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National CU Foundation Honors Martinez for Hispanic Advocacy
Wednesday, October 19, 2016 6:55 AM

Maria Martinez

The National Credit Union Foundation will recognize Maria J. Martinez, president/CEO of Border FCU (BFCU), Del Rio, Texas, with the 2017 Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in recognition of her decades of service to the credit union movement and leadership in the fields of community development, philanthropy and advocacy.  

Martinez’s award will be one of three Herb Wegner Memorial Awards presented at a special dinner hosted by the Foundation at the Marriott Marquis Washington on Feb. 27 in conjunction with CUNA’s 2017 Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC).

“At a time when credit unions are reaching out to the incredibly valuable and important Hispanic community, Maria has been a leader in her outreach which has touched lives on both sides of the border,” said John Gregoire, chair of the Foundation’s Wegner Awards Selection Committee and president of The ProCon Group. “Maria is a shining example of performance and going beyond the responsibilities of her job, which is a testament to the award given in Herb Wegner’s name.” 

In her more than two decades at Border FCU, Martinez has led several initiatives to provide financial services to low-income, predominately Hispanic communities. In 2003, she used a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to create a free home/financial counseling program to help individuals buy houses, develop a budget, improve their credit and become banked.

Perhaps most significantly, Martinez is responsible for spearheading a scholarship program for local high school seniors and those continuing a higher education. The scholarship is financed through a range of fundraising activities including raffles, 5K runs, and a golf tournament. As further testament to her commitment to education, Martinez also launched a teacher’s appreciation breakfast that hosts educators in the counties BFCU serves, regardless of whether they belong to BFCU.

“Maria has made a huge difference by wholeheartedly supporting the awarding of thousands of dollars in scholarships,” said Dora G. Alcala, former mayor of Del Rio, Texas. “[She is] offering hope and a future to young students who probably could not afford to go to college without assistance.”

In 2005, Martinez obtained a grant from the NCUA to create a Volunteer Income Tax Assistant (VITA) service site where citizens gain free tax preparation services from volunteer certified preparers and local high school accounting students. Eleven years later, her VITA site is currently the highest producing in the region, having processed more than 13,000 free income tax returns to date. Martinez also fought for BFCU’s Certified Acceptance Agent status, which frees them to provide non-U.S. citizens with an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN).

Martinez played a pivotal role in earning BFCU a Community Development Financial Institution (CFDI) certification, which allows them to apply for funds to provide benefits and services to underserved communities. She also led a successful effort in 2010 to secure more than $3.2 million in funds from the U.S. Treasury Community Development Capital Initiative to offer more loans and services to low-income individuals.

Throughout her career, Martinez has strategically leveraged her credit union’s resources to make a positive impact on youth in the Del Rio area. In 2000, she launched the first BFCU Youth Fair for children to open savings accounts and participate in financial education activities, getting both them and their parents engaged with financial literacy. Free and open to the public, the Youth Fair is still held to this day.

With the help of BFCU staff, Martinez launched a Youth Financial Summer Camp in 2005, aimed at children ages 14-18. The four-day session provides teenagers with a crash course in key financial topics, including the difference between credit unions and banks, buying a vehicle, credit scores, business etiquette and credit vs. debit cards.