Progress Edition: Modern Woodmen of America making an impact

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Photo: Modern Woodmen Financial Representative Morgan Lavender (at right) is pictured above with her husband Burt Lavender and their two children, Avery Kate and Nash, during a family day out. (Submitted photo)

By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor

Modern Woodmen of America is a nationwide financial services organization owned by its members.

“We offer insurance products, financial services, investments, retirement planning, college funds and annuities,” said Modern Woodmen Financial Representative Morgan Lavender.

Lavender has been a financial representative in the Gadsden area since 2014, during which time she has given back to her community in nearly countless ways.

“We have around 750,000 members nationwide,” Lavender said. “It is fraternal in nature, so it’s member-owned, but part of what the company does on the fraternal side is they give back millions of dollars to local communities every year.”

The business is classified as a 501(c)(8).

While Lavender is currently the only full-time financial representative in the area, Modern Woodmen also employs four outreach/activity coordinators who help facilitate its philanthropic initiatives in Gadsden: Kristi Kent, Rachel Cole, Carolyn Richard and Laura Langdale, as well as part-time administrative assistant Morgan Ingram.

“We probably give $50-60,000 total back into Etowah County to schools, nonprofits, just different organizations,” Lavender said.

Some of these organizations include Sleep in Heavenly Peace, the Girlfriend Gala, the Gadsden Public Library, the Charlsie House (formerly the Love Center), the James M. Barrie Center, Family Success Center of Etowah County and the Etowah County Food Bank.

While she frequently supports myriad local nonprofits, Lavender noted that Modern Woodmen picks a yearly philanthropic focus on a national scale.

“This year, Modern Woodmen’s initiative nationwide is literacy, so you’ll see us doing a lot, probably with libraries, with [Success by 6] at United Way, giving out books at different things,” Lavender said. “We’ve already committed to the Girlfriend Gala because of the literacy aspect, so I’m excited about that.”

The Girlfriend Gala is an annual “girls’ night out for literacy” benefitting Success by 6 and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, an international program that mails one book every month to each registered child. This year’s gala will be held March 16 at The Venue at Coosa Landing.

“One of our taglines is ‘Touching Lives and Securing Futures,’ so we touch lives through the fraternal programs that we offer to give back in your local community,” Lavender said. “Securing futures is obviously more of what we do on the financial side.”

Lavender works with customers from all walks of life, aiding them in financial planning for everything from basic budgeting to college funds to retirement plans.

“If you think about the financial plan, one of the first blocks is insurance, then your savings and then you’ve got your retirement planning or retirement distribution,” Lavender said. “It’s a holistic approach to people’s needs. And our plans are always changing because life changes, and (we consider) what you need at that time or that phase in life. I’ve seen that a lot myself with having kids. I have a 6-year-old and a 19-month-old.”

Lavender’s children Nash and Avery are 6 years old and 19 months old, respectively. She enjoys helping clients finance for college funds or for their children, whether they be parents or grandparents.

“That’s the beauty of this job, is that you can help people in all different demographics, all different income levels,” Lavender said. “That’s very important to me, to be able to help anybody that comes in here.”

Her holistic approach allows Lavender to treat her client’s financial matters with the personal touch they deserve.

“The biggest compliment I think you can get from someone is for them to say, ‘I trust you,’” she said. “The conversation is not always just about money. They feel comfortable enough to talk with you about a lot of different things.”

According to Lavender, her customers become like friends or even family. The hardest part of her job is handling death claims, but even so, Lavender values being able to take care of her clients and their families for life.

“If you have a client that they have life insurance and they have retirement accounts, maybe they have funded college funds for grandkids or kids and something happens to them, now I’m that person that’s going to help the family,” she said. “What are we going to do with the retirement accounts? If there’s a surviving spouse or kids, what do they need? That’s the promises we made to people, that we would be there to help their family.”

Lavender shared that she became a Modern Woodmen member herself several years prior to pursuing a career in the organization. When she approached the Modern Woodmen office in Hokes Bluff at the time to secure a donation for a backpack program benefitting Hokes Bluff Elementary, where her son Nash now attends kindergarten, she was surprised to receive an enthusiastic contribution of around 50 backpacks donated.

“I was like, ‘That’s pretty amazing for a company to do,’ and so when the job came open, that was really what drew me to the company,” she said. “I want people to know what all services we offer, but I want them to understand what the culture is in the company — how we’re able to do it and why we do what we do.”

According to Lavender, Modern Woodmen is unique in its fraternal capabilities.

“One of our slogans is ‘common goals and common good,’ and I really think doing good is what sets us apart,” Lavender said. “And we want to bring people along to get involved.”

Lavender herself brought Kent, Cole and Richard in as outreach coordinators after seeing the good they were already doing in the community. She quipped that she approached the ladies by saying, “Let me help you help more.”

The Gadsden branch of Modern Woodmen gives out several Hometown Hero awards each year, nominations for which are still open.

“We’re actually giving away two Hometown Hero awards at the end of the month for Black History Month,” Lavender said. “They get a certificate, and they get $100 to give back to the charity of their choice. It’s not people that are in the news all the time. It’s people you see just every day who are out doing something good, who don’t care if they get their name in anything. They probably don’t even know anybody is watching.”

Anyone who joins as a Modern Woodmen member is invited to participate in community outreach in multiple facets of their community, if they are interested.

“You’re going to get personalized service (and) quality solutions, but you’re also going to get that family environment,” Lavender said.

Contact Morgan Lavender for more information, to nominate a Hometown Hero or to get involved.

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