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Selfreliance Foundation: 2024 Herb Wegner Memorial Award Winner

2024 Herb Wegner Memorial Award Winner - Outstanding Organization

We romanticize the immigrant’s story, imagining that it is a tale of our distant past and a book that closes on a picturesque sunset as the heroes land safely on America’s golden shore. 

But today, people from around the world leave the homes they love, driven out by poverty, persecution, and war, and travel to the United States to start over, and their journey doesn’t end with a safe arrival. They find themselves in a strange place with foreign customs and ideals where they must find a way to build a life for themselves and their families. 

The Selfreliance Foundation understands the importance of fostering a connection between the Ukrainian Diaspora community and the home they left behind, even as they seek opportunities to learn and grow in their new home in the United States. The Foundation has been instrumental in assembling people, organizations, and funding to actively support Ukrainians here in the United States and abroad since 2005. The Foundation, headquartered in Chicago, IL, serves members of the Ukrainian Diaspora, connecting them to their culture, faith, and, perhaps most importantly, to each other.

In the words of Peter Bencak, Commander of Ukrainian American Veterans Post 32, “Our Selfreliance Foundation has proven itself to be more than just an organization. They are ombudsman for our new residents who find themselves strangers in a strange land.”

Established by Selfreliance FCU and funded by members through their use of credit union services, the Selfreliance Foundation actively supports Ukrainian churches, community and cultural organizations, museums, schools, and youth groups, primarily in Illinois, Michigan, and New Jersey, where credit union offices are located. Since its founding, the Selfreliance Foundation has donated more than $7,000,000 to support the viability of the Ukrainian Diaspora.

True to its name, the Foundation has nurtured a spirit of cooperation fully aligned with the principles of the credit union movement. Their dedication to addressing the Diaspora’s most pressing physical and emotional needs is evident in the broad-ranging number of organizations they support. In turn, organizations that receive funding encourage their members to join and support Selfreliance FCU. This creates a robust and collaborative system that brings new members into the credit union, increases the reach of the Foundation, and helps strengthen the credit union movement in the United States and abroad.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Selfreliance Foundation played a vital role in maintaining the viability of Ukrainian Diaspora religious and community organizations that temporarily found themselves without their usual sources of income. Parishioners did not come to services, community members didn’t gather for in-person events, and youth group meetings were canceled. When possible, events were held via Zoom – even summer camps went virtual. The Foundation donated funds to needy institutions as the effects of the Pandemic raged, realizing that the very existence of the Diaspora institutions was in peril.

In 2022 alone, the Foundation donated over $800,000 to support institutions vital to Ukrainian-Americans. This funding has enabled the Ukrainian Diaspora Community to thrive and withstand some of the most challenging times in recent memory.

The Foundation also supports Ukrainians in their homeland by funding organizations that have provided lifesaving vaccines, educational opportunities, and humanitarian aid. As a first responder to the H1N1 pandemic in Ukraine, Selfreliance Foundation donated to the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee to offer aid and combat the disease.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, had a profound impact on the Credit Union and enhanced the importance of the Foundation. In addition to supporting Ukrainian Diaspora institutions, the Foundation supported additional humanitarian organizations caring for Ukrainians. Since the war erupted in Ukraine, approximately 10,000 new members have joined Selfreliance FCU and have started their journey to financial well-being.

As the people of the Ukrainian Diaspora face ever-evolving challenges that threaten their culture, their health, and their way of life, The Selfreliance Foundation stands as a role model for us all of how we may address the most vital needs of a whole person in the communities we serve and around the world.

Visit https://www.ncuf.coop/foundationdinner to learn more about the Herb Wegner Award winners and register to attend the Foundation Dinner.

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