Credit Unions Share Some Unique Endeavors

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Helping Addicts

GHS FCU is showing that one way to overcome addictive behavior is to regain your good credit. The Binghamton, N.Y., credit union has teamed with a local addiction treatment facility, Fairview Recovery Center. The participants in the program are recovery drug addicts or alcoholics who are trying to rebuild their lives, said Stephen Gardner, president of the $65-million credit union. "And regaining their credit is a big part of that," Gardner said.

Credit union counselors teach the patients about budgeting and consumer credit scores, keeping a checking and savings account. The patients meet with the CU's counselors once a week for 10 weeks. At the end, the credit union has helped the addicts recover their financial abilities, and may even get a few new accounts, said Gardner.

Out of Africa

Genesee Co-op FCU is helping East Africans realize their dreams, through its local membership. The $6-million community development has been assisting immigrant members from Somalia, Sudan and other countries in the Horn of Africa to bring family members to the United States. To do this, the credit union has hired a Somali immigrant who speaks five African languages to communicate with this member base, said Melissa Marquez, loan officer for the CU.

In one instance, the credit union lent a Kenyan immigrant with no credit history $3,000 to help her bring five of her eight children to the U.S. "She had no credit score," said Marquez, who was speaking on alternative credit histories. "But we know her well and she's well known in the community."

Urban Renewal

Six Syracuse area credit unions have joined a city-sponsored Urban Homestead Program to help rehabilitate inner city homes for sale to low-income residents. The six credit unions, several of which are providing volunteers to help renovate the dilapidated houses, have agreed to provide the permanent financing for the projects, Ron Ehrenreich, manager of Syracuse Cooperative FCU, one of the participating credit unions. "We're putting the community's assets to work," Ehrenreich said.

The credit union have agreed to make low downpayment mortgages, as low as $500, available for the inner city homes, which can be sold for as little as $25,000 in this depressed northern New York city. The group has completed its first rehab and is prepared to finish a second home, with 11 more projects in the works. Other participants: Empire FCU, Power FCU, ACMG FCU, ESM-NS FCU, and MONY FCU.

Good For Business

Kirk Kordeleski, president of Bethpage FCU, wanted to emphasize to PALS attendees there is a vital role for mainstream credit unions such as his in providing services to the underserved. The $2.4-billion BFCU offers a variety of such programs, including financial education, affordable mortgages, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, and International Remittances, or IRnet. Doing so is not only good community service, but good business, said Kordeleski, whose CU was recently authorized to serve almost all of Long Island, a wealthy enclave of more than two-million people with many pockets of lower-income areas. This has necessitated partnerships with organizations like the Urban League, the Long Island Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, local food kitchens, health organizations and educational groups, he said.

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