The FOJ Experience
Headline: SEFCU a Corporate Captain with a big heart (and lots of balloons)
By Michael J. Lewis
This is a story about a Peanut, 711 balloons, and a beautiful new partnership.
When Kathy Lanni, the chief community officer for SEFCU, a New York federal credit union based in Albany, first heard about the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, she was immediately intrigued.
SEFCU has many missions, but one of them is to make a difference in the world every day. They were already doing that in myriad ways, including a summer program called “Summer in the City” where SEFCU takes inner-city children and takes them to a movie theater to see a film, get some free popcorn, and just get out of the heat.
Another program SEFCU is involved with is giving away free iPads to needy children, and that’s where Peanut came in.
Jasier Brown is a 6-year-old boy who suffers from retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eye which could eventually render him blind. His sister, Nevaeh, 7, has neurofibromatosis. Peanut was one of the children who received a free iPad last summer, and Kathy said she thought he’d be a perfect match for a Friends of Jaclyn team.
“When you’re presented with a situation like Jasier and FOJ, you can do something in a positive way or ignore it,” Kathy said. “We hang in the deep end, and we embrace things like this.”
Soon after, Jasier was adopted by the University at Albany men’s soccer team, while Nevaeh was taken in by Albany cheerleading squad.
Then SEFCU and FOJ saw their paths cross again at a Coaches vs. Cancer benefit run by the American Cancer Society, and soon FOJ co-founder Denis Murphy and SEFCU President Michael Castellana were becoming fast friends (they went to college at Albany together but never knew each other then).
“Our passion is changing lives every day,” Castellana said. “What FOJ does is hand and glove with what we try to do, giving 20-25 percent of our profits to charity and non-profits.”
One day in late September Castellana and Lanni learned that FOJ co-founder Jaclyn Murphy’s birthday was going to be very soon.
“Like, the next day,” Lanni said with a laugh.
SEFCU wanted to do something big to celebrate Jaclyn’s big day, and show their new commitment to FOJ.
So they did something big. Very, very big. At the time FOJ had matched 711 children with teams across North America, so Lanni decided they needed 711 balloons to launch into the sky.
Castellana and the team rushed to get clearance from the local airport, and incredibly, “we were given a 15-minute window in which we could have clear airspace to release them all. Everything fell into place so perfectly.”
The balloons were an incredible gesture, much appreciated by Jaclyn, but it was just the start. Since then SEFCU has become a Corporate Captain with FOJ, and they’re the first company honored in our new phase of “The FOJ Experience” stories.
Previously we’ve written about the amazing adoptees and their teams’ relationships with our organization, from the point of view of grateful parents and kids, and equally-thrilled coaches and teams.
Now, though, we’re going to focus on cities, towns and businesses who have done their part to help spread the FOJ message of “Live in the Moment, Play in the Moment.”
In the coming months you’ll be reading about some of these wonderful new FOJ partners, like SEFCU.
For Castellana, the partnership may involve helping FOJ with regional and strategic planning, as well as “leveraging our specialty, which is understanding the business of a not-for-profit and helping it grow,” he added.
“We’re all about changing lives, and you look at someone like Jaclyn, whose whole life was changed because of a diagnosis she got all those years ago,” Castellana said. “From that, what she and Denis and all of you guys at FOJ have done is change hundreds of other lives. And that’s something we’re thrilled to be a part of. And hopefully always be a part of.”
SEFCU was the headlining sponsor of Coaches vs. Cancer society