CLEVELAND, Ohio (1/29/14)--Rita Haynes believes that everyone was put on planet Earth for a reason.
"There's a purpose in everybody's life," she said. Whether or not that's true, Haynes has certainly lived by that mantra. As the leader of the Cleveland-based Faith Community United CU for over five decades, from 1958 until 2012, she dedicated her life to helping her community access financial services it might have otherwise never been privy to.
Last week, she was honored for her life's work at a National Thrift Week event in Philadelphia, where she gave the keynote speech. At an event sponsored by a local charity, People to People Inc., and a New York-based think tank, the Institute for American Values, Haynes spoke about how she turned the credit union from a $500 church basement operation into a $12 million institution with its own branch.
"I just wanted to make sure that I was instrumental in helping to change lives," she said in a documentary about Faith Community United shown at the event. Haynes, who started managing the credit union shortly after joining its parent church, Mount Sinai Baptist Church, also discussed the profound responsibility she felt after receiving members' "total life's savings."
The credit union, which was founded in 1952, had its roots in the early days of the Civil Rights movement. As black servicemen returned from World War II only to find themselves discriminated against, they banded together to launch their own institutions like Faith Community United. Haynes explained this history and how it was difficult to inculcate a sense that the Mount Sinai parishioners, too, deserved access to institutions white communities took for granted.
"Once we got over that hurdle, everything went great," she said. "We were able to get the credit union on solid footing."
The spirit of solidarity and community that gave life to Faith Community United is reflected in financial products it offers. Its Grace Loans--a short-term credit line of up to $500, launched in 1999--and Mercy Mortgages--designed for members facing foreclosure--both offer the Cleveland area membership an alternative to the predatory lenders that crept into the void left in the inner city by conventional banks.
Members over the years appear to have responded positively. Since it was launched, Faith Community United CU has grown to become the largest minority-owned credit union in the state of Ohio. For that, Haynes was honored last week, given the marquee ahead of notable figures such as Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and State Treasurer Rob McCord, a 2014 Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate.