Latorrie Geer and Kerri J. Smith
“Just Mercy” author Bryan Stevenson said, “You shouldn’t underestimate the power you have to affirm the humanity and dignity of the people around you.”
Promoting economic resilience for people who have been systematically denied access to wealth-building programs is the foundation of the collaboration between CommunityWorks and Self-Help Credit Union. In the work we do every day, we see people who have fallen prey to high cost lenders in our state who charge, on average, 395% interest on their loans. Our neighbors suffer, in most cases, from the shame of being caught in these debt traps – their dignity and humanity threatened.
Both of our organizations are committed to finding innovative ways to positively impact our community. One of the products of our partnership is the Second Chance Revolving Loan Fund, which refinances predatory loans at a very low rate. The program also helps some participants avoid all predatory lending.
The impact our organizations have had through this program is evident in the story of one of our participants, who lost her husband shortly after the start of the pandemic and found herself struggling to live on her income. social security of $1,400 per month. To support her transportation needs, she took out a car title loan with an alternative lender, with a rate of 119% for 48 months. This payment, along with her small mortgage, created significant hardship and she found she could not afford the loan. This led her to take out two additional loans with interest rates ranging from 216% to 325%. His repayments on these three loans exceeded his monthly income.
She worked with CommunityWorks’ financial coach to identify ways to solve her financial problems. One solution was to refinance through the Second Chance Revolving Loan Fund. This allowed her to consolidate the loans into one loan that she could afford.
There are many other stories that describe experiences like this. In each situation, we work hard to support participants with compassion, without judgment, treating them with respect and working together to find a solution.
Often when we help participants, we collaborate with other nonprofit partners to provide participants with access to additional resources and opportunities. We recognize that we cannot do this work alone; you need a network of organizations. Through partnerships, we can expand the work we do, focusing on what we do well, which eliminates duplication of services and results in a greater overall impact on our community.
We are fortunate to partner with organizations such as United Ministries who excel in the services they provide. United Ministries has done a lot of hard work to identify root causes, barriers, and sustainable approaches to moving our community members from survival to prosperity.
Reflecting on Stevenson’s quote about humanity, we believe UM embodies this concept in everything it does. When faced with opportunities to address challenges in our community, United Ministries is a priority for collaboration because of its mission, leadership, and caring team members, whose approach to working with participants is conscientiously focused on preserving their dignity.
Stevenson, Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative, also said, “When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t see otherwise; you hear things you can’t hear otherwise. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in all of us.
He will speak on this when he is the keynote speaker at the United Ministries Uniting for Change luncheon on April 13. Learn more about the Uniting for Change luncheon at united-ministries.org.
If other organizations (churches, nonprofits) would like to create their own revolving loan fund, we would welcome the opportunity to share our work. Together we can reduce suffering, change lives and affirm the humanity and dignity of those around us.
Latorrie Geer is COO of CommunityWorks. Kerri J. Smith, CUDE, CCUFC, is a senior executive at Self-Help Credit Union.