Churches moving to create credit union

pseligson@newsobserver.comFebruary 17, 2014 

A group of African-American churches hopes to launch a faith-based credit union in Johnston County.

The goals are economic empowerment and financial education. The idea gained momentum after an economic-empowerment summit held last November at First Missionary Baptist Church in Smithfield.

The credit union will be a branch of Generations Community Credit Union, which has seven branches in the state. The Rev. Sterling Freeman, pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church, said the credit union will be a source of pride for the community.

“The pride of this effort and the community building that it can do in terms of bringing the community together, I think the premium on that lies far beyond the product and services by themselves,” Freeman said.

The idea began two to three years ago with Minister Charles Stokes, Freeman said. The Johnston African-American Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance is working with interested churches to bring together enough members and assets to start the branch.

Freeman has a vision in which the credit union becomes a central part of the community. Instead of faraway bankers making decisions on loans and interest rates while looking for a profit, the decisions will be made locally and by a nonprofit.

Loan decisions made locally will create more access to money, Freeman said. The credit union will offer competitive rates with private banking options.

For a variety of reasons, Freeman said, African Americans have often had problems accessing capital. The reasons range from outright discrimination to not being in position to build the contacts needed to access the money, he said. Having a credit union in the hands of the community will help keep that from happening, he said.

The credit union branch will also become a portal for financial education, including buying a house, paying for college and making a household budget.

“If we can establish a community and establish a branch and establish a presence, I only think that those things will become more attractive in terms of wanting to empower ourselves in that way,” Freeman said.

So far, four churches have signed up. Armeer Kenchen, chief executive of Generations Community Credit Union, said the group will need about 1,000 members and roughly $5 to $6 million in assets. A member can be an organization, such as a church or business, or an individual. So far, the local effort has secured about $150,000 in assets.

Kenchen said the group is off to a good start. The organizers are “very enthusiastic, and they’re very well mobilized,” he said.

Once the Johnston County group brings together the members and assets, then Kenchen will go to his credit union’s board. Deciding to create a branch is ultimately a business decision, he said.

If the board says yes, the new branch will still be subject to approval by state and federal regulators, Kenchen said. The whole process could take one to two years, he said.

The credit union’s focus will be the members of the founding African-American churches but will be open to anyone.

“It’s not just for people of color,” Freeman said. “This is certainly an initiative that is catalyzed by people of color, and we’re very purposeful in that, but this is for anybody and everybody, individuals and organizations.”

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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