GREENSBORO, N.C. – Striving to give credit unions a higher pubic profile in social causes, the Carolinas Credit Union Foundation has announced an innovative new method for awarding grants that focuses on local agencies and league chapters. "Too often our message gets watered down or buried by large corporations which get the national press and so the public never really realizes all that we do at the local level," declared Maurice Smith, a Foundation director from Raleigh and a prime mover in the Foundation's unveiling of new "Micro-Community Grants." The Carolinas Credit Union Foundation is moving away from high-recognition charitable ventures like Victory Junction Gang Camp, Ronald McDonald House or even Children's Miracle Network and moving to an extended series of smaller $10,000 grants to deserving local agencies. In all, the foundation, which is funded by the North and South Carolina Credit Union Leagues, expects to give out 50 of the "micro community grants" with the first one already handed out to Providence Home, a teen shelter, in a Nov. 30 ceremony in Southport, N.C. The shelter was awarded a $10,000 grant toward re-opening and repair of damage caused by Hurricane Ophelia in September. "We had reporters from two local papers covering the event," said Smith. Because of the publicity, the shelter, Providence Home, gains new legitimacy and CUs can share in watching future growth, said Smith, who is also president/CEO of the $600 million Local Government FCU, Raleigh. A key element of "micro community grants" is the participation of 13 league chapters-eight in North Carolina and five in South Carolina-to identify eligible local agencies, and work with them to help prepare funding applications going before the foundation. The close cooperation between CUs and agencies is in itself a testament to the CU mission of `people helping people,' said Smith. Smith also noted that the new grant program for the foundation coincides with the ending in January of three years of funding for actor Paul Newman's Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randelman, N.C., which is jointly sponsored by NASCAR luminaries Kyle and Patty Petty. That $1.3 million raised by the foundation and CUs to help build and support the camp for chronically ill youngsters has long been viewed as a highly successful charity project earning high praise and favorable publicity for CUs across the South. Still, Smith and officials in both leagues pointed out that the CU donations which poured in from countless fund raisers over the years from car washes to 10K runs and giveaways, were overshadowed by contributions of large corporations, like Georgia Pacific or firms related to NASCAR. Thus, the foundation's board felt the need to bring the grant giving down to a lower, more local level where exposure to the CU social mission can be enhanced, said officials. The linkup with Victory Junction is slated to end some time in January "though I expect we will be doing something special that month," said a spokesman for the North Carolina League. "Victory Junction has been the foundation's social responsibility project for the past three years," said a Carolinas Credit Union Foundation statement noting the organization is now prepared to move on to community grants. CUNA officials in Washington praised the Carolinas project as forward looking and in line with steps the National Credit Union Foundation has taken in recent months – apart from hurricane relief -to reach out to needy groups with grant money. As one of the largest state foundations, the Carolinas "is also one of the more sophisticated, with a full-time staff," noted Steve Delfin, executive director of NCUF. He said that each state foundation retains its own structure and tracks its own course in serving those in need. -

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