
“Missing school for an extended period of time can really set a child back,” he says. Not to mention the emotional stress for the child, the parents, and the rest of the family. Giving back to the 1 Darn Cool School is Amstutz’s way of saying, “Thanks.”
A FAMILY OF VOLUNTEERS
What’s the best way to balance family time with volunteer time? Bring the kids along, says Ron Amstutz, executive vice president of Desert Schools Federal Credit Union, Phoenix.
Amstutz has five children—three boys, two girls—ages 12 to 21. “I try to get my kids involved in volunteer opportunities,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to give back and to teach children about giving back to the community.”
All of the kids have found unique ways to contribute—from donating food and time to the local food bank, to volunteering on a horse farm, to assisting with children’s programs.
They’ve also helped their dad over the years with fund-raising activities for Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Credit Unions for Kids. “They have pretty unique interests and passions,” he says.