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  • Connect With Hispanic Members and Staff During National Hispanic Heritage Month

    Posted by on September 10, 2018

    National Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM), a celebration of Hispanic and Latino culture, heritage and contributions, begins September 15 and continues through October 15 each year.

    The celebration starts on September 15 because on that day in 1821, five Latin American countries declared their independence: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico, Chile and Belize celebrate their independence days on September 16, September 18 and September 21, respectively.

    HHM presents a great opportunity for credit unions to connect with and support their Hispanic members and staff. Here are a few examples:

    • Altura Credit Union in Riverside, Calif., recognizes HHM by promoting a variety of community festivals, contest and events on its website. The credit union also made a $600,000 pledge to the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture & Industry at the Riverside Art Museum earlier this year.
    • Idaho Central Credit Union in Chubbuck, Idaho, sponsors several activities during HHM, including Fiestas Patrias (Mexico’s Independence Day celebration), an All About the Dress Expo and a Latino Expo.
    • 1st Bergen Federal Credit Union in Hackensack, N.J., hosted a HHM celebration where the credit union shared its commitment to serve and empower members of the Hispanic community. The event included music and dancing, refreshments and special promotions, including low-interest loans, savings accounts and checking accounts.

    Another way to celebrate HHM is to create a way for your Hispanic staff and members to share stories about their favorite traditions from their countries of origin. Along those lines, we thought it would be fun to share a bit about where the Coopera team came from and our favorite traditions from those countries.

    Kenia Calderon, Coopera’s Client Relationship Consultant

    El Salvador Peace Band

    El Salvador’s peace bands play during the Independence Day parades.

    What is your country of origin?
    I was born and raised in El Salvador.

    What is your favorite tradition?
    My favorite tradition from El Salvador is our Independence Day celebration.

    On September 15, K-12 students participate in the Independence Day marches/parades that take place across the country. People line up along the sidewalks to watch the parade. Each school has its own theme, uniform, music and acts. My siblings and I participated every year. The first time I participated, I was in charge of holding our national flower. The following year, I was a tambourine player. The marches typically take place downtown, and we probably marched more than five miles.

    What do you enjoy most about HHM?
    I miss El Salvador a great deal, so HHM is very important to me because I get to celebrate where I come from along with other Latin Americans. Every year, I learn something new from other countries’ traditions and history. HHM is also our opportunity to teach Hispanic Americans about their family’s culture to develop a sense of pride and celebrate their roots.

    Tania Perez, Coopera’s Client Support Specialist

    Mexico Bullfight

    The bullfight is one the main attractions at the traditional San Marcos National Fair.

    What is your country of origin?
    I am both Mexican and Salvadoran.

    What is your favorite tradition?
    It’s so difficult to choose one but La Feria de San Marcos has always piqued my interest.

    My father is from Aguascalientes, Mexico, host of the San Marcos National Fair. It started off as a cattle and harvest fair and is now an international event. There are many exhibitions to enjoy, including bullfighting, which has an important history in the city of Aguascalientes. The fair takes place in April and May. My family who owns a taco business in the city says that many businesses close earlier in the day or close for a couple days to celebrate the fair.

    What do you enjoy most about HHM?
    What I enjoy most is the simple fact that it is a month dedicated to all Latino cultures. We often forget to include representation of many Latin American countries. HHM is a time where you see celebrations with various countries being represented, either through food or dances.

    Victor Miguel Corro, Coopera’s Client Relations Director

    Panama Water Soak

    La Mojadera is a water hose soak during Los Carnavales in Panama.

    What is your country of origin?
    Panama

    What is your favorite tradition?
    Los Carnavales (Carnival)

    During the four days prior to the start of Lent, the Catholic holiday, the whole country comes to a complete stop for Los Carnavales. In many towns, large and small, there is is a full-throttle celebration with parades, floats, queens, music, dancing and costumes.

    Festivities include both traditional Spanish and Panamanian customs. The most distinct and fun tradition is “La Mojadera” – a water hose soak. Water tank trucks soak the crowd for hours, along with loud music, entertainment and plenty of Seco, a sugarcane-based spirit and Panama’s national drink. The tradition is undoubtedly inspired by the hot tropical weather. La Mojadera goes on until the early hours of the afternoon, when the crowds go home to take a short nap before preparing to dance the night away and start all over the next day.

