A Lion for the Low Income

'I absolutely fell in love with the credit union philosophy of people helping people.'

October 07, 2013
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Laura Aguirre had a humble upbringing involving public assistance and the fear of homelessness.

As a result, she understands—perhaps more than most—how encouragement and kindness can change lives.

“Fortunately, one day I landed in the credit union world” after a 15-year banking career, Aguirre says. “I absolutely fell in love with the credit union philosophy of ‘people helping people.’ Everywhere I looked I saw people who reminded me of how I grew up.”

As the president/CEO of Hawaii First Federal Credit Union in Kamuela, Aguirre was “determined” and “empowered” to help underserved, low-income, and native communities. Aguirre pushed her credit union to obtain a low-income designation and Native Community Development Financial Institution certi? cation.

She also created a 501(c)(3) arm of the credit union to serve the community with free access to job-seeking assistance, credit and debt management, one-on-one financial counseling, and? financial education workshops. Aguirre’s passion has rubbed off? on her team.

“She lives and breathes our mission of serving the underserved and empowers our team to ‘wow’ our members,” says Mary Ann Otake, Hawaii First Federal’s vice president of operations and development.

Aguirre believes in surrounding herself with lions, not deer—an illustration from one of her favorite books, “You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader” by Mark Sanborn. In his book, Sanborn makes the point that leaders embody the characteristics of lions, whereas deer are more timid.

Aguirre concedes that serving those who really need it isn’t always easy. One of Aguirre’s first interactions with a member is a case in point.

“The member wanted to apply for a car loan, and as I handed him an application he looked like he was in physical pain,” Aguirre recalls.

She subsequently discovered the man couldn’t read or write—and she no longer assumes any member interactions are routine.

“Taking a few extra minutes could be the difference between someone receiving the help they need or walking out the door,” Aguirre says. “Our staff is expected to take these extra few minutes, and it shows. We have very loyal members.”

The mountain of thank-you cards the credit union receives is proof, she adds. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Truly a Rock Star!

Laurie Moore
October 11, 2013 3:30 pm
Laura Aguirre embodies the People Helping People spirit! She is truly deserving of this recognition as her accomplishments have positively impacted the people of Hawaii Island. Kudos to this Lion and her staff!


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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory (www.appreciationatwork.com/assess) will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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