At the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Credit Union’s annual dinner in December, Patrice Mustafa was in the middle of taking a sip of water, when her name was called over the microphone.

Her husband excitedly pinched her knee and said, “You got, MVP! You got MVP!”

“I was totally shocked,” remembers Mustafa of the moment. “I was not prepared. I was speechless,” added the 12-year credit union employee, who actually remembers coughing some of the water back up.

MVP is most valuable employee of the year, and it’s the last award announced at the annual banquet. Mustafa said employees at each of the six credit union branches can select any employee, and then an overall winner is chosen.

Her selection as employee of the year by the seven employees she supervises as manager of the Hope Street branch of the DWP credit union, says much about the type of leader Mustafa is, and her appointment to this position six months ago is the culmination of a long-held dream.

That dream began behind the counter as a cashier at Staples, while she was a teen growing up in Los Angeles.

“I worked myself up to lead cashier, and I left that location because it was robbed several times. I was one of the victims. They put a gun to my head,” remembers Mustafa of the harrowing experience that happened just as the store was opening one day.

That experience caused her life to flash in front of her, and prompted the former high school volleyball player to opt for something she considered more secure and more stable. That was a credit union.

Mustafa first worked at the Farmers Insurance Credit Union where she began as a teller and within six months had advanced from member services rep to senior loan officer. From there she moved to the call center at the DWP Credit Union, where she was responsible for opening new accounts, processing loans, and other services.

“I’m the type of person who wants to continue learning and growing within an organization. And after two years in the call center, I was promoted to the operations department,” Mustafa said.

There she was introduced to the back side of the business such as share drafting, ordering debit cards, and working with the Federal Reserve Bank.

“My ultimate goal was to become a branch manger one day, and I wanted to take all the steps to know how to do that,” said the Fairfax High School graduate, who remembers growing up poor in Los Angeles as one of the twin daughters of a single mother, and being determined to get the education that would enable her to have a secure job and stable background.

Mustafa said although she is the only African American branch manager, she is one of three women in the position and attributes that in part to the industry.

“One of the unique things about the credit union, is there are lots of opportunities for advancement. Once you apply for a position, your chances of getting promoted are very high,” said the mother of two.

Her goal as branch manager is to make sure that members are satisfied and to grow deposits by bringing in new members. Like many credit unions, DWP has expanded its field of potential members and now services people who work, go to school, or live within the vicinity of a branch.