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UPDATE: Project Storm Break Response Initiated in The Bahamas

World Council and CCCU partner to help credit unions devastated by Hurricane Dorian

September 04, 2019

UPDATE - SEPT. 16, 3:00 P.M.

The Grand Bahama Co-Operative Credit Union (GBCCU) Board Chair says an unprecedented storm surge from Hurricane Dorian flooded its Freeport offices, leaving several employees homeless and likely causing another Board member to go missing.

Kaylesa Simmons, who has served on the GBCCU Board for more than 20 years, talked with American Heritage Federal Credit Union President & CEO Bruce Foulke when he visited Grand Bahama last week. 

Foulke and his Chief Operating Officer Scott McCaw visited The Bahamas on behalf of World Council to assess the damage to credit unions.

GBCCU, the only credit union based in Freeport, reopened in a limited capacity last week—despite flooding that destroyed their generator.

"We had to get a small generator to come in and service our members, because we know so many people lost their homes, lost their cars—lost everything," said Simmons.

You can watch a video of Bruce Foulke's discussion with Kaylesa Simmons, which includes more information on that missing GBCCU Board member, on the WOCCU YouTube channel.

ABC-TV station profiles WOCCU visit

Bruce Foulke's visit to The Bahamas was featured in a story that ran last week on WPVI-TV's Action News in Philadelphia—the same city where American Heritage FCU is based. 

That story has already converted one former bank customer into a credit union member.

Foulke tells World Council a man deposited $200,000 into a new account at American Hertiage FCU days later, saying he was so inspired by the story he would soon be closing his bank account and moving all of his money to the credit union.

"It means a lot that one of our local stations took the time to profile the work World Council is doing in The Bahamas, and it means even more knowing it had such an impact on someone. It says a lot about what our credit union movement is all about," said Foulke.

Project Storm Break fund grows

Since Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions launched its Project Storm Break Response to Hurricane Dorian on Sept. 4, our Champions have responded with over $80,000 in donations—bringing the total to $182,223.

Project Storm Break continues to be open and active to receive financial donations to support both the immediate needs of credit union members and staff, as well as to address long-term rebuilding needs in The Bahamas.

Donations can be made directly on our Project Storm Break page.

World Council will continue to provide updates on recovery and restoration efforts in The Bahamas as new information becomes available.


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UPDATE
– SEPT. 13, 8:05 A.M.

Executives from American Heritage Credit Union—based in Philadelphia—traveled to Grand Bahama  Thursday on behalf of World Council to assess the damage to credit unions wrought by Hurricane Dorian.

Bruce Foulke, President & CEO of American Heritage and COO Scott McCaw visited several credit unions in Freeport with Hilton Bowleg, Chair of the Bahamas Cooperative League Limited.

Bruce and Scott visited the main branch of The Grand Bahama Co-operative Credit Union, which is open despite seven inches of water flooding the building during the storm. Staff is conducting business through the use of a portable generator. Several members told Bruce they were very grateful for the credit union reopening, so they could get cash to purchase supplies. But many in Freeport still do not have power, which means credit union members cannot buy a large quantity of food due to lack of refrigeration.

The GBCCU building itself has significant damage to the floor, mold on the walls and furniture that needs to be replaced. Another Grand Bahama Co-operative Credit Union branch located in a shopping center has yet to reopen due to damage.

Teachers and Salaried Workers Co-operative Credit Union in Freeport has also reopened, with a security guard allowing one member in at a time in to conduct transactions. Staff is communicating with the main office in Nassau via cell phone to verify balances and conduct business, which is being done with paper vouchers.

Staff at Public Workers Co-operative Credit Union (PWCCU) are facing some of the most challenging conditions. Bruce and Scott met PWCCU Manager Ruthie Dorset, who was busy trying to clean up the office. There were visible water lines that reached four feet high—up to the top of their teller counter. Behind the teller counter, the water marks were five-feet high. Despite their generator being elevated three feet off the ground outside, salt water that rose nearly eight-feet high rendered it inoperable. Inside the building, structural damage to the concrete floor was visible as it partially collapsed nearly five inches in some spots.