    Miriam De Dios Woodward, Coopera’s CEO

    Jalisco Fair Queen

    The fair queen is crowned during the annual Fiestas in El Grullo, Jalisco.

    What is your country of origin?
    Mexico

    What is your favorite tradition?
    My favorite tradition is the annual Fiestas of my hometown of El Grullo, Jalisco. The festivities begin with a religious celebration on January 1 dedicated to Santa Maria de Guadalupe, followed by a two-week fair. The religious celebration includes a processional to the church at the top of the hill in town, singing “las mañanitas” to Santa Maria de Guadalupe, a parade with religious floats and other festivities.

    As the religious celebration draws to a close on January 12, a special pilgrimage is held to welcome back “los hijos ausentes” or the “absent children” who live away from town. That night, “la farola,” a cart with a lamp post symbolizing an old way of making public announcements is pushed down the streets of town with a live band and processional of people, announcing the start of the fair. The fair activities that follow include bull riding, concerts, enjoying a variety of food stands, carnival games, parades, traditional dances and the crowning of the fair queen.

    Las Fiestas represent a time for family and friends to gather from near and far to share in the tradition that was started many generations ago. To this day, my family continues the pilgrimage to El Grullo during the time of Las Fiestas.

    What do you enjoy most about HHM?
    I enjoy attending the various events that celebrate the diversity in the Hispanic culture and the opportunity to highlight the contributions of Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S.

    As you can see, Latin American countries are rich with culture and traditions. Finding ways to celebrate HHM and giving your members and staff an opportunity to share stories from their countries of origin are great ways to learn from each other to build a more inclusive community.

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    Hispanics Are Driving U.S. Economic Growth. Here’s Why Credit Unions Should Care.

    Posted by on July 2, 2018

    Anyone curious about the Hispanic community’s contribution to the U.S. economy need not look any further than these stats from the first half of this decade, provided by the Latino Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Report:

    • At 2.9 percent, the U.S. Hispanic GDP experienced the third-highest growth rate in the world, behind only China and India. It was nearly 70-percent higher than the non-Hispanic U.S. GDP growth rate of 1.7 percent.

    • If it were an independent country, the U.S. Hispanic GDP would be the seventh largest in the world, larger than the GDP of India, Italy, Brazil or Canada.

    • While the non-Hispanic U.S. workforce shrank by about 4,000 workers, the Hispanic U.S. workforce grew by nearly 2.5 million, making possible an overall increase of 2.4 million in the U.S. workforce, ages 24 to 64.

    • The U.S. Hispanic college graduate population, ages 20 to 24, grew by 40.6 percent, compared to 13.6 percent for the non-Hispanic population in the same category.

    • As young Hispanics enter the workforce and older non-Hispanics leave it, the Hispanic GDP will account for an increasing portion of the total U.S. GDP growth, projected to be 24.4 percent of total U.S. GDP growth by 2020.

    What do these stats mean for credit unions?

    • As the Hispanic community’s impact on the U.S. economy continues to grow, so will its need for financial services. There’s never been a better time for credit unions to start (or grow) a Hispanic membership growth strategy. Those that don’t will find it increasingly difficult to grow their total membership, deposits and loan balances.

    • Young Hispanics will be an increasingly important pool of talent as credit unions grow and hire new employees. As college-educated Hispanics continue to enter the workforce at a faster rate than non-Hispanics, it’s important for credit unions to review their recruiting and hiring processes to ensure they are appealing to Hispanics.

    • Dispelling myths about Hispanics is a joint effort. Despite the above statistics, some segments of the U.S. population are not aware of the essential role Hispanics play in the success of the domestic economy. Consider ways you might partner with organizations and Hispanic leaders in your community to help tell the story.

    In short, the U.S. Hispanic community is growing in number, spending power, education and – for growth-minded credit unions – opportunity.

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    5 Financial Preferences of Multicultural Consumers

    Posted by on June 4, 2018

    Recent research by CUNA Mutual Group’s TruStage reveals interesting insights about the unique makeup and preferences of Hispanics and other multicultural consumer groups. Below are some of the key findings from the What Matters Now research along with what they mean for credit unions seeking to establish more meaningful relationships with multicultural consumers.

