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The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

Encouragement from the top

Ruth Johnson spent hundreds of hours planning her daughter’s wedding, including crafting 45 topiaries. She has hand-painted flowerpots for birthday parties, molded chocolate candies for baby showers and always has bags of beads available for hand-strung jewelry that she usually gives away but occasionally sells.

So it is no wonder that the Prime Time Club director at Damascus Community Bank in Damascus, Maryland, loves her job, one that she describes as being a party planner every day.

“I’m in my glory when I create things. I relish the challenge of planning trips — my friends always say that I am a closeted wedding coordinator,” she said. “Right at this very moment, because I give each traveler a small gift on every trip, my office looks like an event planner’s office. It is stacked with gift bags.”

No longer green
More than four years ago, the enthusiastic management team at Damascus Community Bank, conveniently located in a town that offers easy access to Washington, Baltimore and other Northeastern hubs, discussed and debated the idea of having a travel club.

All the while, Johnson, who was the bank’s human resources director, had dreams of sailing the seven seas and more as the club director. “I thought it would never happen, but it did, in part because our chief financial officer had worked at a bank with bank travel,” she said. “He was determined to have this valuable asset at our bank.

“In February 2007, we were the greenest attendees at the BankTravel conference, where we soaked up all we could and met contacts we still use today.”

In March 2007, the bank had a Hawaiian-themed open house to christen the Prime Time Club, and that September they cruised from New York City to Nova Scotia and back, stopping in the Big Apple for a Broadway show.

“I was so worried something would go wrong, but it was wonderful. Fifteen bank customers made the trip,” Johnson said.

Today, the club has 720 members, who often take advantage of their one annual international trip, a few extended trips and a monthly day trip.

“This group loves to cruise, and one of our favorite excursions was a 13-day cruise to the eastern Caribbean,” said Johnson. “It was the best group of people, and they made it so easy for me to write the poem I always write on the last night of a trip — a poem that mentions everyone’s name.

“Everyone, including a member who had his Swiss Army knife confiscated at the beginning of the trip, had a story on that cruise.”

The Prime Time Club was also privileged to attend the Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany, in July 2010.

“This story of Christ, a nearly all-day affair done in German, was beyond description. Personally, I never thought I could be so riveted by a production, especially one in a different language,” she said.

Thanks largely to Johnson’s persistence, the group has also been accepted for the past two years for a White House tour, an experience that requires the approval from a local senator’s office and the luck of a lottery drawing.

“We like to go in the middle of December to see all the Christmas trees in the White House,” said Johnson. “The last time, we left Damascus at 5:30 in the morning for a 7:30 tour, and while the snow, traffic and even the presidential motorcade caused delays, these dedicated travelers would return again and again.

“On the way home, we stop at the Mormon Temple in Bethesda and are again awed by 10 Christmas trees and many Nativity scenes from all over the world at their visitors center.”

Johnson added that this young bank club, which has succeeded in fun and fellowship beyond expectations, has also given the accountants great reasons to smile.

“We require $10,000 in deposits to belong, and counting only the new money the club has generated, we have brought in over $7 million since 2007.”