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Santa Cruz CCU Promotes Economic Justice

Outreach and education position the CU as a community partner and advocate.

February 11, 2013
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Hispanic outreach has been an important part of Santa Cruz Community Credit Union’s mission since it was founded in 1977. Today, 35% of the credit union’s 11,500 members identify themselves as Hispanic.

Certified as both a community development and low-income credit union, Santa Cruz Community’s founders believed in empowering those who have been marginalized by the status quo, including those in the Hispanic community.

From its inception, the credit union’s leaders have strived to promote positive social and economic change in the communities they serve.

“Promoting economic justice is about ensuring our members have access to financial services, financial education, and, most importantly, capital,” says Beth Carr, CEO. “While not all of our Hispanic members are low-income, a good portion of them live and work in low-income areas.

“It is our mission to make sure these members have full access to economic opportunities and resources to make effective financial decisions,” she continues. “It is our goal that members realize their dreams for income, housing, education, and business ownership.”

Santa Cruz Community’s Hispanic outreach is composed of several facets, including financial education and counseling, partnerships with local Hispanic nonprofit organizations, tailored lending programs, low-cost financial products, and bilingual staff and marketing materials.

Financial education and counseling

Santa Cruz Community offers financial education workshops to both members and nonmembers in the community. These programs are geared toward helping people understand the basics of budgeting and saving, the benefits of banking, how to manage debt, and how to read and understand credit reports.

For example, the credit union has conducted financial education workshops through partnerships with the Watsonville Law Center, La Manzana Community Resource Center, and El Pajaro Community Development Center.

Because these workshops are tailored specifically for Hispanic attendees, they are conducted in Spanish and cover topics such as the benefits of banking and having bank accounts, how to develop a saving and spending plan, understanding debt, and consumer rights and responsibilities.

During each of the past three years, an average of 85 new clients signed up for these programs, Carr says. “The credit union has a large segment of members who are check cashers. These members do use their savings accounts and apply for loans. Therefore, building educational programs that include financial stability for our members is critical.”

“These financial education programs have been well-received by the Hispanic community,” she continues. “Our outreach efforts have built relationships with people who are often distrustful of financial institutions. Outreach and education have combined to position the credit union as a community partner and advocate.”

In 2011, Santa Cruz Community workshops reached more than 1,600 people, and by the end of the third quarter of 2012, their programs had helped an additional 1,515 people. Carr estimates that 40% to 50% of their workshop participants are Hispanic.

Community partnerships

Over the years, the credit union has participated in a number of joint outreach efforts with nonprofit organizations serving the Hispanic community. Much of its community development work is implemented through Santa Cruz Community Ventures, the credit union’s 501(c)(3) affiliate.

“Working closely with local organizations with deep connections to our Hispanic community is key,” says Carr. “These partnerships provide a conduit for our credit union to do financial education; teach the value of saving, borrowing and credit building; and help underserved Hispanic members open accounts in a safe environment.

“The most wonderful thing about having these partnerships,” she continues, “is that we have many successful Hispanic business owners and partnerships led by well-off and highly-educated Hispanic community members. Not only are they well connected to the needs of the community, they also help us develop effective inroads to reaching people.”

Through Santa Cruz Community Ventures, the credit union has a strong leadership role in “ChildCare Ventures,” a program done in collaboration with the Central Coast Small Business Development Center, El Pajaro Community Development Corp., the Human Resources Agency of Santa Cruz, and the Santa Cruz County Office of Education Child Development Resource Center.

This program is designed to ensure local communities have access to the necessary childcare services working families so desperately need. And, Carr says, the credit union also manages a childcare loan program that supports local childcare businesses.

“We believe childcare programs must have access to business management training and funding to keep pace with rapidly increasing childcare needs,” Carr says. “The ChildCare Venture program includes assistance in facilities development, land use, and real estate, as well as appropriate loan products.”

Santa Cruz Community recently hosted a Mexican Consulate’s Matricula Consular ID event. During the event, credit union staff signed up Mexican residents for proper identification and provided financial education and counseling.

The event was a big success: 600 people attended the event to get identification cards, and in the weeks following the event, account openings in the credit union’s Watsonville branch increased nearly 5%.

Low-cost services

For people with no credit or poor credit, low income, or a lack of understanding about the right financial tools, access to loans continues to be a challenge. This includes a significant segment of Santa Cruz’s Hispanic community, Carr says.

“We want to be a part of the solution and are in the process of developing metrics to help us measure our efforts,” she says. “We plan to reach out to the farm communities with more power in the future, and we are laying some preliminary groundwork for this effort right now.”

The credit union offers:

Participants are required to complete money management courses and training related to their specific financial goals, as well as to put money toward their goal into their savings account each month. When account holders reach their savings goals, the program matches their funds dollar for dollar to double their return.

Among the 104 people enrolled in Santa Cruz Community’s IDA program, 30% to 40% are Hispanic.

Bilingual staffing and marketing materials

To best serve Hispanic members, about 55% of the credit union’s staff are bilingual.

Santa Cruz Community also publishes a bilingual, online newsletter each quarter that contains useful news, educational content, promotional offers, and information about special programs and community involvement efforts.

Plus, all marketing materials are available in both English and Spanish. “These materials help establish a welcoming and inviting environment for Hispanic members by creating a more language-neutral atmosphere,” Carr says. “For example, we maintain bilingual brochures on topics like identity theft. These materials help our Hispanic members understand their rights, and they provide the tools to resolve problems related to this type of fraud.

“We believe everyone should have the chance to begin a new chapter toward personal sustainability,” Carr adds. “Through our community partnerships and resources, we are able to help members achieve success in their life plans. Our Hispanic members have expressed their appreciation for our efforts to promote their financial well-being, and we continue to be proud of the work we are doing to support this vitally important segment of our community.”

This case study is part of the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues’ Applied Research Institute Hispanic Opportunity Report, developed in partnership with Coopera.

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