Every credit union is different. Your members, community and causes all might be completely unique from another credit union's. But no matter how diverse U.S. credit unions are, there is one thing they all have in common: They are dedicated to giving back to their community.
Sometimes, it can be hard to find a new way to support your member base. But regardless of where your institution is based, there are always groups that deserve a little extra support.
Here are some excellent examples of credit unions doing good things for their respective communities:
Michigan Community Credit Union teaches inmates financial skills
Going to prison changes your life. An inmate might spend years away from his or her community, missing out on vital life events and lessons. Upon release, it's typically very difficult for them to acclimate to their new lives. Often, those lost years and missed experiences results in knowledge gaps, such as how to manage money responsibly.
To address this common problem, Bridget Simone, the manager of a Michigan Community Credit Union branch, began volunteering at Cooper Street Correctional Facility, a prison in Jackson, Michigan. Simone visits three times a year to teach inmates about the importance of credit scores, how to improve a credit score, and how to manage loans, debit cards and credit cards, Credit Union Times reported.
"The inmates ask great questions," Simone told Credit Union Times. "They are mostly concerned on how their credit is affected and what they need to do to rebuild their score."
The program has given many of the inmates important skills they'll need when the re-enter the community and begin looking for jobs.
Freedom First Federal Credit Union helps residents access reliable transportation
Most Americans drive to work. Many of those that don't lack access to a car or other reliable transportation, making going to a job, school or the grocery store very difficult.
When Freedom First Federal Credit Union in Roanoke, Virginia realized that 1 in 12 of its community's residents lacked transportation to and from work, the institution decided to find out how to lend a helping hand, according to The Roanoke Times.
With the help of a $25,000 innovation grant from the National Credit Union Foundation and in partnership with Total Action Against Poverty, New River Community Action and Enterprise Car Sales, Freedom First FCU created a car purchase program for people with poor or no credit.
The program, called Responsible Rides, is available to households that are at or below 200 percent the poverty level. To qualify for a car loan, clients must first take classes on personal finance and car ownership. Then, they're given a low-rate loan and a few options of cars to purchase.
"They walk you through, step by step, and they have your back for you if you need assistance," explained Quandra Bonds, the first Responsible Rides client, in 2010.
In the years since its launch, Responsible Rides has continued to help people in Freedom First FCU's community. In 2015 alone, the program helped 14 households make a car purchase, according to The Franklin News-Post.
"This program is not all about the vehicle," noted Kim English, Responsible Rides coordinator for Freedom First. "It's about learning financial responsibility. It's about becoming independent and empowering you to better your life because you have reliable transportation."
Inspirus Credit Union funds Washington teachers' school projects
Inspirus Credit Union is dedicated to giving young Washington students the tools they need to be successful in school. The financial institution has set aside $100,000 to donate to various schools across the state, according to a press release.
The funds will be given to specific teachers for specific projects, which the instructors explain through the online crowd funding site DoSomething.org. Every Friday, the credit union will announce which teacher will have his or her project fully funded.
"It's our mission to give back to education, and this is one way we give back," Sherry Lotze, the credit union's vice president of marketing, said in a press release. "We want to support those who teach the leaders of tomorrow, and we hope they will benefit greatly from this."
The first teacher to receive funds through the program was Katie Paul, a kindergarten teacher in Seattle, Washington. Inspirus funded the purchase of phonemic awareness tools and games, which will help her students develop math and reading skills.
Credit unions across the country have found unique ways to help out underserved populations in their areas. It's important for credit unions to give back to their communities - after all, the mission of a credit union is for people to help people. This year, take some time to learn about the needs in the communities you serve. Chances are, you'll find plenty of small or large ways to help out someone in need.