Filene i3’s Community Impact Center … A Lifeline for Towns Like Grover?

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I grew up in Grover, a small town west of Charlotte and right on the border with South Carolina. My grandfather, like many people in Grover, worked at Minette Mills and farmed on the side to make ends meet.

It was quiet, but a cool place to be a kid. My friends and I would ride our bikes to my great uncle’s store. His store had a drink called “Buffalo Ginger Ale,” which basically was ginger ale with a really spicy kick to it. We’d see who could drink the most. Usually, it wasn’t me.

Next door to the store was Fowler’s Barber Shop, where I would get my hair cut. The owner of the shop had a parrot that would engage in lively conversation with the barber. The barber would say, “The preacher’s coming,” and the parrot would quickly reply, “You better sober up!”

Nobody had much, but we had enough. And parents had hope that their kids would create a better life for themselves.

Back then, making a living was all about what you could do. Back then, you could not finish high school and reasonably expect to be employable. Businesses like Minette Mills made that possible. That was the deal.

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The deal was broken when globalization came to the economy. The mill is gone, and my great uncle’s store closed a long time ago. The Information Age came to Grover, passed through town, and pretty much sucked the life right out of it.

Of course, Grover is a drop in a tidal wave of economic change. There are hundreds of Grovers in NC … small towns with hard workers living in a society that now values what you know more than what you can do.

But in our information-based society, someone still has to do some heavy lifting. Towns like Grover have those kind of workers; they just need some help attracting the right companies.

Enter the Community Impact Center, which was recently proposed by the Filene i3 group. According to Filene, the CIC would be a national shared resource to help credit unions partner with public and private enterprises to engage in community development projects in the spirit of “people helping people.”

In short, it would bring together community building agencies, and entities that can leverage funding and other resources. The Community Impact Center would work with credit unions in underserved communities – places like Grover – to help those communities create economic opportunities. This in turn would also position participating credit unions as community builders, offering a clear point of differentiation. It would of course also open up new markets and new membership development opportunities for credit unions.

The i3 team that formulated the business plan for the CIC includes Dwayne Naylor, who used to work at Local Government FCU (so you know it’s a great idea right up front). In reflecting on the i3 group’s work, Dwayne said that the CIC would allow credit unions to work cooperatively to take more of a leadership role in the area of community development.

He noted that the CIC would pool credit union resources and leverage other funding vehicles – things like tax credits, foundation grants, and partnerships with organizations that have community building at their core. These CIC partnerships would add a knowledge base to the mix that credit unions do not possess.

Dwayne added, and I fully agree, that members expect more community leadership from their credit unions today. Writing checks to organizations that assist people who have slipped through the cracks is quite worthwhile — but the CIC would pool and invest resources in patching the cracks that people fall through.

It’s a Big Idea, and I hope people will give some serious thought about how to make this concept work.

Rebuilding communities like Grover is not an easy task. Many people have lost hope. They’re good people who deserve the chance to stop reflecting on the past, and get the tools they need to build a brighter future. For these people – my people – could the Community Impact Center be the way home?

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4 Responses

  1. You’re so right – there are hundreds of Grovers in NC. One of the biggest challenges will be deciding which “Grover” to address first, and how we can leverage our unique credit union talents/assets to maximize impact.

  2. Matt –

    I agree that there are so many communities in need and it would be difficult on a statewide (let alone national) scale to figure out which communities get the deveopment assistance they need.

    I do think that the CIC is an example of what credit unions could do to differentiate themselves from banks.

    In my view, the conditions that gave birth to our industry (lack of affordable credit to large segments of the population) are now consigned to history.

    Community development could be a powerful niche for credit unions, IMHO.

  3. I recently came across a Buffalo ginger ale bottle. Having not grown up in this area, I am curious as to when this was produced.

  4. @ De Hillyer: Thanks for stopping by! I did a quick search and came up with a couple of links you may wish to check out re: Buffalo Ginger Ale.

    I’ll e-mail these links to you. Good luck and let me know what you find out about this slice of my childhood!

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