MEDFORD, Ore. (1/7/10)--Using “out-of-the-box” thinking and innovative programming, Rogue FCU in Medford, Ore., is helping its members and communities overcome the economic and emotional obstacles of foreclosure. Rogue FCU won first place for the Dora Maxwell Award for Social Responsibility in the $200 million to $500 million asset category for its Building Hope Foreclosure Prevention and Assistance Plan, which became a statewide project to help individual communities. This story is the first in a series News Now will publish on credit unions that received the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) Dora Maxwell and Louise Herring awards. The series aims to take an in-depth look at credit unions’ programs and their impact on communities. Rogue’s Building Hope plan was created in January 2009 after an individual with the Home Builders Association of Jackson County approached the credit union and said families in the area were emotionally disintegrating because of foreclosures. He wanted the credit union to help. Rogue FCU began offering emotional counseling through Home Builders to affected families. Home Builders received a $6,000 grant to cover the costs. Rogue also created a manual describing the modification process and three free classes on foreclosure. “We named [the program] Building Hope, with the vision of building relationships for life,” said Kerrie Davis, Rogue FCU community and education outreach coordinator, who helped create the program. The classes--open to anyone in the community--focus on crisis budgeting, loan modifications and consumer rights during the foreclosure process. The third class, consumer rights, is taught by attorneys. The attorneys are not paid for the classes, but are passionate about their work, Davis said. “One stayed for an hour after class just helping people,” Davis added. The classes began in March in Jackson County. By May, they expanded to Josephine and Klamath counties. Rogue also created a Hispanic version of the course and translated its documents to Spanish. In July, the credit union created a turnkey program to offer the information statewide by partnering with local TV station KDRV and the home builders association. Anyone can partner with the home builders association and offer the program, Davis said. More than 700 families have attended classes, and more than 50 have sought emotional counseling at Rogue. Davis emphasized the importance of emotional counseling. When foreclosures happen, they also affect families as a whole--even children, she said. When people have financial difficulties, other problems follow--depression, substance abuse, crime and suicide. Foreclosures can split up families. “The goal is to get families stable,” Davis said. “It’s terrible to lose a home, but it’s tragic to lose a family.” More classes are set to start next week--and 40 people have already signed up. Some classes have been “standing room only,” Davis said. Many who attend also seek private financial counseling from the credit union. Rogue’s Hispanic version of the program is taught by bilingual staff to local parent groups. The groups, organized by schools or Boys and Girls Clubs, have 25 to 60 members apiece. In addition to Hope, Rogue offers Rogue Solution Loans--which received CUNA’s 2009 Excellence in Lending Award--to help members with rising interest rates, loss of jobs, reduction in hours and restructuring of debt. Rogue Solution Loans help people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck and were created after lenders began hiking rates on credit cards. Consumers were receiving negative responses from national lenders when they asked for help, and the hikes “rocked people from their budgets,” Davis said. Rogue creates personal plans--from restructuring loans to deferring payments. When Rogue can’t help, it refers individuals to community resources--like food or power assistance. Middle-class and upper middle-class families are most affected by the program, Davis said. “These people are paralyzed [by debt],” she said. “[The program] has helped tremendously.” Rogue also has reached out to small businesses. It has met with employer groups to tell them about the available programs and classes. When small businesses suffer, so does everyone else, Davis noted. “It’s like being on a hamster wheel where you can’t get off,” she said. Rogue’s impact in the community has grown as a result of its programs--and its membership has increased by about 4.65%. About 174 loans have been worked out and restructured, and 195 temporary alternate payment loans have been granted. Delinquencies decreased to 1.08% from 1.55%. “People in the community are talking about Rogue--they know we’re here to help,” Davis said. “It differentiates us from other financial institutions.” Credit unions wanting to help their communities through programs like Rogue’s need to get a pulse on their community, because national averages may not indicate how bad a problem really is. It’s also a good time to partner with other organizations--for instance, the partnership with Oregon’s local TV station, KDRV, and the Home Builders has been great, Davis said. “We’re here for our community, to keep it stable and healthy,” Davis said. “There’s nothing better than to hear back from someone that the loan modification worked out.” Rogue FCU has $446 million in assets.