25 Years of Economic Empowerment:
Cooperative Federal Celebrates Silver Anniversary
by Meagan Weatherby and Nick Cavanaugh

This year, Cooperative Federal (also known as Syracuse Cooperative Federal Credit Union) is reaching a milestone as it celebrates its 25th year working for social and economic justice in Syracuse. As its members know, Cooperative Federal is no ordinary financial institution: in addition to accounts and loans designed for working families, this credit union offers financial education, counseling, and a commitment to sustainable community development.
The Credit Union’s 10th Anniversary Celebration, when it was still housed at the Syracuse Real Food Coop. People (right to left): Ron Ehrenreich, Hana Ehrenreich, Bill Mazza, Carl Mellor, Frank and Liz Mount Pleasant, David Brule, Kevin and Peter McCarthy and an unidentified member.

The credit union’s philosophy is informed by radical roots. Cooperative Federal’s organizers were motivated by a desire to divest from the Apartheid system in South Africa that was heavily supported by the mainstream financial industry. From the beginning, its mission has been to serve people traditionally denied access to capital: women, LGBT individuals and families, people of color, working class households, and nontraditional workers such as artists, micro-entrepreneurs, and non-profit sector workers.

Cooperative Federal was founded on little more than a dollar and a dream: a $30 donation, volunteer tellers, and shared space in the Syracuse Real Food Co-op. Credit union organizers, including current credit union treasurer Ron Ehrenreich and teller Mike Musler, started building the membership by spreading word about how a community credit union could be a powerful mechanism for grassroots change. Volunteers reached out to local residents, collecting petitions of support. Once enough signatures were collected, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) chartered the organization in 1982.  For more than 10 years, Cooperative Federal operated from the Food Co-op, and was run mostly by volunteers. The board met in Ron Ehrenreich and Sondra Roth’s dining room, which also served as the loan office.

The credit union’s growth policy has remained consistent with its mission and responded to community needs. In 1994, Cooperative Federal relocated from the Food Co-op in order to better serve the greater Eastside community. In 2002, it opened an office in the Southwest Community Center. The credit union is now working to extend service to the North Side by opening a third office in that neighborhood.

Today, Cooperative Federal exists to create local, democratic control of our collective assets. This is accomplished by “recycling” community capital – using members’ savings to leverage loans to other members. Over the years Cooperative Federal has deployed over $60 million in Syracuse neighborhoods in the form of loans to member households, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations. Cooperative Federal’s multiculturalism also separates it from other financial institutions. From its members to its staff to its Board of Directors, the credit union actively pursues representation of people from all backgrounds and walks of life.
Credit Union’s
25th Anniversary Bash
Friday, October 5 at May Memorial, 3800 E. Genesee St. Open to members and friends, reservations are required and may still be available – call Christina at 471-1116 ext. 250.

By providing equal access to financial resources, Cooperative Federal resists the forces of discrimination that systematically marginalize people who live outside the myth of normalcy. This philosophy is the foundation of ethical and viable economic development, and equity for us all. Anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in the City of Syracuse can join Cooperative Federal. For information call (315) 471-1116 or log on to www.cooperativefederal.org/.

Meagan is Cooperative Federalís Sustainability and Outreach Specialist.

Nick works through Americorps VISTA to coordinate the Credit Unionís free financial seminars.