A GAC Survival Kit
by Shawn Marie Brummer
Communications & Media Specialist

CUNA recently put out a social media call for comments regarding “What’s in your CUNA GAC survival kit?” While some responses were predictable, ranging from business cards to an umbrella, others were a little more creative… including non-drowsy antihistamine, Tums, and Pedialyte.

Here at CUAD, we turned to staff members who have attended the GAC before, along with several of our credit union executives to get their best advice. Here’s what they had to say.

Lori Welder, CUAD’s Director of Communications, was a first-time attendee last year. What she quickly learned was that she had packed the absolute wrong kind of shoes. Stylish, yes – good for walking miles upon miles – not so much. With blisters on her heels, she made her way to a (very expensive) shoe store in the DC area to buy a new pair of shoes that didn’t cause extreme pain. “Good shoes are a must,” she remarked. “I remember walking WAY more than I ever imagined, about 26 miles which is a marathon. It’s also important to fit in adequate decompression time, and rest when you can. Have fun and network – but remember, it's a marathon, so pace yourself.”

Amy Kleinschmit, CUAD’s Chief Compliance Officer, will be attending her fourth GAC this year. Her first suggestion was the same as Lori’s: Wear comfortable shoes that you can walk in for miles! Beyond that, Amy suggested sitting next to someone new each day for breakfast. “You never know who you will meet, or where they will be from,” she says. In addition, she said to be sure to leave some extra space in your suitcase for all the freebies you will get, and to be sure and speak up at the Hike the Hill visits and to share your credit union’s story. “No one tells it better than you – and that is what our congressional delegation want to hear.”

Paul Brucker, CEO of Railway CU in Mandan, ND is a seasoned veteran of the GAC – having attended at least eight times. His advice: Do some prep work BEFORE you head to DC. “The GAC is an extremely busy time, with multiple events going on during the day and in the evening.  It works best to do your homework, and have a plan on what sessions, socials, and other events you want to take in and be a part of to maximize your time and benefit there. It’s an expensive meeting – so you want to make the most of it,” he says.

Fran Sommerfeld, CEO of Sioux Falls FCU in Sioux Falls, SD is another repeat attendee, having been to more than a dozen prior conferences! Fran had some practical logistical advice for newbies. First, he advises that taxi cabs are easy to get, but be sure you know where you are going in advance. Uber works equally well. Secondly, he advises to show up for the sessions early so you can get a good seat – closer to the front. Take advantage of the social events, there are many opportunities to meet new people and expand your network. Finally, allow yourself some time to take in the amazing history and landmarks in the district. His personal favorites include the Holocaust Museum and Arlington National Cemetery where you can observe the changing of the guard and the eternal flame.

Lacey TerWee, CEO of University FCU in Grand Forks, ND was a first time attendee – and a GAC Crasher last year. She had some tips, especially for new attendees. First, review the schedule ahead of time and make a note of the breakout sessions that you don't want to miss. Then, arrive early! Chairs seem to be in short supply at the most popular sessions, as CUNA has to “guesstimate” how many people will attend each one. She also suggests packing a refillable water bottle. There are water stations available, but the cups are very tiny – so be prepared with your own supply. Then, the topic of shoes came up once again. Wear. Comfortable. Shoes. Finally, she suggests downloading the GAC app and allowing notifications. This will help you keep track of any last minute changes to the schedule. In 2019, through the app, they surprised attendees by announcing that VP Mike Pence would be speaking and that security lines would be very long prior to the speech. You definitely want to be in the know in order to make the experience as productive as possible. Finally, DO NOT skip the GAC Closing Party. The food stations are amazing and the band had people moving on the dance floor and in their seats. You might even get to snap a selfie with Jim Nussle!

George Jewett is a volunteer with Black Hills FCU who has attended the GAC multiple times. He advises all attendees to remember the biggest reason you are there: to meet the state congressional delegation. He also says to try to sit with other attendees besides just the Dakota group, as it’s a good way to expand your network. Pay attention to the “parade of politicians,” who are all credit union members! Try some of the local craft beers, and a last word of advice: If you sign up at the vendor tables, use your work email address – unless you want to have your personal email box full next year at GAC time.

Last but not least – we have some specific advice from one of our most seasoned and dedicated GAC attendees: CUAD President/CEO Jeff Olson. Olson says the CUNA GAC is one of his favorite credit union events to attend each year. “For me personally, I get an adrenaline feeling in being in Washington, D.C., and among all the historic landmarks this time of year. No doubt, I have an extra bounce in my step at this conference,” he stated.

This year will be Olson’s tenth trip to the GAC, but he is quick to add that each one is unique, and every year, he leaves with many new ideas, new friends, and wonderful memories. Here’s his sage advice.

What to wear. “For me, the GAC is a professional conference and I generally am dressed in business or professional attire. I bring three to four suits as I typically have pre-conference meetings and events. For attendees, however, it’s really your preference and your comfort zone. You will see attendees wearing everything from business, business casual, to credit union logo wear. For the Hike the Hill visits, business or professional attire is encouraged.”

Shoes. “I know others have mentioned this, but please, please bring at least one pair of good, comfortable shoes. You’re not on your feet a lot at the Convention Center, but walking to the hotel and during the Hike the Hill, there can be quite a few steps. You will certainly want tennis shoes if you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing or trapesing around the monuments. Also, keep in mind there is dancing at the Crasher “Thunder Punch” and live music at the Gala – so pack those dancing shoes too!”

Coffee. “Load the Starbucks App or pick up some pre-paid cards. There are Starbucks all over and a good, strong coffee a couple times a day helps.”

Hand sanitizer. “There are Purell dispensers all around the convention center, but given the flu and other virus concerns of the day, I plan to have my own supply of hand sanitizer with me at all times this year.”

Watch the weather. “In DC, you can experience everything from snow, sleet, rain and sunshine all in the same week. I always pack an umbrella, and there is a good chance you’ll need some sort of weather protection kind of coat.”

Download the CUNA GAC APP. “As Lacey mentioned, this app has everything from schedules to items you may need to navigate the conference. When you get it loaded on your smart phone, you can customize your profile with a picture and link it to your LinkedIn Account if you have one.”

Download the DC Metro Map. “I am a big fan of the DC Metro subway system. You can get to all the main landmarks affordably using the Metro, especially when there is inclement weather, which makes it nearly impossible to get a taxi.”

Business cards for the Exhibit Hall. “Here you will find business partners and operational resources in the largest vendor showcase in the financial service industry. Exchanging business cards is a real time saver.”

CULAC Sweepstakes. “If you want to participate, be sure to bring a check or use your debit or credit card for CULAC Sweepstake tickets. There are some major great prizes and drawings every day, and all proceeds go to our federal Political Action Committee and help us meet our annual CULAC fundraising goals.”  

Get ready for some fun and adventure in our nation’s capital.

Be sure to reach out to any of our CUAD staff if you have any questions about #CUNAGAC.

Last year's attendees gather in the Capitol Rotunda. 

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