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Published: Monday, 3/3/2014 - Updated: 9 months ago

COMMENTARY

Tiny credit union yields huge results

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

OBJECTWhen we talk about civil rights, Latinos are often overlooked. I asked former Toledo City Councilman Adam Martinez why. He said his own tradition is more private. “It’s about work, family, and church,” he says.

But if you are paying $5 or $6 or even $10 a week to get your payroll check cashed, and you have to keep all your money in a shoebox under your bed, that’s a civil rights issue.

You have no financial security. And you don’t know anything about banks.

How about a credit union?

Credit unions say they are about “people helping people.” Mostly they are.

About 10 years ago, Mr. Martinez got the idea of starting a Latino credit union in Toledo. In May, 2010, Nueva Esperanza was chartered and in May, 2011, it opened its doors.

Nueva Esperanza’s first employee and CEO, Sue Cuevas, started driving around to neighborhood meetings and church gatherings. A tiny office was opened at 1232 Broadway.

State law mandates that there must be seven members to open a credit union. Now Nueva Esperanza has 450 members, a loan portfolio of about a half a million dollars, and $1.4 million in investors. It is, amazingly, the first state-chartered Latino credit union in the state of Ohio and only the third in the nation. It has just been given license by the state to operate countywide.

What does it do for people? A few car loans. Citizenship loans — so a person can go through the naturalization process. That costs $5,000 to $7,000. Mostly, this credit union makes very down-to-earth dreams come true. Like a man who started his own landscaping business with a loan of $5,000. (Micro-lending they call that. Not micro to him.) Or a man who borrowed $4,000 to put a furnace in his home. He had been heating the place with space heaters and could not sleep at night because he feared for the safety of his children.

You don’t start out with loans of that size at Nueva Esperanza. You have to prove yourself. A first loan might be for $500, tops.

The credit union also offers free check cashing to members, budget counseling, and notary services. The minimum opening account is $5.

I ask Ms. Cuevas why she left a good job at Fifth ​Third Bank to do what is partly social service work at a start-up credit union. That's why: Her father was a minister. It’s how she was raised.

For Mr. Martinez, it’s about initiatives that can really change life for people of modest means. The new civil rights movement is economic and pragmatic.

A whole neighborhood, a whole demographic, without a way to save or borrow money is a group disenfranchised.

Of course, if you are an illegal alien, working and paying taxes, you are disenfranchised in an even bigger way — you can never recover what you have paid into Social Security. That’s a national, and a moral, issue.

Meanwhile, Mr. Martinez and Ms. Cuevas are doing something real here and right now. We met at La Cachanilla Tamaleria and More — a great new place to have Sunday breakfast downtown. It was last an abandoned diner. New dreams keep being born in the city. Mr. Martinez and Ms. Cuevas are midwives.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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