As the Marine Credit Union Director of Corporate Communications, Caitlin Wilson’s job, she explained, is to “help raise everyone’s efforts, as best as I can.” Early on in her career, she was told to do so by telling the story of the credit union. Taking that literally, Caitlin took on the task of figuring out how to help others tell their stories so that the world could learn about the great things MCU does. The “Heart of MCU” project not only does that but also honors the good work of MCU’s employees and beautifully demonstrates how individual hearts, connected, can help to change not only the culture of MCU, but potentially of the world.
Caitlin shared that she knew about MCU prior to accepting her position in the organization because, five years prior, she had fallen into “a tough financial position,” and she said she “needed help.” She commented, “I knew that MCU helped people that others wouldn’t.” She said she knew MCU had a “specific focus and probably a powerful story to share.”
Before coming to MCU, Caitlin held a similar role at Trane Company, in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She started there as an intern in corporate communication and training while she was attending college – pursuing a degree in English. Why English? She said she connected with her English Honors course teacher. “She was totally a hippie. I loved her. She encouraged my interest and strength in writing. I always liked writing.”
Caitlin later worked for the La Crosse Tribune as a sportswriter. Sports? Yes. “My dad had been a wrestling coach. He was a great coach.” Caitlin had always been “really involved in the wrestling community” and at one point wrote a blog about wrestling. “I really like doing that. I loved going into the gym. Taking in the environment. I loved going back and telling their stories.”
She said people she wrote about would love sharing their stories and would get excited to share their stories from her website with others. “It got me connected to people,” she added with a smile.
In corporate communications, Caitlin said, “the greatest thing is the lives of the people within them.” At Trane, she wrote the weekly all-employee newsletter. “I walked around and bothered people. There was this one guy who worked there for 40 years. As he talked about his passion and pride in his work, I remember being blown away at the heart of this guy. That is what those organizations are made of – the hearts of these people.”
This became her passion … capturing stories of people. “It fell off for several years,” Caitlin admitted. “As my career progressed, I was pulled into the corporate working of things.”
However, MCU paid for Caitlin to advance her education and returned to school at Viterbo University to pursue a graduate degree. “I am about to graduate with a Master of Servant Leadership degree. Looking back,” Caitlin added. “A lot of my work started to evolve, in multiple ways, as I applied what I learned. I was inspired by people in that program. I was re-inspired around the power of the sacred story.”
“A good friend of mine had an inspiring research project capturing stories and images of people,” Caitlin shared and added that she stayed connected to her and they came up with ideas for her last project for her degree. That idea, Caitlin continued, “evolved into more of an initiative. It was a more intentional than just telling stories as new hire spotlights. The intention was to preserve and share the stories of people.”
“Our hope is that every one of our employees can go home at night and share their story with their family and be able to reflect on their life, purpose and impact. There is so much power in that,” Caitlin shared. “Hope,” she continued, “gives people the opportunity to connect with the divine within them.”
“One of the greatest gifts we can give another person is to see them, hear them and affirm their presence,” she continued. “In the world, we rush past people. Loneliness has become an epidemic. That gift that you can give another person … to hear them and tell their story and preserve it and push it out into the world. What an honor.”
The Heart of MCU, Caitlin said, is bigger than the story of just one person. “It reaffirms that the Universe is so much bigger than one person.”
She said she isn’t sure where the project will eventually go, but she feels it is “planting seeds” of trees that she may never sit under. “My hope is not that my name will be remembered. My hope is more for the people’s names to be remembered. I love the thought of this project being a little ripple and where it can end up. It’s humbling to attach my name to this project.”
“We all have so much power for good,” she continued. MCU encourages that. I’m really proud of it … of ‘us.’”
“To be honest, I didn’t know how the project would be received,” Caitlin added. “I didn’t really think it would receive the support and traction that it has.” She said she was pleasantly surprised, but also knows the mission of MCU was “historically” focused on serving the underserved. “The reason we pride ourselves on that is because we take the time to get to know a person’s character.”
She explained that MCU looks at not only a person’s credit, collateral, and capacity to pay, but also their character. “You have to sit down and listen to their story. Our business is built on that principle, so it’s not surprising. There is something more than a number. There is a story behind that.”
Caitlin’s father was a big inspiration in her life. She tearfully shared, “I vividly remember sitting outside of church waiting for Dad to stop talking to people. Every single Sunday.” And added with a smile, “Mom would get so ornery.”
Caitlin’s dad was a teacher. “On take your child to work day … I would love watching him teach.” She explained and added that he worked in a “rough school.” For kids who didn’t have a father figure, her dad “would take people under his wing. Tough love stuff. He was always connecting,” she explained. “I don’t know if he got a lot of that growing up.”
Caitlin said her grandmother was more nurturing, but like many families for that generation, her grandfather was maybe not as much. “It impresses me all the more,” she added … that her father, the oldest of seven children, was so nurturing and helpful to people when he probably didn’t get that from his own father.
“Dad was a history teacher, always talking about and learning about history,” Caitlin shared saying she loved doing projects he assigned to his students. One was to create a newspaper. “The power of history,” she said connecting the dots, “is also the story.”
Caitlin shared that even at a very young age she developed a “curiosity” about storytelling. She said the MASL program helped her appreciation for “how much stories can teach us, if we choose to see them.”
In her personal life, Caitlin describes “connection” as she sees it in the eyes of her family when she takes the time to listen to their stories. “The most powerful experience is being present with my kids … when I look into their eyes and listen with my whole body.”
Caitlin lives in West Salem, Wisconsin with her husband Eric, her eight-year-old son Huck and six-year-old daughter Haila. “The moment I fell in love with my husband was when he was talking in front of a group of people. He also connects with people,” Caitlin said. “Oh my God … I love him.”