Businesses also suffering

On their next stop, the former Board Chair of Bahamas Law Enforcement Cooperative Credit Union was cleaning up a store he owns. It suffered damage caused by eight feet of water. He mentioned that many local businesses have indicated to him they won’t be reopening anytime soon. The owners of one hardware store said it would be at least a year before they could reopen. As a result, job losses are likely for a number of people.

On a visit to a separate Bahamas Law Enforcement Credit Union branch that also remains closed, Bruce and Scott saw water marks two feet high.  

“The damage is extensive to say the least,” said McCaw. “These institutions need generators, both large ones for their building, and smaller ones to power their various equipment and systems. In addition, a supply of fresh water is needed for both staff and members.”

Foulke expressed optimism about the future, based on what he saw from credit union staff and members.

“I think what really impressed me was the deep bond there is between the staff and their members, and vice-versa. They are mutually concerned about each other’s wellbeing. The credit unions have made it about providing service even though they don’t have electricity, computers or lights. They are even sharing medicine, food, water and shelter at this point,” said Foulke. “This was the finest moment of people helping people—the credit union philosophy.”

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UPDATE
- Sept. 11, 9:38 a.m.

MADISON, Wis.—The Bahamas Co-operative League Limited (BCLL)—which received an initial disbursement of Project Storm Break funds from World Council of Credit Unions and the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions—is organizing palettes of supplies for transport to credit unions and their members in Freeport, Grand Bahama.

The majority of credit union branches damaged by Hurricane Dorian are located in Freeport, with others suffering damages based on the island of Abaco.

According to the BCLL, Bahamas Law Enforcement Credit Union (BLECU) is the second credit union to reopen on Grand Bahama since Dorian struck. BLECU is temporarily operating out of a police station in Freeport to provide its members with cash withdrawals until their damaged branch location there can reopen.

The Grand Bahama Co-Operative Credit Union (GBCCU)—the only credit union based on Grand Bahama—reopened its Freeport location with limited hours on Thursday, Sept. 5. They have been servicing members needs every day since.

The Freeport branch of National Workers Co-Operative Credit Union suffered extensive roof and flood damage (see photos). NWCCU officials tell World Council they have reached out to Teachers and Salaried Workers Credit Union about temporarily operating out of one of their spaces in Freeport—but have yet to resume operations anywhere.

Teachers and Salaried Workers Credit Union will not reopen its Abaco branch in Marsh Harbour anytime soon. As World Council reported last week, the structure where that branch is housed remains standing, but there is extensive flood damage and the settlement in Marsh Harbour is destroyed. Surviving residents are being evacuated elsewhere.

Credit unions are included in an estimated $3 billion in insured property that was destroyed or damaged by Dorian.

Since Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions launched its Project Storm Break Response to Hurricane Dorian on Sept. 4, our Champions have responded with over $55,000 in donations.

Project Storm Break continues to be open and active to receive financial donations to support both the immediate needs of credit union members and staff, as well as to address long-term rebuilding needs in The Bahamas.

Donations can be made directly on our Project Storm Break page.

World Council will continue to provide updates on recovery and restoration efforts in The Bahamas as new information becomes available.

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UPDATE -
Sept. 8 - 7:38 p.m.

MADISON, Wis.—As previously reported, much of the damage from Hurricane Dorian impacted credit unions on Grand Bahama.

While most have yet to reopen, The Grand Bahama Co-Operative Credit Union (GBCCU)—the only credit union based on Grand Bahama—reopened its Freeport location with limited hours on Thursday, Sept. 5. They have been servicing member needs every day since.

GBCCU Operations Supervisor Kimberly Russell tells World Council they had a contingency plan in place that allowed them to reopen despite damage to their main branch, and despite the fact several of their staff members lost their homes.

Russell says GBCCU members have been appreciative to be able to access cash withdrawals so soon after the hurricane, while other financial institutions have yet to reopen. This has allowed members to purchase groceries, emergency supplies, and gasoline for their vehicles and generators. 

Project Storm Break continues to be open and active to receive financial donations to support both the immediate needs of credit union members and staff, as well as to address long-term rebuilding needs in The Bahamas.

Donations can be made directly on our Project Storm Break page.

World Council of Credit Unions will continue to provide updates as our Project Storm Break response to Hurricane Dorian continues.

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UPDATE - 
Sept. 5 - 12:58 p.m.

