Upon reading the previous contribution about “The Awesomeness of Credit Unions”, I was reminded of a story I had heard of an awesome credit union in my home community. Chaco Credit Union is a bright spot in Ohio, an example of a credit union that puts its mission “people helping people” into action through community education programs and community-oriented services. Who better to learn from than people who live the mission everyday? How can their success be distilled, expanded, or channeled to inform a global solution?
With the cooperation of the CEO and his team, I was able to interview interview four Chaco leaders in a series of half-hour interviews. I asked each participant 5 questions:
1. In what ways does Chaco empower the community? – financially or otherwise?
2. What have been the most successful programs/ initiatives? How do you measure results?
3. What are the greatest challenges you face in educating the community?
4. Which community members are hardest to reach? How do you reach out to the margins of the community?
5. How could someone help you face those challenges to further your initiatives?
Over the course of the meetings, four main themes began to surface:
Empowerment, Programs & Services, Collaboration, Challenges
As Chaco CEO, Jim Schultheiss, points out, the key word is "power". As a part of the community it is in our (and everyone's) best interest that all members thrive and contribute. Chaco enables this power by investing money directly into the community. All the money on file at the credit union, other than what is needed to keep the doors open, goes back to its members through education programs, home loans, car loans etc. As credit unions are owned by their membership, all members can run for the board, literally putting the power in the hands of its people. As Market Manager, Mitch Vocke, puts it "this community is our Main Street, it's our Wall Street, it's everything."
Programs & Services –
Chaco collaborates with schools, community centers and churches to make Financial Peace available to adult community members. The program analyzes the student's debt and then teaches them effective ways to overcome it. According to Jim the graduates of their most recent course, put on with Cincinnati Christian Schools, were able to pay back over $60,000 of their own debt over a 9-week period collectively.
Real Money. Real World is a program for High School students, conducted in school gymnasiums in a "mock life" format. Students receive job assignments and a salary based on their current gpa. They then have to budget that money on real life expenses. The goal is to bring financial understanding in early before the students enter the workforce, hopefully preparing them for future decision making.
The Credit Union is also in the process of launching what they call Money Desk Top, an online software that allows members to access all of their accounts inside and outside the credit union to plan budgets and monitor where their money is being spent. As Isophene Andrews says, "It's like pie! And then you slice the pie and put all of that in there [your budget]." There is also a option to plan for debt repayment and see on screen how that will affect your financial future.
Chaco is also looking out for members who have had problems in their financial history with Second Chance Checking, an uncommon program among financial institutions these days, according to Mortgage Manager, Kathy Hudson.
Chaco collaborates with various community organizations to help manage problems that may not be financial at the root. While substance abuse and divorce may have financial symptoms, there are better organizations qualified to help with the these issues. The referrals are often reciprocated and when the problem is financial, Chaco is there to help. According to Jim, "collaboration is key" to reaching the margins of the community and overcoming challenges.
Like most educators, Chaco faces barriers in spreading financial knowledge. It isn't easy to get people interested in Finances, whether it be for lack of interest, fear of the truth, or resistance to change, getting people motivated proves to be the hardest part of the job.
For more details and inspiration, experience the interviews for yourself in the video recordings at the top of the page.