EUGENE, Ore. - When prospective members walk into the lobby of the Oregon Urban and Rural Federal Credit Union, which goes by its initials O.U.R. FCU, it's unlikely they will have ever seen a bank or credit union lobby quite like it. But then, if the credit union has successfully marketed itself to the people it most wants to reach, O.U.R. FCU is probably the first bank or credit union they have ever entered. "The area has plenty of credit unions for people who have regular jobs," explains Loretta Moesta, CEO of the $4.2 million credit union when speaking about the other eight credit unions headquartered in Eugene. "But we are the only credit union whose mission is to serve the very people who most need the help a credit union can provide." A group of 10 activists started O.U.R. in 1969 as a response to the federal government's war on poverty. The credit union's first charter, which it has never changed, calls on the credit union to serve the residents of Lane County who have been involved in some way with a social service agency in the County, a charter which effectively makes eligible many, if not all, of the county's lower income residents. The building the credit union occupies now is a house and the lobby resembles a living room with benches in it that Moesta's father built when he came to visit soon after she began volunteering with the credit union in 1989. "I had had some experience with working in collections and was working in that field already," Moesta said, "and I had already been advising people I was speaking to in the collections calls that they might give the credit union a try so when the CU called me to volunteer in its collection effort I decided to get involved." Over the years O.U.R. has kept close to its mission, taking deposits and making loans to help their members get their feet onto the lowest rungs of the economic ladder and move up. And since the credit union doesn't offer checking accounts, and doesn't plan to do so, Moesta said they are used to having loyal members take their expanded financial lives elsewhere while still remaining loyal to O.U.R. for their savings and borrowing. "We have had to really think about what our mission is and whom we are meant to serve and whether offering something like checking accounts would wind up helping or hurting our efforts to serve the people we are most called to serve," Moesta said. Checking accounts didn't make sense when viewed from this perspective. This is not to imply that Moesta and O.U.R. are not ambitious. The credit union recently celebrated a grant of over $276,000 from the U.S. Treasury Department's Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. "We're just thrilled about this grant," said Loretta Moesta, president of O.U.R. "These funds are really going to promote our credit union's expansion significantly, as we plan to extend the outreach of our anti-predatory lending products, expand and develop a full mortgage line, and increase the amount of financial literacy training we conduct." Of the $276,500 awarded to the credit union, $26,500 was included for staff and board training, staff salary support for mortgage product development, computer technology, and an enhanced financial education curriculum. O.U.R.'s five-year goals include improvement on underwriting and outreach on the credit union's predatory loan product. The Financial Assistance Grants aim to strengthen the financing, capacity, and sustainability of CDFIs, so they can better meet the financial needs of the low-income communities they serve. Of the 140 applications received, only 48 awards were given, totaling $32,847,674, the credit union said. Moesta said that the credit union's goal was to get to $10 million in assets while keeping its focus on helping its members improve their financial situation, getting the consumer and financial education, for example, that will help them make better financial decisions from the start. The credit union has also gotten involved in micro-lending, making small loans to members to help them get started in business and it also offers individual development accounts to help members save for a home, education and starting a business. Moesta makes it clear that the credit union strongly seeks to serve its members, it also will not fund every loan request from every member. "We have a loan committee that meets every week and no one, not even I, have the authority to turn down a loan request," Moesta said. Not that the committee does either, at least not with a cold "no." Instead, some members are directed to other area groups who provide financial education or are instead offered some help in building their collateral a bit more. O.U.R. subscribes to the five C's of Credit, Capacity, Capital, Collateral, Conditions and Character when evaluating loan applications, Moesta said, and whenever possible seeks to work with the member to make the loan. Near Death Experience But even with careful lending, there have been three times over its 35-year history when Moesta said that the credit union was close to being closed. The worst, and the one that brought her into a role as a paid staff member, was the $650,000 embezzlement case by a former manager in 1993. "That really almost tore this credit union apart," Moesta said. "It wasn't just the loss from the embezzlement as much as it was like a dagger in the heart of this group of people who are like a family" she said, "That's what made it so bad." Moesta took the reins of the credit union when the NCUA stepped in the wake of the case and asked her to run things, a responsibility that she said "scared me to death" but which she appears to have grown into. Since then she has been honored by the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions with the Federation's Annual Annie Vamper award (2001) and says that the credit union plans to keep on its unique path within the credit union industry. "There has to be a little corner of this industry for small credit unions who just want to help the folks who need the help the most," she said. -email@example.com
For One Oregon Credit Union, Perseverance Serving the Poor is Key to Survival
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