    Multicultural consumers have significant buying power.

    Over the past five years, multicultural consumer groups have accounted for 100 percent of U.S. population growth and 61 percent of credit union growth. The annual spending growth rate for Hispanics is 4.1 percent, compared to 1.4 percent for Whites.

    What it means for credit unions: Credit unions desiring to grow their memberships, assets and loan balances should place a strategic focus on their outreach efforts to Hispanics and other multicultural consumer groups.

    Hispanic appreciation for apps over-indexes other groups.

    Hispanic consumers are almost two times more likely than Whites to research financial products and services using mobile apps. Additionally, 17 percent of Hispanics reported applying for financial accounts and products through an app, compared to only 9 percent of Whites.

    What it means for credit unions: To be relevant to Hispanic and other multicultural consumers, credit unions should be investing in mobile strategies. These cooperatives should ensure their mobile apps have a Spanish language option and the experiences are culturally relevant to Hispanic consumers.

    Business loans are a desired product.

    Hispanics are nine times more likely than Whites to take out a small business loan in the next five years.

    What it means for credit unions: Invest in products and resources to help Hispanic entrepreneurs, such as small business-friendly loans, microloans and small-business financial education. Also, consider partnering with organizations that offer small business assistance, such as local Hispanic chambers of commerce and small business incubators.

    Hispanics prioritize ease of use.

    Twenty-three percent of Hispanics look for convenience in financial products and services, even if it means higher rates or fees, compared to only 9 percent of Whites. Flexible payment schedules and speed of lending are also more important to Hispanics than other groups.

    What it means for credit unions: No two consumers are exactly alike. Providing a range of product options and fee structures will help you be relevant to a wider range of consumer segments. Offering instant online loan approvals is one way to meet a need for many Hispanic consumers.

    Hispanic consumers tend to worry about finances.

    Every expense category studied by CUNA Mutual causes Hispanic consumers concern — sometimes up to 20 percent more than other consumer groups. At the same time, Hispanics tend to have a stronger sense of generosity and community than other consumer groups.

    What it means for credit unions: Think about ways to help relieve concerns for Hispanic consumers through relevant financial education and resources. Also, be sure to educate local consumers on the credit union philosophy of “people helping people,” and share stories of how your credit union and members are improving the lives of individuals and families in your community.

    As you apply these findings to your credit union’s Hispanic outreach strategies, be careful not to over-simplify the data. “When examining the research findings, it’s important to remember a person is made up of many unique cultural aspects,” said Opal Tomashevska, manager, multicultural business strategy, CUNA Mutual Group. “Be careful not to over-generalize or create stereotypes from this information and apply it to all members of a certain group. The data shows trends and significant differences but does not attempt to speak for every individual.”

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    Hispanic Women Have a Strong Desire to Save for Retirement

    Posted by on May 23, 2018

    A recent study on the significance of gender for Hispanic savings and retirement found two important things:

    1. Hispanic women have a huge appetite for financial education and a strong desire to save

    2. Their savings could provide a critical safety net to America’s largest minority group.

    “This study demonstrates that if financial information is communicated simply and respectfully, and in culturally and linguistically competent ways, Latinas, especially, will listen,” said Karen Richman, Ph.D., the principal investigator of the study, a collaboration between the National Endowment for Financial Education and the University of Notre Dame.

    Reasons for Low Retirement Savings

    Despite a desire to save, low earnings mean Hispanic women have much lower retirement account balances than any comparable demographic, the study found. Employment paths have a lot to do with these outcomes. According to the study, Hispanics switch jobs more frequently than other demographics. What’s more, they tend to accept positions that do not provide retirement savings benefits.

    The research went on to show that Hispanics with employer-sponsored retirement plans are 50 percent more likely than whites to make hardship withdrawals. Hispanic women are more likely than Hispanic men to liquidate pensions with a lump-sum payment or to spend rather than reinvest their savings when they change jobs. Additionally, Hispanic women tend to see retirement accounts as a source of liquidity. They may take loans and early withdrawals, often to help others, and they end up paying large penalties.

    How Credit Unions Can Help

    Below are a few key takeaways from the study and what they mean for credit unions.

