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WICHITA, Kan. – Unlike most banks serving Wichita Kansas, the $2.1 million Communities United Credit Union does not stop listening or close the door if a member with a disability needs a loan. If anything, the credit union’s staff sits up straighter and listens more closely because, even though it has no specific disability-related SEG, the community development financial institution has had a special regard for people with disabilities and for helping them meet their financial needs. “It kind of hit me about four years ago,” explained Angie Franklin, CEO of Communities United, “we are charged with serving the underserved and among the underserved in our communities are many men and women who live with disabilities. It’s our job to do what we can to help them.” Franklin explained that her realization grew when one of the credit union members brought in a friend of hers who lived with cerebral palsy who needed a $1,000 loan. All of his scores came back strong and the family had additional income from his wife, Angie said, so there was no reason not to lend him the money. But he had been turned away from bank after bank, she said, “and that’s when I started looking at how many people were in similar circumstances in our service area.” What Franklin found was that there were a number of disabled men and women who lived in the seven zip code Wichita area that Communities United served and that they were all among the lower income and underserved population. They included people who are visually disabled who needed help purchasing devices that could improve their reading and mobility. They included a woman who needed help with a loan that she could use to buy a device which could help her speak more clearly despite a vocal cord disability. They included more people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities. The credit union began reaching out to local organizations that worked with the disabled and, in doing so, the credit union found out that many of these people had the same long term financial needs of its other members. Franklin said the credit union began to offer them individual development accounts, giving them the same access to the educational, home buying and entrepreneurial goals that the IDAs were created to help participants attain. And Communities began to focus on not just helping their disabled members, but also in helping empower them so that they began to think differently about themselves. That is how the credit union struck upon the idea of an annual award that the credit union would make to its disabled members who had made the most progress toward their financial goals. “What we really wanted to do was to let disabled people in our community see that other people with disabilities were able to meet their financial goals and to help them feel encouraged and empowered to try to do this themselves,” Franklin said. “So the awards both seek to recognize achievement and set examples.” On Nov. 12, 200 people, 100 of whom were people with disabilities who had been invited to the event, gathered in a hall for the 1st Annual REACH Awards banquet. Franklin said that inviting the people with disabilities, many of whom were not CU members, was a way of spreading the word about the possibilities for financial empowerment that the CU offered. The four, Cheryl Billingsley, James Boyce, Tiffany Nickel, and Leroy Rolfe, had overcome their disabilities enough to save money to go back to school, purchase their own home and start small businesses. “The exceptional accomplishment of the awardees who, despite facing amazing adversity, have managed to overcome the challenges to prevail. They are an inspiration and a reminder to everyone that our dreams are always within reach,” said Cliff Rosenthal, executive director of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (the Federation). “This is an opportunity to honor people who have focused on their abilities, not their disabilities, to achieve greatness,” explained Communities United CU CEO Angie Franklin. [email protected]

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