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URBANA, Ill. – When Canaan Missionary Baptist Church opens its new credit union next month, Rev. B.J. Tatum is hoping some parishioners and residents will reconsider how they save money and where they turn to for loans. The 24-year old church has done its best over the years to move towards self-sustenance and Canaan Credit Union is the next step in that direction. More than three years in the making, it is the first credit union to receive a state charter in at least a decade, according to the Illinois Credit Union League and is slated to celebrate its grand opening on Oct. 14. Two full-time employees will work at the branch and members will initially have access to share accounts, vehicle and personal loans. While the credit union will be a welcomed and viable asset to the community, Tatum said he hopes the bigger picture aims to change how people manage money. “If you read the Gospels, you’ll find that Jesus talked more about money than salvation,” he explained. “Money is not evil in itself, but it can be if you let it become your sole focus. We want to teach financial literacy.” Members at six other churches in the area – Mount Olive Baptist, Salem Baptist, Pilgrim Missionary Baptist, Macedonia Baptist, Morning Star Free Will Baptist and Greater New Light Baptist – are also eligible to join the new credit union. Canaan joins the 500 faith-based credit unions across the country that manages about $2 billion in assets, according to the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions. Canaan has 3,000 on its rolls and hopes to have 2,500 new credit union members by the end of the year. The credit union is just another extension of the church’s outreach. Six years ago, Tatum opened the Canaan Academy, a private school with grades pre-kindergarten through seventh. Students are taught in a unique and innovative classroom structure: both a male and female teacher instruct students in each of the school’s 15 classes so that they can get a “holistic balance of both nurturing and discipline.” For years, the church has helped ex-prison inmates transition back into society through its substance abuse free environment (SAFE) houses. Once released from prison, the inmates are invited to stay at one of the SAFE houses for 12 months where they learn life-coping skills. Church volunteers help visitors find jobs during the last two months of their stay. Once employed, the former inmates have the choice of moving into one of the 15 apartment units owned by the church where they will stay for another two years. During this time, the newly-transitioned are taught money management skills, volunteers help them find a new place to stay and contact employers once a month to monitor their progress. The program is working so effectively that there is an 86% success rate. It is this type of outreach that impressed Mary DeBolt, executive vice president of the University of Illinois Employees Credit Union in Champaign. She has been a mentor to the church for more than two years, helping to write the business plan, establish a charter and board of directors and complete the file of paperwork to get the credit union up and running. “His ministry serves the community well beyond Sunday,” DeBolt said. “It’s not been an easy undertaking by any means and there may be some rough spots (for the credit union) but his church is committed to making this work, and that will undoubtedly get them through any rough spots.” The sister cities of Urbana and Champaign located 130 miles south of Chicago are a hodgepodge of groups, Tatum said. Enveloped in a college surrounding with more than 40,000 students attending the University of Illinois, the cities also have a large farming community and “lots of millionaires,” Tatum said. Of the 250,000 here, roughly 12% of residents are African-American. Despite the diversity, Tatum said many people from all walks of life turn to what he calls the “predatory problems with lending” – particularly the high interest rates that are charged by subprime lenders to those who have no other alternative. It’s this group that the credit union is hoping to woo, he explained. Through the credit union, he also “envisions (the) children at the school taking courses in financial planning, mutual funds and learning about the stock market. We’re talking about changing the mindset of a generation by showing them how to save and how to stay out of debt.” It’s Tatum’s dynamism that has shaped the foundation for a potentially strong and active membership base, said Roger Brainerd, regional director of the Illinois Credit Union League’s office in Alton. “You need great leadership to make this work,” Brainerd said. “There are a lot of challenges facing new credit unions such as overlapping fields of memberships and not being able to offer checking until it has $1 million in assets. From the beginning and throughout, Rev. Tatum’s commitment has unwavered and that will be important as the credit union gets going.” Members of the church, along with other established credit unions have agreed to provide the required capital needed to open for business, Tatum said. The credit union is in the process of having software and hardware installed and filing final documents with the regulator. “This will be a life-changing paradigm for most people but we have a wonderful congregation that’s ready for a change,” Tatum said. “Because a credit union is member-owned, it lends itself to changing attitudes about money in a friendly environment.” -

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