RICHMOND, Ind.-When management and board of $67 million Natco Credit Union go to their 2014 strategic planning sessions, they will know exactly what the members need-because they asked.

CEO Cindy Gribben told Credit Union Journal Natco CU serves 12,000-plus members in Indiana's Wayne County, an area near the Ohio state line that has suffered a large number of manufacturing job losses in recent years.

The credit union is in the process of building what it calls a Community Empowerment Center (CEC), scheduled to open this month. It recently employed CDFI grant writing firm CU Strategic Planning, Tacoma, Wash., to leverage its data-gathering using a focus group service called First Voice. In June Natco held a First Voice Community Impact Assessment event to interact with locals and discuss the external and internal barriers that prevent them from properly managing their finances. More than 60 people attended.

"There were several 'aha' moments," Gribben said. "Transportation was a big problem for the people who attended the event. They do not have cars and have to depend on public transportation, which does not run past daytime hours in Richmond."

Gribben said one of Natco's goals is to help struggling members get to the point where they can finance vehicles and to that end is working with CU Strategic Planning to develop a low-rate, used car loan.

Similarly, the goal of the CEC is to help assist financially challenged consumers. Gribben said many attendees of the event stated they do not have a place to work on computers and use the Internet, which leaves them unable to create resumes needed to find jobs. Many people in the area are in schools but do not have a place to study or do research, something Gribben said she "took for granted."


A Helping Hand Up

The CEC will have computer workstations and printers set up as an office environment so people can accomplish those tasks, and Natco staff will be there to help them write their resumes. Later, Gribben promised, the CU will host workshops on how to be a better employee and other work-related topics.

"If we can help them move from poverty to self-sustainability, and then finance a low-cost car, they will have a better chance of full-time employment and being a productive member of society," she explained, adding Natco is in the process of becoming a designated low-income CU.

"By opening the Empowerment Center and staffing it with financial counselors, we will be able to help people become future borrowers," Gribben continued. "We also work on employment readiness-helping people with interview skills, proper attire and even setting up interviews. A lot of people are unprepared, so we can help them get a job, then have the transportation to keep it. It is about addressing several issues in their lives so they can get their finances in order."

According to Gribben, the Community Impact Assessment event is going to be "very valuable" for focusing Natco's strategic planning.

"The information we gathered helps us fulfill our mission of serving the community. The community has received it well, so it has been exciting to be a part of. If we help someone better their situation, they will be a member for life."


'Really Helped Us'

The Natco board "completely supports" the initiatives to help the community, Gribben continued. She said the CU continues to look for additional funding resources.

"One of our people went to grant-writing training for a week," she reported. "There is a lot of money available out there for a lot of purposes-you just have to find it. We knew nothing about grants until we hooked up with CU Strategic Planning, which has really helped us."

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