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LOS ANGELES – Water and Power Community Credit Union will open, probably sometime in May, a mini-branch in the office of El Rescate, a service organization for Central American immigrants. The move is aimed at bringing more financial services to unbanked residents of the city’s Pico-Union area, sometimes described as the Ellis Island of California. Many residents, generally recent immigrants from Central American countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras and from Mexico, are nervous about walking into a financial institution. It may be a lack of trust. It may also reflect concern about missing documents required to open an account. El Rescate (The Rescue) actually established a credit union in 1997. But Communidades Federal Credit Union still doesn’t offer the range of services its backers would like. So WPCCU and Communidades began discussing possible ways to meet additional needs and expand the product menu. “El Rescate has a very good reputation in the Los Angeles community,” says Carlos Rodriguez, WPCCU coordinator of development and communication. “We felt very comfortable discussing the possibilities of us working together and opening up a mini-branch. It would be similar to the model Latino Credit Union in North Carolina has. “The biggest challenge is the fact this wasn’t on our radar, to be perfectly honest. It made sense, but it wasn’t part of our branch opening process. We want to be able to meet the needs without compromising our own goals.” Both credit unions will continue to exist. In fact, someone may become a member of both Communidades and WPCCU. Rodriguez says the WPCCU physical footprint at El Rescate will be minimal at first. A part-time employee will serve members evenings and Saturday, approximately 15 or 20 hours a week. The mini-branch will be linked to the WPCCU computer system so the employee can open accounts and handle various transactions. WPCCU has agreed with El Rescate to provide financial education services. “El Rescate has a long history of what is called popular education, which is basically a way of involving the `students,’ if you will, in their own learning process,” Rodriguez says. “They’re absolutely great at that. We saw it as an opportunity to roll out a financial education program using their expertise as educators and our expertise in the financial services industry.” In fact, education will form a key component of the entire collaboration, Rodriguez notes. “The simple act of opening a savings account may not be so simple if someone doesn’t have the necessary identification. So we will need to direct them to the appropriate place, or assist them in filling out an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) form that will allow them to open an account,” he says. If this project succeeds, could WPCCU or perhaps both credit unions open a larger branch in their own building? “Absolutely, if we see this is successful,” Rodriguez states. “It’s certainly something we’d consider.” -

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