    Hispanics have the highest labor participation, and yet the lowest retirement security. Hispanic women would benefit from workplace financial education, particularly during job transitions as they are deciding what to do with retirement accounts. Credit unions can provide financial education, as well as investment and savings products in a way that’s relevant to this influential and growing audience.

    Hispanic women tend to be the administrators of family finances. The female head of the family often makes tough decisions without knowing all the options. Credit unions can address Hispanic women’s appetite for financial education and desire to save through direct outreach, relationship building and financial education opportunities. A great way to gain a better perspective on what Hispanic women need is through the creation of a Latina advisory group.

    Hispanic men and women are equally likely to participate in collective financial practices based on “confianza,” or “mutual trust.” Credit unions should work to develop relationships with Hispanics based on trust. They should position themselves as a dependable resource for the community through product accessibility, bilingual staff and community investment.

    As this study reveals, a gap exists for Hispanic women in terms of saving for retirement. Credit unions, with their financial expertise and their people helping people philosophy, are well positioned to address this gap.

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    Members Credit Union Grows Hispanic Membership with Financial Education

    Posted by on May 7, 2018

    Continuing our series of blog posts providing updates on 2017 Warren Morrow Hispanic Growth Fund Grant recipients, today we’re following up with Members Credit Union in Cos Cob, Connecticut.

    With the grant funds it was awarded, Members Credit Union was able to purchase Spanish seminar-in-a-box kits from CUNA, as well as materials for financial education sessions with Hispanic youth. Partnering with local organizations to conduct seminars has been a successful strategy for the Connecticut credit union.

    More than 80 consumers participated in three seminars Members Credit Union conducted in late 2017:

    In October, the credit union partnered with Family Centers to host a Spanish financial education seminar for parents who live in low-income housing. The following month, Members Credit Union conducted a Spanish financial education seminar for participants of People Empowering People. In December, the credit union hosted a seminar for Family Centers staff, many of whom are Hispanic. The focus of that event was on both personal finances and services available to their Family Centers clients.

    “Each one of the completed seminars brought new members to the credit union, and referrals from our ‘first generation’ of new members are spreading and also yielding new members,” said Kathy Chartier, Members Credit Union president/CEO.

    One of the participants in the November seminar owns Latin Colors magazine. During the seminar, he gave a testimonial about how he has benefited from his relationship with Members Credit Union. He is also giving the credit union the opportunity to share financial education in Spanish in every issue of Latin Colors throughout 2018 in addition to partnering on future seminars.

    Members Credit Union also has plans to continue offering seminars in 2018, including:

    •  Sessions with elementary and middle school students involved in the Family First program
    •  Financial education seminars in Spanish, in cooperation with Latin Colors magazine
    •  Auto buying seminars in Spanish with Building One Community
    •  A full evening financial education class in partnership with People Empowering People

    The credit union is already seeing results from its financial education efforts in terms of Hispanic membership and loan growth. In 2017, the credit union brought in 73 new Hispanic members (39 percent of all new members), compared to 23 (12 percent of new members) in 2016.

    “The seminars, and the word-of-mouth referrals they have created, are probably our greatest source of new members and loans in 2017,” Chartier said.

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    Get to Know Víctor Miguel Corro

    Posted by on April 16, 2018

    Continuing our get-to-know series, we’d like to introduce you to Víctor Miguel Corro, who joined the Coopera team earlier this year as client relations director.

    How did you end up working for a company focused on helping credit unions serve the Hispanic market?

    Victor after a long hike at Macchu Picchu in Peru

    I’m no stranger to the credit union world, and in a career-transition moment, things aligned to give me this great opportunity. It is a great fit personally, as I am a first-generation immigrant. I came from Panama and now live in Wisconsin. I remember coming to the U.S. and facing everyday struggles. Everything from trying to get a haircut to adjusting to the climate was difficult. I’d never experienced a day below 75 degrees in my life and now I was living in Wisconsin. Talk about building character!

    What gets you out of bed in the morning?

    Knowing I support my family though a career in a mission-driven industry that ultimately seeks to improve lives. When I wake up, I see that as one more day, one more chance to help somebody.

    What does your typical day look like?

