Be present.

That’s what Kevin Carroll asked us to do at the closing keynote session of The 1 Conference in Las Vegas this month. 2800 people from 60 countries were present, but he asked us to truly be present. Put your cell phones down. Pay attention. Listen.  Because he was about to tell his story.

At the age of 2, his father left, never to be seen again.  At the age of 6, three weeks after he started school, his mom picked him and his two brothers up from school and drove into the night. Finally arriving at an old trailer. She instructed them to stay put – and promised she would be back. One day went by – then two days – then three days. After five days Kevin took a stand and told his older brother “I’m going to go tell on mommy. She broke a promise.”

His grandfather wisely made the children memorize his phone number in case they were ever in trouble. He went next door and asked a complete stranger to call him in Philadelphia. The neighbor agreed to take these boys to the Greyhound station and ask the driver if he would please trust that these three young boys would be picked up in Philly and the bus fare paid. Finally he found himself in the safety of family. As soon as he arrived at his grandparents house he asked if he could go out and play. Being stuck and afraid for days in the trailer resulted in some pent up energy that he had to let go.

The playground was empty. Except for a red rubber ball. You know the kind. The one you played dodge ball with, or four-square, kick ball, whatever. Having no one to play with, he made up his own game.  He would kick the ball in the air and yell out a random number. That number was how many times the ball could bounce before he retrieved it. He was a fast little kid and could move. He was lost in this game. Then some kids arrived, intrigued, watching him play this weird new sport. They asked if they could join him.  Of course he said yes, and so he played that day. And the next. And the next with these kids in his neighborhood. And for the first time in his young life, he felt like he belonged. He was a part of a group, with a common bond. That sense of belonging was powerful and he never forgot it. It saved him.

Kevin has been a member of a credit union since 1980. In 2005, First Tech Credit Union in Beaverton, Oregon had the courage to help him start his own business.

Today Kevin holds a Master’s degree, has served in the Air Force, worked in the athletic department of the Philadelphia 76ers, was a catalyst for change at Nike, and now is the author of three bestselling books. All based on this red rubber ball and how you can elevate your game through the hidden power of play.

As Kevin was speaking, I noticed the CUNA logo illuminated on the curtains behind him. In the center is our red rubber ball. Suddenly I looked at this old logo with fresh eyes. I’m not sure what it was originally supposed to represent – but today it should signify “a sense of belonging.” The true credit union difference.

You don’t join a bank – you become their customer.

Membership should matter. We can never forget that.