South End Organizations Recieve BECU’s People Helping People Awards

by Will Sweger

The Boeing Employees Credit Union (BECU) announced the winners of its annual People Helping People Awards this month. The program provided grants ranging in size from $15,000 to $50,000 to 18 local non-profits nominated by BECU members and employees.

The awards, launched in 2013, have contributed almost a million dollars to local charities so far. The amounts awarded have grown from the first year’s grants totaling $100,000. This year’s total tripled because of another program called Make a Purchase, Make a Difference. In August and September, for every transaction a BECU member made on their debit card, the program would add a penny to the award fund.

A not-for-profit cooperative owned by its members, BECU is the largest credit union in Washington. This year, around 230 BECU members, more than any previous year, nominated their favorite charities for the awards this year, mostly from the Puget Sound and Spokane areas. Eligible non-profits must be local and benefit people within the area BECU operates.

Taking home the top 2017 awards were Open Doors for Multicultural Families with the Member Volunteer of the Year Award at $50,000 and First Washington with the People’s Choice Award of $30,000. The Employee’s Choice Award and the Past Recipient’s Choice Award, each valued at $30,000, went to South Seattle’s Friends of Children and the Outdoors for All Foundation respectively.

Community Benefit Awards of $15,000 each also went to South Seattle based organizations Bike Works, Urban ArtWorks, and Rotary First Harvest.

Other recipients were Evergreen Health Foundation, the Homestead Community Land Trust, Kal Academy, Literacy Source, the Master Gardener Foundation of Spokane County, Raven Rock Ranch, Scarlet Road, St. Stephen Housing Association, the Goodtimes Project, and Turning Point Seattle.

Only nominated non-profits can apply for the awards and only BECU members and employees are allowed to make nominations. A BECU review committee appraises the applications sent by non-profits. Rachel Van Noord, BECU’s Director of Community Outreach, explained, “Every year we also learn about organizations that we would never have come in contact with otherwise and we’re able to support the work they’re doing in a small way.”

Yoga Behind Bars, a non-profit focusing on providing yoga and meditation training to incarcerated people, was also among the awardees. Rosa Vissers, Executive Director of Yoga Behind Bars, said the charity operates in 17 detention facilities in Washington State, with half of the programming geared towards imprisoned young people.

Vissers said many people in detention have a hard time finding a space where people lift each other up and as a result, most of the program’s meditative training focuses on dealing with trauma. “We can’t even meet the demand here for programs in Washington State,” she said.

For the programming provided to prisons, Yoga Behind Bars doesn’t receive any government funding and is reliant on donations. Vissers said for smaller organizations like Yoga Behind Bars, the grant from BECU allows them to “dream just a little bit bigger.” She plans to put the much of the money to use towards supporting the training of instructors behind bars who don’t have access to learning materials and classes.

BECU plans to continue the program in the future, with the nomination period for the 2018 awards opening in July of next year.

Benson Porter, the CEO of BECU, said, “As a credit union, our goal is to serve communities – to empower people through financial education, affordable financial services, and products that prioritize financial health. As a cooperative, the more people that work together, the stronger we are.”

Will Sweger is a contributor to the South Seattle Emerald and a resident of Beacon Hill. His work has appeared in Seattle Weekly, Curbed Seattle and Borgen Magazine. Find him on Twitter @willsweger

Featured image courtesy of Bike Works