Despite its endless challenges and tragic outcomes, the COVID pandemic provided many opportunities for leaders to shine in moments of crisis. Among those leaders was Stephen Burgess, board chair at $51 million asset Somerville (Mass.) Municipal Federal Credit Union.
In March 2020, the credit union had to close its only branch when a COVID outbreak sent four of its six employees into quarantine.
“As a small credit union, we’re not an organization that can pull staff from another location,” Burgess says.
But Somerville Municipal does have shared branching through the CO-OP Shared Branch Network. Still, the credit union needed a tactical plan.
“I told our CEO, Ron Draper, ‘whatever you need, I’m here,’" Burgess says.
Draper posted signs at the branch informing members of the closure and directing them to nearby shared branching locations.
“But a lot of people didn’t really look at the sign,” Burgess says. “They’d pull on the door, it wouldn’t open, and they’d panic. ‘I need my money!’ ‘I need to make a loan payment!’”
That’s when Burgess stepped up. “I suggested I stand in front of the credit union and ask members what kind of business they wanted to transact, guide them the right way, and explain the situation,” he says. “Some people were happy to know they didn’t lose access to their money. We had some older members who were a little panicky.”
Burgess also waited for the postal delivery each day and made deliveries to the residences of Draper and Executive Vice President/Chief Financial Officer Cyndy Dandrea.
Burgess has always been a hands-on guy. He worked within the City of Somerville’s Department of Public Works for 40 years, retiring as maintenance director in the highway department in 2014.
He joined the Somerville Municipal board in 1999. “I was on board for less than a year when I became vice president,” Burgess says. “I was running meetings, and eventually became president and served on the supervisory committee.”
He still enjoys telling city employees about the benefits of the credit union. “I tell them that the credit union can find a way to help them,” Burgess says. “If you tell the credit union your situation, they generally don’t say no. They work with you to find a solution.”
Burgess is also proactive in professional development, completing CUNA training and attending national conferences.
“There’s a real camaraderie among credit union people,” he says. “It’s a great way to share ideas with your peers.”
“Steve lives and breathes the credit union spirit of helping people, as exemplified by his service during the pandemic,” Draper says. “In serving with him for more than 12 years, Steve has become a trusted confidante and friend to me. His strength of character and high standards have not only benefited our credit union, but the entire Somerville community.”