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PORTLAND, Ore. – In just one year of operation, Hacienda Community Credit Union has become more than just a place where people come to make deposits and obtain loans. “They come to us for the most incredible things,” admitted Yolanda Karp, president and chief executive officer. Like the time a mother brought her daughter, who had just been fired from her job, to the credit union so that Karp could comfort and console the young woman. “That’s the kind of relationship they build with us,” Karp said. Or the man who, thinking that the credit union was somehow connected to Washington Mutual Bank, came in desperately seeking help because he had lost his wallet with his bank debit card, driver’s license and other papers. “What was I going to do, say, `No, I’m not going to help you,’” Karp said. Then there was the member who brought in two credit card applications he had received, trying to decide whether to apply for one or both. (The credit union doesn’t yet offer credit or debit cards). “I asked if he really needed one,” Karp recalled. “I showed him the things he needed to be concerned about. That’s what we do. We help people.” It is just that kind of helpful and caring attitude that has helped the credit union become a much needed and valuable resource in the Latino community it serves. “The greatest success has been the staff and how they have established relationships with the members,” Karp said. “The staff makes the members feel as if they’re all important.” Some members who have accounts at banks “don’t feel that relationship,” Karp said. “They don’t feel it at all.” One member who felt that way came to the credit union with $5,000 stuffed in an envelope that he had withdrawn from his account at a local bank. He had declined the bank’s offer to give him a cashier’s check for a fee of $27. “They (community members) are starting to move some of their funds here,” Karp said, noting that her advice to them is, “If you have your piggy bank elsewhere, bring it over here.” Established in October 2002 to serve the large Hispanic population in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties in the Portland area, Hacienda Community CU became Oregon’s first state-chartered credit union in 22 years. Karp, who admitted she wasn’t sure how well the credit union would be received in the community, said Hacienda is now trying to cope with its success. It initially began with $750,000 provided as no-interest deposits from nearly two dozen credit unions throughout the state. Portland Teachers Credit Union also provided other resources, including training, computers and office furnishings. The credit union is located in a small office in the Baltazar Ortiz Center formerly occupied by the Hacienda Community Development Corporation. With help from other credit unions and member deposits totaling some $200,000, Hacienda Community today has assets of $1.8 million and has attracted 1,000 members. “We are booming,” Karp said. Loan demand has reached $1.2 million with 40 to 50 new loan applications coming in for review each week, she reported. “Demand is larger than what we can do,” she said. “We’re losing the battle with loans. There are way too many people who want to get a loan with us.” One reason is the low rate the credit union offers, compared to rates as high as nearly 40 percent that some lenders charged as they preyed on people with little or no credit history and little financial education, Karp said. When it first opened, the credit union attempted to educate members and potential members about financial matters. It still does that today, but mostly on a one-to-one basis because of time and staff constraints (besides Karp, the credit union has 2.5 full-time employees). “When they apply for a loan, we talk to the member about credit issues,” Karp said. Hacienda Community was patterned after the Latino Credit Union in North Carolina, which was chartered in 2000. Although limited in the services that it can initially offer-generally basic savings accounts, certificates of deposit, club accounts and personal and auto loans – Karp said the credit union plans to expand its services next year. Among the planned offerings will be checking accounts, debit cards, online banking and ATMs. Hacienda embarked on a radio and television advertising campaign using Spanish-language stations when it first opened. It has also been featured in the Oregonian, the state’s largest daily newspaper. Much of the credit union’s success is now due to word-of-mouth among those in the Latino community. Karp, who came to the credit union after a stint as a bank mortgage loan officer and before that as a bank teller, said she has been gratified by the community support. “I’m overwhelmed,” she said. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am. I have received so much goodness, it’s incredible. There’s been so much interest from the local community.” She also praised the credit union industry for making Hacienda a reality and for its ongoing support. “Credit unions have just been wonderful,” she said. She recalled her experiences of attending chapter meetings prior to the opening of the credit union and of getting to know other credit union leaders. “I was so elated. This is an incredible group,” she said. “Everyone is so vibrant and so nice. It’s so different from the banks, which are so starchy.” -

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