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LOS ANGELES – When it was brought to Helen Godfrey’s attention that a small Mississippi credit union’s loan portfolio was near collapse and liquidation loomed, the vice chairwoman of the African American Credit Union Coalition stepped up to provide strategic planning to help keep the financial afloat. Over a year’s period, she made several trips to the credit union and helped management increase membership from 915 to 1,731, originate more than $1 million in loans in 2001 and decrease its delinquent loan ratio from 18.25% to .70%. “The smaller ones are falling through the cracks mainly because they sometimes don’t know where to turn for help,” Godfrey said. “I think their biggest threat is the larger credit unions because they feel they’re going to be gobbled up. We tell them up front we are not here to help get them back on track only to have them merged.” It’s this type of grassroots connection that is a cornerstone of the AACUC’s mission. Without filler and just as concise, its agenda continues to be increasing the “global credit union movement’s strength by adding the focused perspective and energy of credit union volunteers and professionals of African American descent.” The two outlets to increase those numbers come via its mentoring and internship programs. Members pay a $50 membership fee to help carry out most of AACUC’s efforts. The AACUC started informally in 1998 but got down to serious business the following year enacting a mission statement and bylaws and electing a nine-member board. The coalition has since grown to 200 members and has a solid mentorship program that to date, has helped a number of credit unions become financially safe and sound. In addition, AACUC’s internship program connects with historically Black colleges and universities to place students in paid, summer internships. No one disputes that the number of African-American CEOs make up a small percentage in the industry but energy is not wasted on making the coalition a separate fragment on the credit union movement, said Hubert Hoosman, AACUC’s chairperson. “We haven’t put forth any effort to quantify the number of African-American CEOs because it’s not our focus,” Hoosman said. “We do recognize that the numbers aren’t a huge percentage of the industry.” Instead, the coalition seeks to focus its efforts on recruitment with a clearly-defined purpose. Its annual conferences have come into their own starting with 19 attendees at its first meeting in St. Louis to its latest gathering in Los Angeles with more than 100 participants. The roster of speakers – Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Pete Crear CUNA & Affiliates executive vice president/COO and NAFCU President Fred Becker and – speaks volumes to AACUC’s recognition. Even before the group formed three years ago, many of its board members were involved in efforts to breath new life into credit union movements globally. Under the guidance of Richard Turnley, president/CEO of Southern Teachers & Parents Credit Union in Baton Rouge, who’s become an informal ambassador to South Africa, credit unions have provided management training to African “interns.” “The movement there was literally bankrupt and ready to be dissolved,” Godfrey said. “We took it upon ourselves to raise enough money to staff the league and keep it operating.” Godfrey said the goal is for all 28 of South Africa’s credit unions, which serve 12,000 members, to have an American mentor. Last year, AACUC worked with the World Council of Credit Unions to secure $2 million to provide assistance to credit unions in South Africa and Mexico. The coalition is also working towards a trans-continental program that will send an American credit union official to South Africa for a two-year period to assist managers there with marketing, product development and accounting management. “In essence, it’ll be a CEO management boot camp,” Godfrey said. Hoosman said AACUC is also looking to work with credit unions in Trinidad and Tobago. “We’ve come a long way in such a short period of time,” Hoosman said. “We keep our mission in clear focus through empowerment, development and awareness of the credit union movement.” -

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