Changing someone’s life sometimes starts with a new pair of shoes.
Amanda Merz, community impact manager at $4.6 billion asset SAFE Credit Union in Folsom, Calif., has seen firsthand the impact small kindnesses can have on those who are struggling.
She recalls when, before an event to serve homeless veterans, thieves broke into a warehouse and took shoes designated for former servicemembers. SAFE stepped up, purchasing replacement shoes for the veterans.
During the event, a participant thanked Merz for providing shoes and other resources that assisted his transition to civilian life.
“He got a license and started training to become a truck driver,” Merz says. “He was so thankful he could transition from military service to having value as a civilian. And it felt great to be part of that with him. It meant a lot.”
Merz has deep ties to the nonprofit community in the Sacramento area, and these relationships provide direct insights into community needs. In her role, she works with a range of organizations that focus on SAFE’s three pillars of philanthropy: education, health care, and veterans.
“These are the guiding principles that help us determine who to support,” Merz says. “They’re based on the needs we know exist in the community, but also on our historical presence.”
She believes financial education is the key to a strong community and a way to change generational ills.
“This doesn’t just include people who are experiencing financial difficulties,” says Merz, who among other duties oversees an annual grant process to serve community organizations. “Financial education applies to everyone. You can be a doctor and still run into challenges if you don’t have the right tools to propel yourself forward.”
Health is a pillar because financial struggles often lead to poor physical and mental health, she says.
In addition to providing financial support, SAFE takes a “boots on the ground” approach to community service, involving employees in charitable efforts, Merz says.
“We actively listen to what’s going on in the community,” Merz says. “That may come in the form of financial education services or volunteer opportunities with our staff. The monetary give is important, but when we can come in and do the work on the ground, that’s when we have the ability to make changes.”