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From the October-01, 2008 issue of Credit Union Times Magazine • Subscribe!
For Community Development Leader, Mercy FCU Is a Family Legacy
HOUSTON -- Our Mother of Mercy Federal Credit Union has been a part of Rene Llorens' life for almost as long as she can remember.<p>Llorens, who currently serves as the manager and CEO of the $2.1 million credit union, grew up aware of the credit union because her father, Leonard Llorens, helped get it started in 1965.</p><p>"The credit union opened up in 1965, with 10 members who each put up $5, attached to the Our Mother of Mercy Roman Catholic Church in Houston," Llorens said. "My father and another gentleman named Jesse Balthazar started the credit union partly out of a conviction in the church's social mission and that has been part of it ever since."</p><p>Llorens started out as a volunteer with the credit union in 1978, working as a part-time volunteer over and above her work as a teacher and eventual school principal. She said her interest in the credit union persisted over the years because she strongly believed in the credit union's philosophy and approach. She became manager of the credit union in 1995.</p><p>"I just really liked it and thought this was something I should stay involved with," she said.</p><p>Llorens' involvement has grown over the years. In addition to managing the credit union, Llorens committed to and graduated from the National Federation of Community Development Credit Union's CDCU Institute, the federation's main professional development program for CDCU leaders.</p><p>She has also led the credit union through the complex process of applying for and receiving recognition as a community development financial institution from the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Community Development Financial Institution's Fund.</p><p>"I have always believed in the credit union and that has led me to see not just what it is, but what it could be too," Llorens said.</p><p>Llorens explained the additional training along with the CDFI certification had been part of her effort to broaden the credit union's availability beyond the walls of the parish where the CU has been from the beginning.</p><p>"The place where we want to move the credit union is not very far away," Llorens said, "maybe a quarter of a mile. But its in a very commercial area an a place with a lot of traffic, and our neighborhood needs the credit union very badly."</p><p>Llorens explained that the part of Houston surrounding the parish and credit union's current location is among the city neighborhoods least served by mainstream financial institutions. This has left its population vulnerable to a mix of high-cost and high-fee financial firms such as check cashers and different sorts of alternative lenders.</p><p>"We like where we are now, but we are just too far off the beaten path and out of the mainstream of the area," Llorens said. "Getting out more into the public will be good for the area and for the credit union," she added.</p><p>Llorens acknowledged that the progress forward has been slow and said she has been working on applying to the CDFI Fund for a grant to help the CU make the transition to the new space, which Llorens said the CU had identified and arranged to rent.</p><p>Even though the credit union is only open 22 hours per week, Llorens explained that the work of the CU at this stage is more like a full-time job as she and other volunteers and part-time workers not only administer the credit union day to day but also seek to plan its growth and development as well.</p><p>"That's one thing, the CU is only open 22 hours, but I can be found there at almost any time," Llorens said.</p><p>According to NCUA records, Our Lady of Mercy has done well holding its own and growing. According to the NCUA, the credit union has a return on average assets that consistently outperforms its peers and outperforms its peers strongly in gaining new members.</p><p>The CU also offers Internet banking, loans for both new and used cars and several other loan products, she said.</p><p>On the downside, the CU's small size also makes it vulnerable to delinquency. Currently, for example, NCUA records show a spike in Our Mother of Mercy's delinquent loan ratio, moving from an average 1.25% since June of 2007 to 3.69% in June of this year. Llorens attributed the spike to two car loans that have gone unpaid, one for a car she has yet to track down and another for a car that the borrower has agreed to surrender.</p><p>"Its the economy and things are hard, people are struggling to keep their loans up to date and paid," she said. "But its times like these that makes a credit union even more important in people's lives."</p><p>--firstname.lastname@example.org</p>
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