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Serving a “Community” Must Be More than a Buzzword.

By James Schenck, President & CEO, PenFed Credit Union

In recent years the word “community” has become a buzzword for businesses of all kinds. So many companies refer to themselves as a “community” that it’s become difficult to define what the word actually means.


Being involved in a variety of communities, from the military to the Latino and Latina business communities, here’s what I’ve found are the hallmarks of a thriving community:

Human connection. One of the greatest advantages of the digital age is that businesses can offer consumers greater convenience. But the biggest difference between a digital network and a genuine community is a personal connection.
This is one of the great differentiators and benefits of PenFed. From high-yielding online checking accounts to certificates paying the best rates in America, we’re investing heavily in products and technologies that benefit our entire community. But at the same time, we work hard to serve our members as individuals. PenFed commits 2% of our net income each year to give back to our communities through charitable donations. From supporting start-up businesses through our charitable foundation and donating time and money to our local communities across the nation, we connect with thousands of people from all walks of life and serve them where they are.

Sticking around in the hard times. In my experience, tough times are not a time to withdraw. They’re an opportunity to dig in and draw closer together. When you are in a genuine community, you share your struggles and your solutions.

This can take many forms. For PenFed, it means making commitments to help residents of hard-hit communities. This is why immediately after Hurricane Maria we waived ATM fees for everyone in Puerto Rico. We waived loan payments for borrowers who needed time to take care of family members, repair their homes, and find new jobs. We provided free food, water and generators for our Puerto Rico employees. We hosted a free concert with movie star Gary Sinise to celebrate Puerto Ricans’ resilience and let them know they are not forgotten.
While other companies are pulling out of Puerto Rico, PenFed is going all in. We’re committing $4 million to build a fourth branch in Puerto Rico. That will provide jobs and help a local community that is still working hard to recover.

Growing together. But serving a community isn’t just delivering aid or crisis management. People in communities also help each other grow.
This is what we do at PenFed. We help our members – including 300,000 Latinos and Latinas – achieve their lifelong dreams. For some this means buying a home or earning a college degree. That’s why we donated $640,000 to Esperanza, helping Latino and Latina students achieve higher education and move one step closer to their American dream. Others dream of starting their own business. So we launched the Veteran Entrepreneur Investment Program to help veterans – including Latino and Latina veterans – start and grow their own businesses.
Recently, I had the privilege of joining the Board of the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. It gives me one more way to leverage my personal and professional networks to help others grow.

Ultimately, the strongest communities are built by people who dream big and work hard – those who see the power of coming together to accomplish something greater than themselves. I’m proud to lead an organization that serves so many remarkable communities, from Washington to San Juan to San Diego. Each and every day, the people remind me that community is far more than a buzzword.