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Special Report: Natco Empowerment Center Helps Low-Income Members
RICHMOND, Ind. (8/8/13)--Natco CU in Richmond, Ind., will be opening the Natco Community Empowerment Center tomorrow to help low-income people achieve a self-sustaining lifestyle.
A grant through the Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Fund sparked the idea for the credit union's new center, Karen Houser, Natco marketing director, told News Now.
"We are an industrial-based credit union, and over the years many factories [in the area] were closing or reducing their hours,' Houser explained. "We have many low-income members at the poverty level or below. So the Empowerment Center is being developed because of the special needs of low-income people."
A three-year grant for $313,606 from the CDFI Fund finances the main track of the center--which the $63.4 million asset credit unit purchased--with Natco funding the rest of its operations, Houser said.
The credit union will provide computers with Internet access and a fax machine to the community for free. Services the center provides include creating resumes, establishing a training process to help participants with mock interviews, dressing professionally for job interviews, and making participants aware of the process of obtaining a decent job, Houser said.
"We are the managing partner for the Circle Program through the United Way, which takes individuals and families into an educational setting with our staff members for a 17-week period," Houser explained. "This helps take the participants out of poverty and into the next step.
"The credit union partners these people with others in the community," she added. "The program provides allies for participants with more-established people in the community." For example, if a participant's car breaks down, the ally can refer the person to others to help finance the repairs, Houser said.     
The Empowerment Center will help a least two sets of family groups each year through the 17-week course. There is an 18-month commitment required of families who take part in the program, Houser said. Two Natco staff members will work as full-time employees at the center. 
In June, Natco held an event to help determine barriers that prevent people from adequately managing their finances. "A lot of the challenges involve finding an organization's resources that people can turn to for funds," Houser said.
Other challenges include finding employment that would maintain an adequate lifestyle, obtaining affordable housing, and procuring transportation--which is a challenge for many people in the community, Houser said
Future programs  at the center will be based on what Natco learns about the needs of the community, said Houser, adding that the center is looking to be a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) organization to help participants prepare their income-tax returns.
"It has long been the philosophy of the credit union to help individuals help themselves financially. By getting beyond barriers, we can set them on a positive path for themselves," Houser concluded.
This article is part of a News Now series of exclusive, special reports on credit unions' outreach efforts and innovative ideas. Fostering service excellence, removing barriers and raising awareness about the value credit unions provide their members and communities are the foundation for the Credit Union National Association's, state credit union leagues' and credit unions' Unite For Good campaign toward a vision in which Americans choose credit unions as their best financial provider.

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