MADISON, Wis.—The Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions has provided World Council with its first Hurricane Dorian damage assessment—specific to credit unions—in The Bahamas.

Initial reports suggest credit unions on the island of Grand Bahama were the hardest hit. 

The Grand Bahama Co-operative Credit Union suffered major flooding and roof damage at its main branch in Freeport. Four employees, including the branch manager, also lost their homes in the storm.

Four other credit unions also suffered damage to their Freeport branches.

Public Workers Credit Union

  • suffered extensive interior and structural damage
  • looking to relocate elsewhere

National Workers Credit Union

  • lost the roof of their building
  • looking to relocate elsewhere

Bahamas Law Enforcement Credit Union

  • likely suffered flood damage based on reports in that area
  • No specific report from the credit union itself

Teachers and Salaried Workers Credit Union

  • generator submerged underwater
  • still assessing other damages

On Abaco—the other island hardest hit by Dorian—there is some good news. The Teachers and Salaried Workers' branch in Marsh Harbour suffered no damage, and is located in one of the few structures left standing on the island.

Project Storm Break is open and active to receive financial donations to support both the immediate needs of credit union members and staff, as well as to address long-term rebuilding needs in The Bahamas.

Donations can be made directly on our Project Storm Break page.

World Council of Credit Unions will continue to provide updates as our Project Storm Break response to Hurricane Dorian continues.

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MADISON, Wis.—The devastation wrought by Hurricane Dorian has prompted the Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions to initiate its first Project Storm Break response in The Bahamas—the same country where the disaster relief fund was officially launched just over one month ago.

The Worldwide Foundation, the charitable fundraising arm of World Council of Credit Unions, is sending $10,000 in Project Storm Break funds to the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions. CCCU is matching that donation, providing for a total of $20,000 to be used for immediate assistance.

Project Storm Break funds will be distributed to help credit unions provide members and staff with emergency supplies.

The money will also help credit unions quickly get back up and running so they can provide needed cash and other financial services to their members.

CCCU has already identified one credit union which has suffered flooding up to the second floor of its building and continues to assess Dorian’s impact on credit unions on Grand Bahama and Abaco—the two Bahamian islands that suffered the most severe wind and flood damage.

“We want to help these community-based institutions get back in business and servicing members as soon as possible—even if it is in a parking lot tent or other temporary location for now,” said Mike Reuter, executive director of the Worldwide Foundation. “Getting these credit unions back on their feet is the best step we can take to getting their members back on a path to a sustainable future.”

This is just phase one of our response. Project Storm Break is open and active to receive financial donations to support both the immediate needs of credit union members and staff, as well as to address long-term rebuilding needs. Donations can be made directly on our Project Storm Break page.

PSCU—the largest credit union service organization in the United States—pledged $25,000 to Project Storm Break this week. That is the largest donation to the fund to date.

To ensure an efficient and prompt response to impacted credit unions and the members they serve, Project Storm Break is only accepting financial donations. Donations of supplies or other in-kind donations will not be accepted.

The Worldwide Foundation initially launched Project Storm Break at the 2019 World Credit Union Conference in The Bahamas to establish the forward-prepared fund to allow for an immediate response when natural disasters like Dorian strike.

World Council of Credit Unions will provide future updates as our Project Storm Break response to Hurricane Dorian continues.



World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development platform for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.

World Council has implemented 300+ technical assistance programs in 89 countries. Worldwide, 89,026 credit unions in 117 countries serve 260 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.



Contact: Greg Neumann
Organization: World Council of Credit Unions
E-mail: gneumann@woccu.org
Phone: +1 608-395-2048
 
American Heritage Credit Union President & CEO Bruce Foulke amid debris from Hurricane Dorian in Freeport, Grand Bahama
American Heritage Credit Union President & CEO Bruce Foulke amid debris from Hurricane Dorian in Freeport, Grand Bahama
Kaylesa Simmons, second from left, is Chair of The Grand Bahama CCU
Kaylesa Simmons, second from left, is Chair of The Grand Bahama CCU
Dorian damages at National Workers CU in Freeport
Dorian damages at National Workers CU in Freeport
More damge from National Workers CU
More damge from National Workers CU

NOTE: Click on photos to view/download in high resolution.