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While the American economy is strong as a whole, there still remains a segment of our population that may never achieve the American dream of financial self-sufficiency, because they lack the awareness of and access to the necessary services offered by mainstream financial institutions. The credit union system was established upon and is dedicated to the “people helping people” philosophy, which has made a positive and life changing impact for millions of Americans throughout the decades. Based upon credit unions’ proven track record of success in helping our fellow citizens improve their overall financial health, I believe the ingredients are there for the credit union community to dedicate even more of its energy and talents to meeting the needs of the financially underserved and poor. A central element of this effort involves establishing and developing innovative partnerships between credit unions and results-oriented, outreach organizations. One such organization that has impressed me with its innovation and drive is Operation HOPE, Inc. Operation HOPE is a nonprofit, public benefit organization providing empowerment tools and services for financially underserved and poor communities. This occurs through partnerships and strategic alliances with leading government, private sector, and community groups, including credit unions. Founded in 1992 by community activist John Hope Bryant, Operation HOPE has emerged as one of the leading empowerment organizations in America. Bryant understands the challenges of poverty first hand. Having been raised in Compton and South Central Los Angeles, Calif., Bryant was homeless at times during his childhood. Today, Bryant is a businessman and social entrepreneur who has raised more than $400 million from the private sector and translated those funds into real and tangible anti-poverty action in poor communities across the nation. If an organization reflects the character of its leadership, then Operation HOPE will certainly have a profound and lasting impact on the underserved and poor throughout America and even the world. His efforts have been recognized by both President George W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton. Earlier this month, while in California, I had the opportunity to visit Operation HOPE headquarters and toured two HOPE Centers, where I witnessed firsthand “Hope” spreading to those who otherwise would never realize the American dream due to lack of education and opportunity. An Operation HOPE Center is a working “one stop” location which provides vital financial education and resources, including: adult financial literacy workshops; money management courses; budgeting and credit counseling; mortgage and business lending counseling; investment and retirement planning; home buyer down payment assistance matching grants; small business technical assistance; and post funding counseling. There are currently nine Hope Centers located in the Los Angeles, Oakland, and Washington, D.C. areas. Everyday these HOPE Centers are bringing hope, while empowering renters to become homeowners and would-be entrepreneurs to become viable business owners. During my visits to the Hope Centers, I was especially impressed to see how much they are being used by the local communities. In fact, I noticed that the sign-up sheets for financial education classes were so full that people were squeezing their names into the margins. Operation HOPE and NCUA recently renewed a Memorandum of Understanding, originally executed July 21, 2004, establishing a partnership to develop and administer financial literacy programs to educate youth and adults in underserved communities. The agreement promotes Operation HOPE’s Banking on Our Future financial literacy program; the HOPE Centers; and other economic education services. The partnership also promotes NCUA’s financial literacy initiatives, including Access Across America, which highlights the resources and technical assistance available to credit unions in order to provide financial services, affordable housing, and economic development opportunities to their members. During my visits to HOPE Centers and interaction with HOPE leadership, I have been genuinely impressed not only with the passion of this organization, but also with the actual results produced. In my view, Operation HOPE lives up to its name because of its visionary, driven leadership and volunteers. I encourage America’s credit unions to explore opportunities to partner with Operation HOPE. For more information, please visit their Web site at: http://www.operationhope.org. The member empowerment promise of America’s credit unions can be augmented by working with groups such as Operation HOPE. This is a partnership that will bring more than hope; by combining the skills and know-how of credit unions with the passion and action of Operation HOPE, it will produce real results.

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