Three 2022 graduates awarded credit union scholarships

Community First member-owner Carlee Kessler is a strong believer in the philosophy of people helping people.
“It’s scary growing up,” wrote Kessler, a senior at Appleton West High School. Navigating post-high school education, moving away from home, buying a car and, eventually, a home, can be daunting. But, she found a solution to ease the transition: “Find a team to help you enjoy your newly found independence – become a member of a credit union.”
2022 Scholarship winners Kessler, along with fellow 2022 graduates Zachary Zdziarski (Manitowoc Lincoln HS) and Bailey Bidwell (Kaukauna HS) have been named recipients of the three $1,000 scholarships offered each spring by the Greater Fox Cities Chapter of Credit Unions scholarships.
They were selected for the scholarships from more than 75 applicants based on their responses to two questions – an essay question explaining the value of their credit union membership and a community involvement question about a social issue affecting their community and how they could help.
‘Helping others through life’
With a credit union, collective member-owner deposits are used to offer affordable loans to others in the cooperative, an important role in “helping others trying to make their way through life,” said Kessler, a Community First member for the past 10 years.
“And along with all the other member-owners, credit union members have the opportunity to become community heroes.” As owners, a credit union’s profits “come back to them in the form of lower borrowing interest rates and higher savings rates” while also collectively building “communal support” through community support and engagement. “Lay a foundation of support…become a member, be there for yourself, be there for your community,” wrote Kessler, who is planning to study English next fall at UW-Madison.
Domestic abuse is a community issue Kessler is concerned about, largely due to its impact primarily on women and children. That has prompted her to volunteer at the Harbor House, an Appleton domestic abuse shelter, providing childcare services and supervision to families, allowing adults to attend group meetings, run errands and otherwise tend to personal needs.
She also organized an event for Appleton West and Renaissance School for the Arts’ Equality Club students to make multiple adult- and child-size blankets for donation to Harbor House clients. “It is vital that – as community members – we take conscious actions to help all members and make our cities a safer place for all,” Kessler said.
Mission of support
Both Zdziarski, who plans to major in psychology at UW-Eau Claire, and Bidwell, who will study business or political science at UW-Whitewater, are member-owners of Fox Communities Credit Union.
“Credit unions have an overall mission of improving the financial well-being of their members and serving their communities,” wrote Zdziarski.
His pursuit of a psychology degree was born out of his school and community involvement despite the challenges of the COVID19 pandemic which has resulted in mental health challenges. A county youth apprenticeship program enabled him to work in the credit union, including work with fifth graders who run a school-based credit union, as well as mentoring younger students virtually and then in person, including service as a lead summer camp teacher.
Zdziarski also found time to be a “Big Brother” to an elementary student he meets weekly for lunch at school and other activities. “I want to be a school psychologist helping youth with their social, emotional and academic needs,” he said.
Bidwell values her credit union for its financial guidance and personalized service and more. “They make investments in the local community and their goal is to help improve the lives of their members,” she said.
A class focused on community service and civic engagement led Bidwell and three classmates to create and organize a community-wide drive to provide food and hygiene items some individuals and families cannot afford. After delivering posters throughout the community, the students spent a month going door-to-door to collect donations.
“All of the donations we received filled two entire classrooms and we got them all boxed and bagged up,” she said. City officials helped transport the donations to the food pantry. “I want to continue giving back to my community and helping the youth and families that do not have enough money to have the basic necessities,” she said.
Community First CU is proud to join with other area credit unions to support our high school graduates with these annual scholarships! Congratulations Carlee, Zachary and Bailey!!

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