Coop Credit Union Goes Bi-Lingual/Bi-Cultural

From the moment you hear the welcoming greeting in English and Spanish you might suspect that the Syracuse Cooperative Federal Credit Union (SCFCU) is not banking "business as usual." When you are then directed to a menu of diverse services, all available in Spanish, this credit union's commitment to the Spanish speaking community in CNY becomes clear.

Founded in 1982, the SCFCU is committed to social justice and dedicated to the financial education and empowerment of its members. The Peace Council was an early supporter of the Credit Union, being one of the first "field of membership" organizations.

Treasurer Ron Ehrenreich notes, "Part of our mission was to serve those who weren't being served by the for-profit banking establishment. It was a matter of build it and they will come." This has certainly been the case for Syracuse's burgeoning Latin-American population which includes past and recent refugees and immigrants. Spanish speaking membership has grown from 2% of the total in 2002 to 15% in 2006.

This growth is attributable in large part to the range of services that addresses the specific needs of folks with varying levels of fluency in English. All workshops, counseling, member services and educational/promotional materials are available in English and Spanish. Eight full-time staff are fully bilingual, including two loan officers. Other staff are steadily increasing their Spanish language skills as well.

In addition to courses in home ownership, financial terminology and small business support, the staff has translated a basic financial education curriculum into Spanish for language radio show--topics addressed include buying a home or car and establishing and maintaining a good credit record.

Building on the lessons learned in meeting the needs of the Latino community, in 2005 the SCFCU began to provide financial education courses to other refugee groups, including Somali Bantu, Sudanese, Burmese and Liberian families. In accord with its commitment to improve effectiveness through partnership with other organizations, translators from Catholic Charities of Onondaga County assisted in these educational programs.

Always seeking to contribute to the strength of the communities it serves, the SCFCU says, "Mucho gusto" (pleased to meet you) to all its new members and friends and those it has yet to come to know.
-Donna Muhs-McCarten