    My day consists of helping Coopera’s clients reach more people who do not know the joy of being part of a credit union. I get to interact with clients and work with our wonderful team to help those clients be the financial entity of choice for the Hispanic community.

    What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?

    Victor at a Florida credit union alongside a delegation from Brazil

    Be the proverbial bridge. That means working to connect people in spite of their background and differences. There is always common ground to be found, and that will push us all forward together.

    What excites you the most about the future of financial services in the Hispanic market?

    There is a growing understanding among credit unions that reaching an untapped market makes sense philosophically, and it also presents a strong business case. In my recent conversations with industry leaders, I have sensed the enthusiasm and a natural inclination to want to reach out and serve. The integration of technology is also a very exciting prospect for this market.

    Where do you go/what do you do to get inspiration?

    A hammock in Panama does the trick every time! But when that’s not available, it’s a long bike ride or an old song.

    What is something unique about you most people wouldn’t know?

    Victor with Oscar Arias, then president of Costa Rica

    My parents started a credit union back in my hometown in Panama. I was once a fifth-grade homeroom teacher. I have visited 89 countries (and not just the airport!). I have met six sitting heads of state in as many countries.

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    Santa Cruz Community Credit Union Sets Aggressive Goals to Help Hispanic Entrepreneurs

    Posted by on April 3, 2018

    (more…)

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    An Unscoreable Consumer Could Become Your Next Great Member

    Posted by on March 6, 2018

    Somewhere between 50 and 80 million U.S. consumers have little or no credit history. That’s somewhere in the range of 15 to 25 percent of the U.S. population. What this means is that a massive number of people in America are “unscoreable” by most traditional models.

    At the same time, acquiring new members is becoming increasingly difficult for credit unions. Competition and financial consumer expectations have never been more complex and fast-moving.

    What if there was a way for credit unions to avoid turning away “unscoreable” consumers for loans and other services? What if there was a way to welcome them without increasing a cooperative’s risk profile?

    No Credit Does Not Mean Bad Credit

    Just because a consumer is unscoreable by most traditional credit scoring models doesn’t mean he or she won’t be able to pay back a loan. Several alternative models available today can help a lender evaluate a consumer’s ability to repay. Below are some examples, along with the types of data they incorporate into their models:

    eCredable – Bills, such as rent, utilities, mobile phone, cable/satellite TV and insurance

    Cignifi – Mobile phone behavior data

    First Access – Prepaid mobile-phone payment histories

    TrustingSocial – Social, web and mobile data

    Kabbage – e-commerce histories from sites like Amazon

    Experian’s Emerging Credit Score – Internet and direct-marketing purchases, property and asset records and telecommunications and utility data

    TransUnion CreditVision Link – Property tax records and checking/debit account records

    LexisNexis RiskView – Residential stability, asset ownership, derogatory status, life-stage analysis

    One thing all these companies have in common: They’re using big data to create better outcomes for consumers and meaningful value for lenders. And credit unions have the opportunity to do so, as well.

    Alternative sources of consumer data, such as utility records, cell phone payments, medical payments, insurance payments, remittance receipts, direct deposit histories and more, can be used to build better risk models. Armed with this information – and with the proper programs in place to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and privacy laws – credit unions can continue making responsible lending decisions while better serving the underserved.

    How One Organization Successfully Uses Alternative Credit Scoring

    Kinecta Federal Credit Union uses an alternative data score from LexisNexis known as Riskview to assess creditworthiness for traditionally unscoreable borrowers. The model factors in data from sources like utility bills, public records, address and employment stability, among many others alternative data elements. The result is a Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) regulated score.

    By using nontraditional credit verification methods, Kinecta is able to approve more than 60 percent of the applications it receives. Since 2014, Kinecta has made about 20,000 loans for more than $30 million.”

    How Alternative Credit Scoring Fits the Credit Union Philosophy

    Credit unions exist to help people, not make a profit. Their goal is to serve all members well, including those of modest means – the very people most likely to be unscoreable by traditional credit scoring models. Many of these consumers fall into one or more of the following segments:

    • Unbanked/underbanked
    • First-generation immigrants
    • Millennials
    • Rural consumers

    Alternative credit scoring provides credit access to consumers who may otherwise be turned down for a loan or forced to turn to a predatory lender. Using payment history and other data sources to evaluate a consumer’s creditworthiness is an excellent example of “people helping people” – one that benefits both consumers and credit unions alike.

