The best thing about neighborhoods is the “community” they create among their residents. It’s a sense of belonging, of safety, of knowing that people like you are close by. The businesses in a neighborhood are critical to building and growing that sense of community.
“It’s my job to provide our customers trust, information and support so they feel comfortable doing business here,” explained Sue Cuevas, president and CEO of Nueva Esperanza Community Credit Union.
So, when Toledo’s Old South End residents want to create an account, buy a new appliance or save for a citizenship loan, they have a neighborhood business. The credit union opened in 2011 as the first chartered Latino credit union in Ohio and third in the United States. Today it maintains a $2 million loan portfolio, with almost 850 members and 1,200 accounts.
Making Neighborhood Contacts
“I was the only full-time employee and establishing a credit union was a new experience for me,” said Cuevas, who has more than 25 years experience in banking and financial management. She visited Latino festivals, organizations and churches, neighborhood businesses and people on the street, talking with them about joining the credit union.
“I literally did business from my car, using a copy machine in my back seat,” she remembered.
Many of the credit union’s customers have had little prior experience with banking. “Many of my customers were financially abused by their home countries in the past,” Cuevas explained. They were reluctant to deposit their money with an outside entity, let alone applying for a loan.
“We had to adjust our way of doing business to conform to the needs of our customers,” she said. “We explained how the credit union experience worked – in their own language – and built trust in our community.”
Establishing a Community Reputation
Nueva Esperanza provides loans for ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) customers, those in the U.S. legally but unable to get a Social Security number. “Often, we are the first organization willing to give them a loan,” she said.
As a traditional credit union, membership is open to anyone who works, lives, attends school or church, or volunteers in Lucas County. Because the credit union became well known among Latinos, it now includes members living in Lucas, Defiance, Wood, Fulton, Henry and Williams counties in Ohio, and Lenawee County in Michigan.
They also earned community honors, with state and national Louise Herring Philosophy in Action Awards, the 2019 Nuestra Familia distinguished Hispanic Government Ohioan Award and the local 2018 Cesar Chavez award for community service.
In 2018, they moved into their new facility, in the lower level of the ProMedica Compassion Health facility at 1638 Broadway St. and added a part-time employee.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge for the credit union in 2020. “We have seen a decline in deposits over the year of the pandemic,” Cuevas said. “Many of our members lost their jobs during this time. We helped several food trucks get started in the neighborhood, and 2020 was tough for many of them.” But she has seen deposits starting to improve lately, as neighborhood businesses begin to reopen, and the job outlook improves.
“For many of our customers, their biggest challenge in life was getting to the United States,” Cuevas said. “We named the credit union Nueva Esperanza – New Hope – for a reason. Everyone has the right to access banking services in their own neighborhood. Establishing this credit union has been the most rewarding experience of my life.”