NEW HARTFORD, N.Y. (6/2/14)--Utica, N.Y., is a hotbed for immigration. Refugees represent about 12% of the city's population, according to the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees. GPO FCU, New Hartford, N.Y., with $202 million in assets, has embraced that diversity to reflect its commitment to the community it serves.
"It's a melting pot here, and we recognize that," said Jodi Blydenburgh, GPO FCU vice president of administration. "We have a branch that's located right smack in the middle of all this immigration activity, and we want to have an everyday presence that's beneficial to the entire community."
Utica's most recent wave of immigrants, arriving within the last decade, hail primarily from Bosnia and Myanmar.
"They fit very well with our community," Blydenburgh told
. "They've made a home in our neighborhoods, and the community has embraced them, but at times, as you would expect, there can be gaps in communication."
As with virtually any new group of residents, Utica's immigrant population was in need of financial services. "Initially, we reached out to the refugee center," Blydenburgh said. "We were getting a lot of traffic, and we weren't sure the level of financial services they required. When they had a new group come through, they would take field trips to our branch. At some point we realized we needed to stand alone."
The most direct way to bridge the communication gap--and gain trust from the community--was to hire member service representatives who spoke the same language as the new residents. The credit union initially hired three or four tellers who spoke Bosnian.
More recently, GPO FCU has made a more substantial commitment to integrate the branch. Branch manager Ibrahim Kajtezovic is Bosnian, and he brings more than management skills and financial acumen to his job. "It seems like he knows everyone who is Bosnian in Utica," Blydenburgh said. "He is a great point of contact for us. He's been a tremendous asset."
The credit union also employs two additional employees who speak Bosnian, another who is fluent in Burmese, Karen and Hindi and one who speaks Spanish.
Serving the immigrant community has been beneficial for the credit union and the community, Blydenburgh told
"They've been very thoughtful about where they're going financially," she said. "We are more than happy to extend credit to this segment of our community. They're looking for home ownership opportunities and they're cleaning up neighborhoods. They are very committed."