Unable To Find A CU To Move In, Group Seeks To Start Its Own From Ground Up

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Unable to find any support to bring financial services to a low-income portion of this market, community leaders and residents here are moving ahead to create a community development credit union themselves.

The effort has received a shot in the arm thanks to a $92,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

"It's really unfortunate that if you are of very low income or poor, you have to become poorer just to live," said Jackie DeHaan, executive director of the project's fiduciary agency, Guardian, Inc.

DeHaan said she first became inspired by the notion of starting a CDCU after attending a conference during which a member of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions spoke about economic self-sufficiency.

"After that, I hooked up with two community members-one who heads the Democratic Party here and the other who is a faith-based leader-and started working on the concept."

DeHaan said other community leaders quickly offered their support and began forming committees to seek locations, financial backing and partnership possibilities.

"That would be an ideal situation for us to partner with a local credit union that could provide back-room services," DeHaan said, adding that while committee members have asked around, so far, none have expressed interest beyond indicating support of the concept.

"Even the banking industry has said there is a community need for this," she said.

DeHaan said having a CDCU would be a nice extension to Guardian, Inc, a private, non-profit agency that offers financial and advocacy services to the community's under- and unbanked.

"It's really an extension of our mission to reach out and promote independence and financial self-sufficiency," she said.

Representatives of NFCDCU have been extremely supportive in the efforts and plan to stay involved throughout the process. DeHaan said.

"They gave us six of our next steps," she said. Among them, determining their field of membership and finding board members.

"One of the reasons we asked for the grant was so we could afford the opportunity to send new board members to training," she said. "We hope to identify potential board members that really represent people who are going to use their credit union."

A representative from NFCDCU is expected to return to Battle Creek in February to help the committee develop a business plan.

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