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OCEANSIDE, Calif. – Low-income residents here are likely to be looking heavenward and shouting hallelujah now that Faith Based Federal Credit Union has opened for business. No longer will those residents have to rely on pawnshops, payday loan operators, storefront check cashers and local liquor stores and supermarkets as their primary source to meet their financial needs, said Daniel Scott, president and chief executive officer of the credit union which opened Aug. 14. “For low-income folks, they need to know they have an option,” said Scott, a former banker. “It’s all about knowledge and education.” Despite its name, Faith Based FCU is open to anyone regardless of religious affiliation. Its field of membership includes anyone who lives, works, worships, goes to school or does volunteer work in two specific Zip codes in Oceanside (both designated by the federal government as low-income areas). Membership is also open to anyone who joins the advisory committee of Faith Based Community Development Corp., which organized the credit union. Oceanside, a community of more than 170,000 people, is located about 35 miles north of San Diego and 83 miles south of Los Angeles. “The whole notion in the name Faith Based is not speaking to your faith, it’s speaking to our faith, the faith that we have that calls us to do the work that we do,” Scott said. “I am a Christian and firmly believe that God has called me to do this work.” Sounding at times more like a preacher than the president/CEO of a credit union, Scott describes the credit union as “our little ministry” and an “answer to prayer.” He speaks of how the credit union can help members go through a “personal transformation” in their financial lives. “Part of my faith teaches me that faith without works is dead,” he explained. “To the extent that I use my faith as a verb and I put it into action and I make it tangible, what we do makes a profound difference in the lives of people that we help. “We do that as a result of my faith calling me to do it,” Scott added. “My prayer is that when people come and we’re able to be a blessing to them that they will see the light of the holy spirit and they will see what motivates us, what drives us. And maybe they can catch the same ray of hope in their life and take personal responsibility for helping to empower themselves to live an improved quality of life.” Improving the quality of life for low-income residents is a key goal for the credit union. Its main emphasis will be teaching financial literacy, from opening and balancing a checking account to establishing credit and buying a home. Scott describes the educational outreach effort as an effort to let people “plan for their financial future as opposed to just allowing the future to unfold without having a plan.” The educational goals are an outgrowth of the programs that the Faith Based Community Development Corporation has been teaching for the past four years. The non-profit group, which spent two years getting the credit union launched, works on economic empowerment and affordable housing development and ownership. Scott, the executive director of FBCDC, said he realized that most of the people enrolled in that organization’s home buying classes “had some major financial issues that needed to be resolved.” “What was missing was a piece to help them prepare for home ownership,” he said. “So we started a financial literacy training program.” That program, funded by a seed grant from the city of Oceanside, is being taught by FBCDC but Scott said he expects it will be offered to credit union members as well. “In terms of long-term sustainability, my thought was that a credit union would become a viable tangible example of an economic development tool that would really help folks that had been locked out or disenfranchised from mainstream access to affordable financial services,” he said. “It would be a major component of what I like to call a comprehensive process that basically takes people where they are and empowers them to make fundamental changes. It provides them an opportunity to go through personal transformation, to change the root causes of them being low income to begin with.” Faith Based FCU started with $1.2 million in grants and non-member deposits. It currently has about 70 members. It only provides savings accounts and loans but hopes to gradually phase in more services as the credit union grows, Scott said. He also hopes to increase the hours that the credit union is open, currently 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. Those hours were preferred by members, he said. “We’re going through growing pains,” Scott admitted. “We’re taking baby steps.” One of those baby steps came Nov. 6 when the credit union gave out its first loan. It went to a young woman with three children who lives in low-income subsidized housing. She had approached Scott after a presentation he made to another non-profit group, explaining that her car had broken down and that she was in a difficult financial situation. “The timing was perfect,” Scott said, explaining that the credit union was gearing up its computer system to handle loan processing. “And she really exemplified the people we are trying to help. “Were it not for our stepping in and being there for her, her situation would have continued in a downward spiral,” he said. “Ultimately, she could have ended up losing her residence, her kids. We think it became a win-win for everyone.” Scott previously was a vice president of Southwest Bank, a small community bank with 18 branches. It was subsequently acquired by Security Pacific. He retired from the banking industry about 10 years ago. “Being a retired banker, it was really an interesting paradigm for me to become aware of the whole credit union notion of `people helping people’ and of credit unions pooling their resources to help one another,” he said (Paradise Valley FCU in National City is currently mentoring Faith Based; early on, support came from Point Loma CU in San Diego). “It really gave me an opportunity to go full circle, leaving banking . . . which is motivated by making profits and then ending up at a low-income credit union that is motivated by providing services at the lowest possible cost. It’s been a very exciting transformation,” he said. Looking ahead five years, Scott said he would like to see Faith Based FCU providing construction loans to developers who are building affordable homes for working people. “I see it (the credit union) providing mortgage loans for people to buy homes built by those developers. And I see members of our credit union increasing their economic capacity over time and being credit worthy to purchase those homes,” he said. In the meantime, he admitted that the credit union has a big job ahead. “We can’t save the world,” Scott said. “But if people are tired of being where they are and are willing to accept personal responsibility to be engaged in a process that offers them a brighter future, then that’s our role.” -

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