People whose dedication to life at the shore shape its framework get a moment in the spotlight May 2. Nine honorees will be given this year's Silver Gull awards by the Monmouth-Ocean Development Council.

First Financial Federal Credit Union (Monmouth-Ocean Development Council)

Among them is Issa Stephan, President and Chief Executive Officer of First Financial Federal Credit Union in Wall Township. His firm, along with Trinity Solar of Wall and International Vitamins, are singled out for economic development.

Starting in 1936 as an amalgam of Asbury Park teachers trying to stave off the worst effects of the Great Depression, the company has grown to encompass 21,000 members in Monmouth and Ocean Counties, changing identification and headquarters several times in that span.

Stephan credits its sustainability to the fact that the staff and nearly all of the members live and work in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. "They're servicing their friends, their families, their neighbors," he muses, "and they do it with pride and with ownership."

The firm's mission stays the same, Stefan continues, but its methods evolve to meet changing economic conditions.

"Every member is an owner," he explains. "Money doesn't go to a few investors, or to rally the stock price. We put what we need in capital as required by the federal government. Everything else goes back to the members through lower rates on loans, higher savings interest, updated technologies and assisting members through hard times."

Stephan says that it's meant swimming against the banking tide since the economic downturn that revved up in 2008 and resulted in millions of foreclosures.

"A lot of people lost their jobs, a lot of people went through difficult times," he recalls. "We use our income to help some of our members stay in their homes rather than putting them on the streets. We use our resources to help our members who, when they were doing well, supported the credit union."

It also requires unique approaches to each individual's financial situation, he notes, and understanding that it isn't simply a question of fitting a problem to a product. "We truly believe that if we resolve their issues or problems correctly, their loyalty to the credit union will be there."

Also on the list of honorees: Tom Hayes, New Jersey Resources; Carl Lillvik, Little Cove Services; Ocean County Board of Health Chair John Mallon; Meridian Health President and CEO John Lloyd; Monmouth County Freeholder Director Tom Arnone; and retiring Monmouth University President Paul Gaffney.

Dinner begins at 5:30 PM on May 2 at the Jumping Brook Country Club. Find out more about seat reservations at or visit the MODC office in the Monmouth Shores Corporate Center in Wall Township.