Committing to Our Future

Dale OwenFor Dale Owen, philanthropy is the most effective when there is a relationship behind it. "We wanted giving to be more meaningful," said Owen, the President and CEO of Ascentra Credit Union in Bettendorf. "It's not just about signing up for something and showing up a couple times."

That's one of the reasons the credit union partnered with the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend following the unexpected passing of the credit union's previous leader, Paul Lensmeyer. Lensmeyer, who served as President and CEO of the credit union, was a charismatic leader who spent his life giving to others. He died in 2013.

Lensmeyer served on several boards, including the Bettendorf Chamber of Commerce, the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, the Scott County Regional Authority Board, the Bettendorf Library Foundation and the Iowa Credit Union League. Ascentra has always had the right mission in the area of generosity, Owen said, but Lensmeyer's passing was a catalyst for partnering with the CFGRB to do more.

"We've always been very engaged in the community, but we wanted a meaningful impact and we realized that if we could endow the money, it could do great things forever," Owen said.

The credit union used a $2 million life insurance policy from Lensmeyer to establish an endowed donor advised fund and a non-endowed donor advised fund to enhance its giving in the areas of education, community needs, and emergencies. Of the gift, $1.75 million was endowed and the remaining $250,000 was placed in the non-endowed fund.

This past year, Ascentra Credit Union Foundation Leadership Grants began impacting the community, first through a four-year, $50,000 commitment to Junior Achievement of the Heartland and a three-year, $22,500 commitment to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Mississippi Valley program.

The Junior Achievement funding is a continuation of the work Ascentra has done with the organization in the past by working in classrooms with students on financial literacy, Owen said. Their work aligns with Ascentra's interest in promoting financial readiness in young people. "It is putting more resources in the classroom, which is a wonderful thing," he said.

The funding for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program will help the organization recruit more adults to mentor the "littles," Owen said. "They were struggling to meet the needs of the kids. We hope to help them change that."

Ascentra has also partnered with the Alcoa Foundation to help fund a Habitat for Humanity House in Davenport. The two foundations came together to save the housing project after another organization needed to back out of the commitment at the last minute. "It's very gratifying," Owen said, "because we have had staff engaged with the organization for years. These grants have helped us grow too, because it helps staff have an opportunity to serve in the community."

The grant process for the Ascentra funds is by invitation only, which Owen said requires board members and staff to build relationships with organizations in the community. "It's a sit-down, collaborative process," he said. "We sit down and ask them: 'What are you not able to do because you don't have the funds?'"

Developing relationships with the people and organizations Ascentra works with has helped them discern where the greatest needs are in their community. "We felt that was an important piece of this work," he said. "It's a lot of money and a big responsibility and we didn't want to just give it to the squeakiest wheel."

That's something his former boss and friend would be proud, he said. "Paul was an inspiration, a great mentor, a great friend," he said. "To turn such a difficult situation into what we have with the Community Foundation is inspiring. It's about serving people deeper."

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