President and CEO of Arizona Financial Credit Union (AZFCU) Amy Hysell came from a broken home with an alcoholic father and an absent mother. After an incident with her father, she moved in with a local pastor and his wife.
While living with Pastor Paul and his wife Shirley, Hysell researched ways that she could get out of the abusive situation she was in. At the age of 12, she presented her mother with two options: divorce their father, or emancipate her custody of Amy and her siblings. Hysell’s mother chose the divorce papers and that was the beginning of a new kind of life for Hysell and some of her siblings.
Hysell continued to create her own path towards success after high school earning a scholarship to The University of Notre Dame the first semester they allowed women to attend the prestigious university.
Today, Hysell leads AZFCU with the same care and passion and drive that she learned from the pastor and his family. She hopes to continue building that kind of attitude into the fiber of AZFCU.
“I have zero tolerance for someone who can’t be kind. Someone that can not demonstrate a level of respect for each other. That is how I want us to move together as an organization with everyone we come in contact with.”
– Amy Hysell, President & CEO, Arizona Financial Credit Union
Amy Hysell, president and CEO of Arizona Financial Credit Union, talks about how they weave care and compassion into the fiber of everything they do at AZFCU.
This article has been edited from the original interview for content, length and clarity.
Where are you originally from, and what was growing up like for you?
I am originally from South Bend, Indiana, Notre Dame territory. To be honest my childhood was not a good one for me up until the age of 12.
I come from a broken home, with an alcoholic father and a very absent mother. There was a lot of violence in our home. I thought it was a normal way to live life at home with your family.
Through a series of events, my mom ended up leaving my dad for a short time and we spent a wonderful year or so living with our grandparents. My parents ended up getting back together and shortly after that, my dad beat my mom into a coma.
I can still remember being held at knifepoint by my dad on the couch. I was trying to get up to help my mom and he said, “The same thing is going to happen to you if you help her.”
Luckily for me and my siblings, the people who had dropped us off that evening knew something was not right and called for help.
My mom was in a coma for about three months that summer. During that time my youngest brother and I were taken in by a youth pastor and his wife. While we were living with the pastor and his wife my brother and I saw a completely different life than what we were used to living in our house.
We had a beautiful bedroom at their house with two twin beds for my brother and me but for some reason every night after we were tucked into bed we would get up and we would sleep in the closet.
Pastor Paul, and his wife Shirley, would come in every morning and ask us why we were sleeping in the closet, but my brother and I could not give them an answer. We were still living in a state of fear. We were afraid to tell them why we were sleeping in the closet because we thought we would get in trouble.
After about three weeks of us moving to the closet to sleep, Shirley sat down with me to try to understand why we were sleeping in the closet. As she was trying to figure out what was going on with my brother and me I asked her, “When do you fight?”
At first, she did not understand what I was talking about so she asked me, “Do you mean when do we have disagreements?”
My response was, “No. When do you fight?”
Shirley knew why I was taken to her house but she did not know my family’s history of domestic violence.
Finally, I said to her, “ When do you fight? Because I don’t want to see you fight, or be a part of the fight.”
She said to me, “No. That is not right. That is not what your childhood is supposed to be like.”
We spent the rest of the summer with Pastor Paul and his wife Shirley. We were around their friends and family and we learned what life was supposed to be like.
During that summer I went to the library to research what options I had as a child to get out of the situation my brother and I were in. I had two sets of papers drawn up to give to my mom when I was able to see her again. They were divorce papers and emancipation documents. They were the first thing I gave to her when I saw her.
I remember I slid both pieces of paper onto the edge of her bed and I said, “I need you to sign one of these because I am not living like this anymore.”
She chose the divorce papers. Thankfully for us that was the beginning of a different life for some of my siblings and me.
Twelve years old…Incredible. How have your life experiences driven the passion you have for creating social transformation?
I first started to dig into community work when I moved to Arizona years ago. I volunteered with Child Crises Center in the East Valley. My thinking was if I could change my life then maybe I could help someone else change theirs.
Child Crises is one of those organizations that takes in abused children and works to match them with foster parents, so they can have a new start and a chance to break the cycle of abuse and whatever else may be going on at home.
I think my passion for community work started at Child Crises Center. I always think back to Pastor Paul and his wife Shirley. I have no idea where I would be today if it was not for their help. Someone has to step up for you and tell you there is a better life out there for you, but you also have to be willing to seek out the change as well.
History can repeat itself so many times but there is a good part of this story for myself and two of my siblings.
Unfortunately, I had one brother that followed the same path as my father, but two of my siblings and I did not. In fact, my oldest brother ended up marrying the daughter of the family that took him in. They have been married for nearly 40 years.
The three of us broke the cycle of violence, poverty and incarceration that many families fall victim to. The difference between us and others is that we chose to get out of the situation we were in.
How do you identify the other business leaders in the community that you would like to collaborate with on some of the causes you are so passionate about, but also balance the fact that you are also a very influential business leader at a very significant organization in Arizona?
I have had various personal missions over the years, one of them is to create hope, hope for something different.
I think if you go into any meeting with someone and you see them for the person they are in front of you, then you can work together to create some kind of positive impact in the community.
Internally, at Arizona Financial Credit Union, we focus on employee resource groups, diversity, equity and inclusion, it is something that I live every day.
What I mean when I say internally at AZFCU is I have zero tolerance for someone who can’t be kind. Someone that can not demonstrate a level of respect for each other. That is how I want us to move together as an organization with everyone we come in contact with.
How do you prefer other business leaders reach out to you when it comes to collaborating with AZFCU?
The most important thing for me is that you be very transparent with what you are trying to accomplish and why Arizona Financial Credit Union might be a good fit to help you accomplish your organizational goals
I do not want to be engaged in any kind of political campaign or self serving interests to get someone’s name on the map.
You need to be very, very transparent. Why are you passionate about what you are doing? Can we make a difference in people’s lives with what you are proposing?