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PEMBROKE TWP, Ill. – A program proposed by Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich to rebuild some of the state’s poorest communities may bring credit union services to this small, central Illinois community an hour south of Chicago. Gov. Blagojevich calls the effort to help the distressed communities `Team Illinois’. He kicked off the effort with a three-day, 14-county bus tour of communities along the state’s eastern border south of Chicago in late July. Earlier spadework by the governor’s staff had come up with a wish list of services the community needs. The state will help the community with infrastructure improvements and with other economic development assistance to nurture growth. Team Illinois is also looking at targeting several other depressed areas of the state. “Pembroke at the beginning of the 21st century is a place where homes are still without running water,” said Blagojevich, adding that it also doesn’t have adequate roads, a modern sewer system or even a gas station. Among the other efforts on the community’s wish list are a job training center and a financial institution, which is where the credit union movement comes in. Vicki Ponzo, senior vice president for member services for the Illinois Credit Union League, said league staffers began meeting with state officials to figure out how to include a credit union in the Team Illinois effort. She said the league offered to tap the Illinois Credit Union Foundation and its small credit union support program. She said the foundation planned to offer the program about $15,000. To sweeten the deal, the state treasurer’s office offered to deposit money with Mid-States Corporate FCU and allow some of the interest to be used to support low-income credit unions. The league also put the governor’s office into contact with several credit union executives, including Paul Simons, president of Credit Union 1. Simons said the group then met with Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn. When the lieutenant governor said the Blagojevich administration would help expedite the granting of a community charter for Credit Union 1 that would allow the credit union to serve Pembroke, if he would commit to the project, Simons said, “we agreed to open an office.” Credit Union 1, Simons said, has submitted its community charter application to the Department of Financial Institutions. Credit Union 1 already has 22 offices across central Illinois and $325 million assets with 102,000 members. Then Pembroke community leaders offered to provide space in a school building that is being converted to commercial use. “Once the state provided the space, we were ready to go,” Simons said. Simons said other credit unions have expressed interest in assisting in Pembroke, and he thought the office could eventually be spun off as a stand-alone credit union. In the meantime, Credit Union 1 will provide expenses and staff to run the office. Simons said he expects to open the office here before the end of the year. “It fulfills our mission,” said Simons. “We’re feeling pretty good about it.” The state has targeted three other areas for future renewal efforts – Savanna in northwestern Illinois, Cairo along the Mississippi River and Aurora, near Chicago. [email protected]

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