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.Leave a comment