It’s impossible to imagine Ladysmith without the Ladysmith & District Credit Union (LDCU).
There would be no Light Up fireworks, no Ladysmith Days fireworks. Families of young athletes would have to pay increased fees for jerseys and equipment. Students wouldn’t receive bursaries for their post-secondary education. There would be no Ladysmith Ambassador Program. 1st Avenue wouldn’t be the same flourishing hub of local business that it is. And countless community projects may not have happened at all.
“Ladysmith & District Credit Union is woven into the fabric of our community, and has been for over 76 years,” LDCU CEO, John de Leeuw said. “That’s why we do what we do, and support what we support.”
When someone throws a rock in Ladysmith, it’s likely to land on something that benefited from an LDCU contribution.
In the last 15 years, LDCU has donated more than $1 million directly to the Ladysmith community. Over $130,000 has been given in bursaries to high school graduates, over $120,000 has been given to both Ladysmith Days and Light Up. The LDCU also gave $100,000 to help bring in public transit in Ladysmith. They gave $30,000 to the Ladysmith amphitheater project, $20,000 to the Ladysmith Spray Park, $10,000 to the down town public washroom project, and several others.
“Whenever there is a large project, we step up,” de Leeuw said. “But we also do the small things.”
LDCU makes regular annual donations to various groups like the LRCA, LaFF, Ladysmith Secondary School, local sports teams, the Ladysmith Downtown Business Association, the Ladysmith Arts Council, Ladysmith Little Theatre, Chemainus Theatre, among others.
All those donations add up, but it’s not just monetary donations. LDCU staff contribute 100s of volunteer hours to community events like Show ‘N’ Shine, LaFF’s Breakfast with Santa, Ladysmith Days, Hill Dash, the Cinnamon Bun Fun Run, and Light Up.
“If we do the same comparison and go back 15 years, we’re talking tens of thousands of volunteer hours,” de Leeuw said.
Shelly Rickett, assistant manager of member services, has been with LDCU for 15 years. Rickett started volunteering through LDCU with the now discontinued Kids Count program, where LDCU staff taught Ladysmith kids how to save money and manage their finances.
“Over the last 15 years I have seen these kids turn into adults who are now operating fully functioning accounts, they’ve applied for student loans, personal loans, credit cards, and the whole nine yards. You really get to see it from start to finish. That’s been incredibly rewarding for me,” Rickett said.
Any type of outreach that benefits children and families is special to Rickett. She has volunteered with the LRCA Food Bank, LaFF, early literacy programs, Light Up, Christmas Cheer, and the Kids Count Fun Zone at Ladysmith Days.
“We’ve been in this community a very long, and our kids have utilized a lot of these programs that I now help support through the credit union,” Rickett said. “Within the LDCU, we’re treated really well as employees. I feel compelled to give some of that back… it just feels right.”
One of the sponsorships that is near and dear to the hearts of staff at LDCU is the Ladysmith Ambassador Program. Cindy Cawthra, manager of insurance services at LDCU sits on the Ladysmith Ambassador Committee. Cawthra has been with the LDCU for 22 years, and has played a big role in facilitating the relationship between the LDCU and the Ladysmith Ambassador Program.
“About 10 years ago I was attending the Ambassador Program, and I came back to John and said ‘we need to be involved in that’. Young ladies in our town really benefit from this program,” she said.
Through the Ambassdor Program, young women learn leadership and public speaking skills. The program includes a 10 week Toastmasters program, and Ambassadors attend various community events in Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, and all around British Columbia. Ambassadors also take history lessons on Ladysmith, and devote volunteer hours to community programs.
“It’s quite a growth experience for them,” Cawthra said. “I would have never guessed it would be so rewarding.”
Cawthra said that without LDCU sponsorship, the Ladysmith Ambassador Program would have folded years ago.
“We were going to have to close the program, but the credit union came forward with $5,000. The credit union really keeps the program going,” she said.
Ladysmith Ambassadors each receive a bursary from the LDCU to help fund their post-secondary education. Hana Reinhart, a former Ambassador and current LDCU staff member, said that the LDCU bursary made a big difference in her educational journey.
“It was very helpful. I come from a low-income background, so having that bursary really helped me to have the opportunity to go to post-secondary at all,” she said.
Reinhart said that when she started the program she was quite shy.
“I always kept to myself, I didn’t have a lot of confidence. That program really focused on public speaking, and I went on to win an award for public speaking through that program.”
“It was huge. It completely brought me out of my shell, and opened a lot of doors for me to go on and do other things that helped boost my self-esteem that I wouldn’t have even thought of doing if it weren’t for being in the Ambassador Program,” Reinhart added.
During a year off from school, Reinhart began working at LDCU. She’s now pivoting her education to get a degree in finance, instead of the public health program that she was originally pursuing. Reinhart said she applied at LDCU because friends of hers said they loved working there.
“I also really liked the idea of working somewhere that is really involved in the community,” she said. “I love the staff. It’s a wonderful, welcoming environment. And the learning opportunities are amazing. The amount of growth I’ve had here is huge.”
Reinhart reflected on the role that the LDCU has played in her life, and said that through the LDCU she was able to have profound experiences early on in life. She looks forward to giving back, and providing the same opportunities for young people growing up in Ladysmith.
The LDCU is woven deeply into the fabric of Ladysmith. When John De Leeuw looks back on everything LDCU has done, he said feels proud of the credit union’s impact, and the tireless efforts of LDCU staff to make Ladysmith a better place to live. But at the core of everything the LDCU does are the credit union members.
“We can continue to do this as long as our members continue to support us. This is exactly why credit unions were created, to support those that support us.”