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    How JetStream FCU Sent an Important Message to a Hispanic High School Student

    Posted by on February 19, 2018

    In September 2017, we announced seven Juntos Avanzamos designated credit unions had received the 2017 Warren Morrow Hispanic Growth Fund Grant to continue their Hispanic outreach and community impact efforts. Over the next few months, we’ll be checking in with each of the credit unions and sharing updates on their progress.

    First up is JetStream Federal Credit Union in Miami Lakes, Florida.

    JetStream partnered with a local high school to select a deserving scholarship recipient. To qualify, the student needed to be a member of a Hispanic, low-income family and meet the following criteria: a 3.7 minimum GPA, a college in mind and an area of interest in business or finance.

    As a first step, JetStream chose Barbara Goleman Senior High as a partner. “We chose this high school because of its location, as well as its student body makeup,” said Vanessa Miranda, manager of HR and community outreach for JetStream. “The Barbara Goleman student makeup is 84 percent Hispanic.”

    (Left to right) JetStream FCU CEO Jeanne Kucey, Scholarship Winner Gabriel Hernandez, JetStream HR Manager Vanessa Miranda

    JetStream received many qualified applications, which included essay responses. With the help of several teachers and JetStream staff, they were able to select the winner: Gabriel Hernandez, a senior who will begin an accounting program at Florida International University in the fall.

    “Gabriel’s essay demonstrated his devotion to his academics,” said Miranda. “His long list of extra-curricular activities, as well as his academic achievements, truly stuck out from the rest. He has been an honors AP student since freshman year and has achieved a 4.9 weighted GPA. In addition, he is the captain of the soccer team and part of The National Honors Society.”

    Something else Jetstream says made Hernandez stand out was a strong commitment to his community. He has tutored immigrant students at a local high school, as well as volunteered his time to feed the hungry.

    Long-term, Hernandez plans to be an accountant or financial advisor. “I will be working with people and matching them to financial programs that will assist with their future,” Gabriel wrote in his essay. “Like JetStream’s motto, I believe that people matter most. I think that I could be an asset for both the consumer and the financial institution that hires me in the future.”

    In his essay, Hernandez also shared that he is concerned about how he will pay for college tuition and does not want to create further financial burdens for his parents.

    “We are very thankful that the Warren Morrow Hispanic Growth Fund Grant was awarded to JetStream, which allowed us to give a most valuable gift, the gift of education, to this deserving Hispanic student,” said Miranda. “I know this young man will go on to do amazing things. We feel honored that we were given the chance through this grant to aid him in achieving his goals and helping him see that the American dream is possible for everyone.”

    Hernandez closed his essay by writing, “I know that I will succeed in college, but this scholarship will show me that others believe in me, too.”

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    To Discover What You Have to Give, Put Yourself There

    Posted by on February 12, 2018

    Have you ever felt a calling to help, but you weren’t entirely clear what form that help should take? It’s a puzzle many credit union leaders confront. That’s because the credit union movement has rallied around the collective battle cry of “people helping people.” While most everyone working in or leading a credit union is aware of the mission, quite a few wonder, what exactly does “people helping people” look like in our cooperative? How can we live out the industry’s mission in our community? Who needs our help the most and how do we find them?

    The answers are clearer for some than others. Yet, even those with a solid giving-back plan in place often discover even more ways to contribute after they begin. The key, according to LiFE Federal Credit Union (LiFE FCU) CEO Dustin Fuller, is simply to put yourself in the place you believe you’re needed. The rest, he insists, usually happens naturally.

    Take Fuller’s recent credit union-sponsored mission trip, for instance. Fuller and LiFE FCU’s former chief lending officer (now CU Evolution CEO) Deke Alexander had a crystal clear vision for how their credit union employees could impact the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. Modeling their outreach after traditional church-sponsored mission trips, the pair gathered a group of employees and credit union members together and organized a mission trip of their own.

