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BEND, Ore. – William Anderson, president/CEO of Mid Oregon Federal Credit Union, realized three years ago his credit union had to do something to help members cope with a cut in local school budgets. Now in 2003 those reductions have grown draconian with Oregon’s school crisis receiving national coverage as scores of teachers-Mid Oregon members-are laid off, salaries are cut, and school years are reduced in many districts. “The core of our membership over the years has been public school employees and we knew we had to reach out to them in any way we could,” declared Anderson in describing an unusual “Mini Grant for Classroom Teachers” program in which amounts as small as $100 have been given to individual schools to help with projects. Those projects have ranged from the purchase of egg incubators for a biology class to publication of a book for Japanese-American students studying the history of interment camps. The grants are administered by a credit union Community Involvement Committee responsible for reviewing and evaluating the grant applications that have totaled $10,000 since 2000. So far this year, the committee has allotted $4,300 enabling the fulfillment of 43 mini grant requests in Bend, Redmond and Jefferson Counties. The community goodwill generated by the “mini-grants” as well as special meetings held by CU management with union leaders have been “tremendous for us,” said Anderson. The benefits have been an influx of new memberships in the CU, said Anderson. Apart from the grants, Mid Oregon has also sought to ease the financial burden of those hard-pressed members by offering two-month payment skips on loans as well as low rate short-term income replacement loans. Mid Oregon is hardly alone among Oregon CUs in helping out teachers during the crisis climaxed in January with defeat of Measure 28, a bill to fund the state’s school budgets. Earlier this month, the $200-million Marion and Polk Schools Credit Union of Salem said it has put together an unusual giveback program with Visa International allowing 1% of all member card purchases to be donated to Salem area school districts. The program, which Visa in San Francisco said may be the only one of its kind strictly favoring schools, has been in the works for months but was launched June 1 as a means to provide school revenue. So far “it hasn’t raised big sums but we think it will build up in the long run to help our districts,” forecast Addy Hesse, vice president of marketing. The 34,000-member Salem CU keeps track of all the purchases to ensure that each school district is allocated funds donated from those members in each market. There are some 50 school districts that will be receiving funds during the year, said Hesse. “Within a year we expect to collect about $15,000,” she said. The CU staff, she said, has been in contact with Visa to help with the programming and accounting and so far the computer processing burdens have been minimal. Quarterly payments will be made to each of the school districts “and in some rural areas, we know we could be writing a check for $5 but in larger areas it could be in the thousands,” said Hesse. Like other CUs seeing little profit in their portfolios, Marion and Polk, said Hesse, at one time considered selling the card base, but they “did a little brainstorming” and tried to figure out ways to do an improved job for our members with the cards. The Salem CU sought advice from Visa and developed the giveback program as a means to help the schools. Mid Oregon said it began last April holding special meetings with union reps and teachers in the Bend-La Pine District to discuss ways the CU can help employees handle the negative impact of the cutbacks. “They were most appreciative of our reaching out to them,” said Anderson “and now we get regularly invited to many of their meetings,” many held on school premises, something that did not happen previously. -

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