It was a warm Friday evening in July 1997, and we had just returned home from the World Council of Credit Unions forum in Vancouver, BC. We greeted Rachel, our long-time friend and co-owner of the cooperative house we shared in Brooklyn, New York.
Early the next morning, before the heat of the day, Rachel peddled off to nearby Prospect Park, her hair blowing in the wind. Three hours later, we got a call from her husband at the hospital where she worked. Rachel had been hit by a car, thrown over her handlebars. Without a helmet, she died instantly.
A descendant of a long line of Quakers in England, Rachel shared our commitment to social activism. When I proposed putting our co-op's account into a community development credit union in Central Brooklyn, she readily agreed. But that wasn't all.
For years, she had employed "Evelyn" (not her real name) to clean her apartment. A resident of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, one of New York's poorest, Evelyn was hard-pressed, with several children to support and a husband whose income was erratic.
On Rachel's advice, she opened an account in the credit union, and when she had to finance some major home repairs, she took out a loan. Rachel co-signed. But with family strains and a meager income, Evelyn fell behind in her payments, and was in danger of losing her home.
Several weeks after Rachel's death, the credit union called her home, inquiring about a past-due loan. Her husband responded that Rachel had died. The credit union verified its records, and soon after, called back to let her husband, and Evelyn, know that the credit union's accidental-death insurance policy would cover the full amount of the loan. Evelyn's debt was wiped out. She was able to stay in her home.
In my 30-year credit union career, I like to think that - at least from a distance - my work has helped many people. But nothing has brought home to me, personally, what a credit union means to an individual in a low-income community better than this true story.
Cliff Rosenthal is executive director of the National Federation of Community Development CUs.
To mark the 100th Anniversary of Credit Unions, Credit Union Journal is publishing "100 Voices" answering, "The one personal anecdote from my credit union career that comes to my mind and which sums up what credit unions are all about is..." Wish to share your story? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Limit is 400 words.