    Fuller and Alexander had traveled to the Dominican Republic before, so they had an intimate understanding of the acute need for access to clean drinking water in many of the villages there. The plan, then, was to mobilize their group around the installation of water filters in two villages. As the group went about making their plans for the trip, one of the soon-to-be missionaries had an idea. A LiFE FCU business member, he is also a doctor who owns and operates Total Eyecare, a vision clinic in LiFE FCU’s hometown of Denton, Texas. What if, the doctor proposed, we bring eyeglasses along for the village elders, many of whom are likely experiencing loss of vision as they age? Everyone agreed it was an excellent idea, so they packed a suitcase full of glasses and brought it along to the Dominican Republic.

    The five-day mission trip was, as Fuller describes it, “an awesome experience that did some amazing things for the hearts of employees and members.” By the time the group was ready to head back to the U.S., they had installed two LifeStraw filters that were producing enough clean drinking water for 400 people in three villages. And, they had outfitted 72 elders with reading glasses.

    Even more exciting, however, were the unanticipated ways the group was able to impact the lives of the villagers. As they moved about the people and the environment over those five days, they discovered three other, absolutely unexpected, ways they could impact the lives of the people they came to help.

    The first surprise came as their van was leaving one particular village. From inside the vehicle, the doctor spotted a young girl sitting alone in front of her family’s home. He asked the driver to stop so he could go and talk with her. As it turns out, the girl had trouble seeing because one of her eyes wasn’t focusing properly. The impairment also affected the way she looked, and she was being teased by her schoolmates. The doctor had with him a lens he believed would help. When the little girl tried on the glasses, her eye immediately responded, straightening out instantly. “Her little face just lit up,” said Fuller, who witnessed the moment. “And her mother… you should have seen her. She hit her knees, bawling. She had never seen her daughter’s eyes straight in her entire life.”

    The second surprise came out of a conversation the LiFE FCU missionaries were having with a few of the village pastors. The topic was how to help people in these desolate villages develop their own healthy economies. The group began to talk about the cooperative financial model and how supporting them in the build of a community-based financial network could work. They also discussed the development of a micro-lending pool to finance a motorcycle. If equipped with a crate or two, the villagers could sell their now-clean drinking water in nearby villages. The income could be pooled and used in the case of a health emergency, to finance additional motorcycles or for any other needs that came up. According to CU Evolution’s Alexander, the elders in the village were excited about the concept and are beginning to work toward bringing the vision into reality. LiFE FCU is also looking forward to supporting them as they develop the micro-lending network.

    Lastly, the group learned that pastors in nearby villages were forced to travel 10 hours every month to get the proper training they needed to support their villages. If they had mobile devices, however, they would be able to participate in training sessions digitally, staying close to the people in their villages while also learning what they needed to become even more adept at serving them. Fuller called back home to another of LiFE FCU’s business members, SNAG Management, and asked if there was anything they could do. The member gave an emphatic yes, and shipped off five iPhone 5s to the village pastors within a week.

    What was so special about each of those three moments, Fuller points out, is that they could never have been predicted. They happened as a natural outgrowth of the group being physically present in a space and being open to the opportunities that presented themselves.

    “The pastor at our church often says, ‘You have to go through to grow through it,’” said Fuller. “What he means is you have to experience first-hand how the people you want to help are moving through their days. And it’s not just about experiencing the poverty; it’s about experiencing how the people live and then discovering how you’re uniquely gifted to help.

    “Too often, in our personal lives and in business, we get so wrapped up in the way things have always been done,” continued Fuller. “The same is true for giving. Unless we look out at the horizon and think about exploring something new, we can’t grow. We have to go through it to grow through it.”
    As credit unions and other organizations ponder how they may be able to have a positive impact on their communities this year, it may be wise to strategize by physically moving into a new space. Maybe it’s holding strategic planning sessions alongside a local church in an underserved area of town or hosting a financial education session at a shelter. By getting into a different space, you may discover entirely new ways to give back in 2018.

    Alexander acknowledges that “putting yourself there” can be scary. But, he says, acknowledging the fear and pushing past it is worth the effort. “The first time I was approached about going on a mission trip, I didn’t know if I wanted to go. It seemed like an incredible amount of work. I didn’t know the language. I wasn’t comfortable with the environment. Mostly, I didn’t understand how I was going to be able to contribute or what I even had to give. But I did it, and it changed me. I just had to sit there and let the people impact me. It’s not what you know, it’s how open you are to the experience.”

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