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Juntos Avanzamos Arrives in California
Tuesday, November 24, 2015 6:35 AM

On Nov. 16, the California credit union movement made its first public entrance into Juntos Avanzamos (Together We Advance), a community development initiative whose leaders are helping credit unions become the preferred financial resource for local organizations serving underserved Hispanic immigrants.

Gathering at the Mexican Consulate office in downtown Los Angeles, credit union leaders from across California and the nation discussed the opportunities and challenges of serving Hispanic immigrants with representatives of the Mexican Embassy system and a number of community-immigrant, legal, and economic organizations. More than 100 individuals came together to fill knowledge gaps between how their organizations are serving this demographic and what might be missing.

A key theme was how to leverage resources for immigrant integration into mainstream society, with credit unions playing the centerpiece financial services role in their lives. Credit union representatives and others gave examples of identification, documentation, immigrant trust, education, language barriers, access to credit, capacity to serve, resources, operational models, cooperation, cultural perceptions, and federal regulations. Positive stories were told of enhancing immigrants’ lives through collaborating with similar mission-focused organizations or projects.

"We now have more than 40 credit unions in the country that are Juntos Avanzamos credit unions, which are mostly located in California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas," said National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions Director of Membership and Engagement Pablo DeFilippi. "They are local institutions your organizations can approach for connecting Hispanic immigrants who need trustworthy financial services. They have the capacity to communicate bilingually, to do ITIN lending (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number), to educate your clients, and they have a heart for advancing the financial livelihood of their members."

El Monte, CA-based SCE FCU and Santa Cruz Community CU (Santa Cruz, CA) were recognized at the event for being the first credit unions in California to become Juntos Avanzamos certified. George Poitou, COO of SCE FCU, was on site to accept the award for his credit union.

“Reaching out to immigrants is a good investment and the right thing to do—in fact, it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the legal thing to do,” Poitou said. “Our branch in Boyle Heights here in Los Angeles is our most profitable location. We’re making all types of loans to these people to meet their needs. They become your most loyal members for life. More credit unions should explore getting involved in this.”

DeFilippi said three additional credit unions in California are in the review stages for earning the title of Juntos Avanzamos. The branding project was started in 2005 by the Cornerstone Credit Union League and was opened nationally to all credit unions in September this year.