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WASHINGTON – The National Credit Union Foundation’s very first breakout session at CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference drew a stranding room only crowd as credit union executives and directors crowded in to hear four executives describe how their CUs had used grants from the Foundation to help them make real change in the lives of their underserved communities. Ed Jacob, CEO of the $9 million North Side FCU, headquartered in Chicago, described how the credit union had been able to reach out specifically to employers in the surrounding areas which had concentrations of lower income workers. The outreach had enabled the CU to establish cooperative arrangements with 42 employers representing 7,000 lower income employees, which helped the employees, employers, and the CU. Jacob also discussed both the need for the payday alternative loan program that his credit union started as well as his frustration at both being able to make money with the low denomination loans as well as the desire to help move members away from them. The credit union has a good deal of success in using the payday alternative loans as a gateway product to help introduce members to other loans and savings products, Jacob said, but not as much success in helping members move away from using the loans. “I didn’t get into this to become the low-cost payday lender,” Jacob said. JoAnne Fillwock, CEO of Financial Health Credit Union, headquartered in East Lansing, Michigan, walked the attendees through how her credit union had first refined and targeted its social mission and then found a population of underserved people among the disabled. Fillwock carefully explained the steps her credit union had taken to arrive at its commitment to seek out and work with a low-income community, starting with the realization that they didn’t want to be a low-income credit union but rather a “mainstream credit union with a social mission.” Fillwock said that one of her first questions was why the CU necessarily needed to define its social mission and how she came to realize that what is left undefined is, in turn, left unmonitored, and what is left unmonitored is often forgotten. Defining the credit union’s social mission is an important first step to actually start working with underserved or low-income people, she said. Otherwise there is too much of a risk that the CU may never get around to doing what it has talked about doing for some time. She also advised credit unions to expect evolutionary, rather that revolutionary progress, in developing a social mission statement. “This is one of those things it makes more sense to address slowly,” she said. Rich Jones, vice president with the $700 million U of C FCU, headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, explained his credit union partnership with a local NeighborWorks organization to increase the stock of affordable housing available in Boulder County. Jones described how the housing effort had struck upon the notion of an affordable housing trust as a way of keeping housing affordable. That is a contrast to the efforts of groups like Habitat for Humanity, which might help one low-income household afford a home but only to see that home revert to market pricing with the next owner. “The trust is a way to build the stock of affordable housing and not just churn the housing market,” Jones told the attendees. -

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