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Turning Lives Around, One Life At A Time

Kulia Ohana Federal Credit Union is a $4-million credit union that serves residents of Wailuku and Kahului, Maui. The credit union is tucked away on a quiet residential cul de sac, and though small in size, the credit union is big on making a difference. One Kulia Ohana FCU member experienced this first-hand.

Sam Johnson* was a recovering drug addict living in a homeless shelter. With no assets and living on welfare, Sam's future looked bleak. Then a series of money management classes taught by Kulia Ohana FCU Manager Francine Wong changed Sam's life. "One of the requirements for living at the homeless center was attending money management classes," Sam explained. "Little did I realize how profoundly this class, and my relationship with the credit union, would change the direction of my life."

Kulia Ohana FCU Manager Francine Wong used free curriculum from the National Endowment for Financial Education to teach the class about budgeting, wise use of credit, and having a financial plan. "During the classes, Francine taught me how to keep good records of my money," Sam recalled. He also learned to read and understand the fine print on credit card offers, which helped him in his effort to establish a good credit record. "With guidance from Francine I was able to open a savings and checking account at Kulia Ohana FCU," Sam said. "She helped me arrange a direct deposit into my accounts and taught me how to manage my money."

Sam was determined to get out of the shelter and into a place of his own. Although he had a job working in construction, he did not have the money needed for a deposit and first month rent payment. He turned to Kulia Ohana FCU for help. "We saw how much Sam wanted to succeed, so we took a chance on him," explained Francine Wong. "We loaned him the money and he was able to rent his own place."

Sam was diligent in making loan payments and was able to pay back the loan early. He then got an auto loan from the credit union to purchase a pre-owned pick-up truck. He also paid back this loan in full. Sam is now self-sufficient and, as he says, "living a great life on Maui." He is thankful for the ongoing support of Kulia Ohana FCU and gladly tells others about how the credit union changed his life.

Francine Wong believes it is a credit union's mission to help individuals become wise money managers. Moreover, on a personal level she says, "I feel awesome inside knowing that I can help someone like Sam turn his life around."

(*Name changed to protect identity.)

Laurie Okawa-Moore is Communications Officer with the Hawaii Credit Union League.

Personal Recollections of CUs: A CU Journal Series

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 fdiekmann@cujournal.com. Please limit word count to 400.

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