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ACFCU expanding community impact

Zach Vance • Mar 6, 2018 at 8:50 AM

Numbers say a great deal about Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union’s community impact over the past year.

ACFCU CEO Ron Scott is pleased with those numbers, and said they reveal the credit union’s success as a Community Development Financial Institution – but adds that success goes deeper than numbers.

“What’s most gratifying for us is to truly see lives changed because of what we’re building here as a committed CDFI,” Scott said.

A $2.1 million grant awarded in March has helped more than 110 low and moderate-income families become homeowners, with each receiving $10,500 in assistance. Another grant for nearly $1 million, announced in September, will allow ACFCU and its partners to provide homeownership opportunities to people who might otherwise be shut out of the process. Hundreds of people saw their credit scores improve with the help of ACFCU’s financial coaching and workshops in 2017. Hundreds more chose ACFCU as an affordable alternative to predatory title and payday lenders.

“We’ve done a great job carrying out our mission in the past year,” Scott said.

That mission is to provide community and economic development to underserved individuals and businesses who lack adequate access to capital, high-quality financial services and financial counseling.

CDFIs — created in the 1990s to increase small business' access to capital investments and assist families over reliant on payday lenders — have a similar focus.

CDFIs have been a good investment for the public good. The National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions estimates that for every $1 of public funds, CDFI credit unions leverage at least $12 of private capital.

For ACFCU, growing as a CDFI requires strong partnerships with nonprofits, educational institutions, churches, social service agencies and others. Coming alongside them, ACFCU can leverage those groups’ strengths and support them with the credit union’s specialties: financial coaching and products that assist low-to-moderate income people a hand up, not just a hand out.

“We see the fruit of our mission most clearly in the stories of people we serve whose lives dramatically improve,” Scott said.

Take Amanda and Dustin Wooten. The couple bought a three-bedroom home in Valley Forge last May thanks to $10,500 in down payment assistance through ACFCU’s “Project Reinvest” grant.

“The program has been an answer to prayer,” Amanda Wooten said.

The Wootens and their two young sons moved from a dilapidated rental trailer, where they were paying more in combined rent and utilities than they're now paying in mortgage and utility costs.

The Wootens wanted better for themselves, and especially for their boys.

“We want them to be able to grow up in a home that we own so they know they can have that same thing if they work hard and handle their money right,” Amanda said.

Helping people who want better for themselves to handle money right is a foundation to ACFCU’s work, Scott said. Families who purchase homes through Project Reinvest receive eight hours of homeownership counseling. Others have also worked with ACFCU financial coaches simply to get their credit scores to a level that allowed them to buy a home.

Similar stories play out among people seeking to get out of the cycle of high-interest payday lending, those wanting to improve battered credit scores and those simply starting out on their credit journey.

“We’re encountering people who benefit from our services through coordination with partners like Family Promise, Eastern Eight Community Development Corporation, Tusculum College and Insight Training and Educational Center,” Scott said, naming some of ACFCU’s partners that are in or near Johnson City. “But our reputation is spreading, and people are seeking us out.”

That was the case with Stephanie Furches. After she and her husband were denied for a vehicle loan, she heard about ACFCU.

“We got a call that there’s a credit union in town that would work with us,” Furches said.

ACFCU staff eventually met with the Furcheses, negotiated with creditors and also coached them toward financial wellness. The couple put in the work and their credit scores improved markedly. They eventually bought a truck, and now they’re working toward qualifying for a mortgage.

“Unfortunately people like us, and I know there’s a lot of people out there, they are being taken advantage of by other institutions that are quick finance, and I knew that wasn’t our answer,” Furches said. “We needed long-term structure, long-term guidance, and (ACFCU) offered that. It was a blessing, and it’s changed our lives forever."

Scott is hopeful ACFCU continues benefiting families and expanding their assistance in 2018.

“We’ve barely begun to tap the need that’s out there,” he said. “We’ll continue pursuing grants, strengthening partnerships and trying to reach people individually, because we believe our work is changing communities.”

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