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CHICAGO – The Woodstock Institute wants a few good credit unions. The Institute, an organization that has criticized mainstream credit unions in the past, wants four mainstream credit unions to work with four community development organizations that have indicated a desire for credit union services. The Institute will use grants made by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Ford Foundation to help facilitate the partnerships, including helping the credit unions work through field of membership issues and other details, according to Marva Williams, senior vice president with Woodstock. Some of the grant money will also go to producing a report at the end of the projects that Williams hopes other community organizations and mainstream credit unions can use to facilitate similar efforts in the future. The four community development groups are in California, Connecticut, Oklahoma and Washington and have a proven track record of helping lower income people improve their financial lives. Each has indicated that it seeks a partnership with a local credit union to provide its members with different credit union services. The California organization is the Fresno West Coalition for Economic Empowerment, headquartered in West Fresno California. According to its Web site, the group is the only community development organization located in the West Fresno Empowerment Zone. It hopes to partner with a mainstream credit union in the opening of a branch in the area that could provide needed check-cashing and credit needs in its community. In Connecticut, the Hartford Individual Development Account Collaborative is headquartered in Hartford and seeks to partner with an area credit union to offer more credit union services among the residents of its surrounding low-income areas. Fourteen community based organizations involved in individual development account programs throughout Hartford make up the Collaborative, according to the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, a group which has made grants to the Collaborative to support its work. The Collaborative also receives funding from local, state and federal government, United Way of the Capital Area, and other foundations, as well as in-kind contributions, the Foundation said. The Community Action Project of Tulsa County is the Oklahoma organization. Headquartered in Tulsa, CAP claimed on its Web site to have helped 20,000 lower income Tulsa area residents gain some degree of control over their financial lives in 2003. It seeks a mainstream credit union to help it counter predatory lending and establish financial education and savings programs. In Spokane, Washington, the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program already offers some credit union services through relationships with the $469 million Numerica Credit Union, headquartered in Spokane, and the $1 billion Washington State Employees Credit Union, headquartered in Olympia, but Williams said SNAP wants to expand those services to being a full branch. No one from SNAP was available to comment on what other credit union services it needed, but Williams understood the credit union services SNAP already has to be more of the “pilot project” sort. But Kevin Foster-Keddie, CEO of WSECU, said the credit union didn’t know of any dissatisfaction on the part of SNAP with the services it had nor any desire to expand them. “It sounds a bit like a communication error to me,” Foster-Keddie said, “because we have supported them with a variety of needed services and we would be glad to help them further,” he added. Gene Fitzpatrick, vice president of lending for Numerica, confirmed that there had been some confusion in the program. “SNAP had applied for the help from the Woodstock Institute some time ago and only very recently learned they had been chosen,” Fitzpatrick explained. “In the intervening time they had started working on expanding their services with us.” Fitzpatrick said SNAP would have a conference with Woodstock about having Numerica be the mainstream credit union partner and looked forward to the help that he said would be welcome. “It’s a challenge to meld the world of banking, which is structured and regulated, with the work of SNAP which is more individualized and by definition involves people who don’t fit in the box,” Fitzpatrick added. Williams stressed that the Woodstock Institute has only begun to search for credit unions and would be open to hearing suggestions from the credit union community about what sorts of things it could do to help make the process more efficient and productive. The Institute views this as the start of an ongoing commitment to help more people in lower income communities gain access to the credit union services they need, she added. -

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