A Champion of Change

‘Every day you’re changing people’s lives.’

December 27, 2013

If he could be a rock star, John Herrera would be Elvis, “because he had good looks and good moves.”

Herrera has made good moves since he co-founded Latino Community Credit Union, Durham, N.C., in 2000. The credit union has grown to a $100 million asset institution today with more than 55,000 members (a 30% increase in the past five years).

A senior vice president at Self-Help Credit Union, Durham, N.C., since 1999, he was recognized earlier this year in the White House’s “Champions of Change” ceremony, which honored 11 foreign-born entrepreneurs.

North Carolina has several rural, underserved areas, where prospective members live on farms with little access to the financial services found in large cities, says Herrera. He sees a network of local farm bureaus, churches, mobile branches, and mobile communications providing financial products and education to meet their needs.

“Once folks know the benefits of the credit union, they’ll use it,” says Herrera, who has seen his credit union help members buy their first homes and first cars, open businesses, and send their children to college. Helping members in their financial quests is what Herrera finds most rewarding about his job. “Every day you’re changing people’s lives by helping them grow financially and realize their dreams.”

“People helping people” is the primary theme of Latino Community and other credit unions, Herrera says. “We work for our members. We want to promote the idea of volunteerism and the shared benefits of community development. We work together better than we do individually.”

The White House announcement said Latino Community Credit Union “has become the fastest growing community development credit union in the nation and a banking model for new immigrants.”

“I remember when we started, people saw immigrants as too expensive to serve,” Herrera recalls. “But we were created to serve the underserved.”

The previously underserved individuals and businesses have rewarded Latino Community’s faith in them by not only keeping the credit union strong, but also by helping it grow during the recent financial crisis, adds Herrera, a naturalized American from Costa Rica, who cites his faith and his family as the driving forces in his life.

Herrera sees Vietnamese communities in several areas as needing the same financial services that Latino communities need. And, he adds, these services are the same as what northern European immigrants needed only a few generations ago.

"The sooner we embrace them, the sooner we’ll have stronger communities,” says Herrera.