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  • Coopera Believed in Me A Decade Before I Came OnBoard

    Posted by on April 19, 2019

    A 12-year-long impact and a bright future ahead.

    As Coopera’s Client Relations Director, I have the opportunity to guide our partners through their Hispanic/Latino growth strategies. Coopera’s impact could be described with many growth metrics, but it’s a much more personal topic for me. I believe I’m the result of what happens when credit unions see underserved communities as part of their family.

    Our late founder, Warren Morrow believed in me without even knowing me. He worked to partner credit unions with the Latino community for economic growth and vice versa. His vision for our Latino community included people like my family and me. People filled with aspirations and drive, while lacking support and financial guidance. I moved to the United States when I was 11 years old, therefore, I don’t remember what my parents’ relationship was with financial institutions in El Salvador. However, I can clearly remember how credit unions made me feel: refreshed. Credit unions and banks were some of the few places that had air conditioning and I’ve never mixed well with hot weather. As a kid, the credit union was a cold heaven for me.

    As one can imagine, moving to a whole new continent with absolutely nothing is not something a kid looks forward to. I saw my parents go from working in offices to sacrificing their bodies with multiple manual labor jobs. Even though they worked so many hours, the money never seemed to last. Four years after our arrival, they grew quite tired and frustrated about the cycle we found ourselves in. My parents’ main priority was to provide and pave a path for their children to achieve college degrees.

    My parents saw entrepreneurship as the opportunity that could get us closer to stability and higher education. At 15, I became their business and financial advisor. I urged them to open an account with a credit union because I knew I didn’t have the tools and knowledge to help them. It was a credit union who educated us about credit scores, checking account usage and the many benefits of a debit card.

    On Fridays, I would go in with my dad to deposit our business’ checks. The credit union staff came to know me at a very personal level. They quickly learned about my aspiration to earn a college degree and the obstacles I would face due to my lack of legal status.

    In 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was announced and implemented; my family had to come up with over $1,000 to cover immigration and attorney fees. While I was filled with joy and excitement, I knew we couldn’t gather such an amount overnight. Through the credit union’s ITIN lending program, they were able to give me a small dollar loan that helped me apply for DACA and within 6 months, I had a work permit and a social security number. Our credit union believed in us and knew what this program meant to our family. The loan opened doors of opportunity for me and got me a step closer to a college education.

    From that moment on, our credit union became our trusted advisor. The staff would send private scholarships my way, helped me complete an Individual Development Account (IDA) program and gave me the financial education tools that my parents couldn’t provide for me at the time.

    The credit union that helped me in my youth, was a client of Coopera at that time. Coopera helped them implement an ITIN lending program and guided them in serving people like myself. Today, I get to help credit unions impact the lives of individuals who find themselves in similar spaces that I’ve navigated before. Working for an organization that is passionate to see credit unions and Latinos achieve greatness together is beyond rewarding. Credit unions and Coopera assure me that a better tomorrow is in progress.

    Happy 12-Year Anniversary, Coopera!

    Hear more of Kenia’s story as  featured on the Filene Research Institute podcast.

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    Through Partnerships (and Great Videos) Ascentra Credit Union Accelerates Financial Education Initiative

    Posted by on June 18, 2018

    Continuing our series of blog posts providing updates on 2017 Warren Morrow Hispanic Growth Fund grant recipients, today we’re following up with Ascentra Credit Union in Bettendorf, Iowa.

    To fully understand the reason Ascentra Credit Union is using its grant funds the way it is, it’s helpful to consider two important stats:

    •  90 percent of Hispanic consumers stream video on their mobile devices.

    •  7 in 10 Hispanics regularly use YouTube.

    With the grant funds, the credit union has translated 16 video scripts into Spanish for a series of financial education videos. Not only are these videos available on Ascentra’s YouTube channel, they have also been airing on its local NBC affiliate, KWQC-TV, serving the Quad Cities area of southeastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois. The videos are available on the television station’s website, as well.

    In addition, the grant funds enabled Ascentra to add Spanish subtitles to their existing financial education videos.

    “The Warren Morrow Hispanic Growth Fund Grant has been instrumental in providing lasting and ongoing content in Spanish for Ascentra’s Financial Wellness program,” said Alvaro Macias, Ascentra AVP of community development. “We are now in the process of working with our local Spanish/English newspaper Hola America News to use their social media channels to share these informative one-minute videos to effectively reach local Spanish-speakers.”

    Ascentra is also offering a series of financial education presentations in partnership with Esperanza Legal Assistance Center, a low-cost immigration service provider. The grant provided the funds needed to translate three presentations into Spanish. Spanish-language flyers were distributed throughout the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in which the center is located, and the content was also used to promote the seminar on Facebook.

    “We have plans to further utilize the translation services; we have some brochures that need to be translated and are planning to re-launch our website later this year,” Marcias said. “Our goal is to have the entire website available in Spanish.”

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

    Posted by on April 3, 2018

    (more…)

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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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