Sue Cuevas planned to stay for just a year when she was hired to lead Ohio’s first Latino credit union. Then, the credit union difference hooked her for good.
“I love what I do at Nueva Esperanza because I love the philosophy of people helping people,” she says.
Cuevas is the CEO of 12-year-old Nueva Esperanza Community Credit Union in Toledo, Ohio, which has almost 900 members and $2.6 million in assets.
She previously worked at banks and as a financial adviser, but helping small credit unions thrive quickly became her passion.
“You can’t do something without having the passion that leads you to be successful,” Cuevas says.
Cuevas was raised in a close-knit Latino family. Her grandfather brought her father to America in his childhood. Her father and his siblings were migrant workers at Midwestern farms who also all graduated from high school. Her father became a pastor who welcomed missionaries from around the world into their home, providing an example in serving others.
Cuevas became the first family member to graduate from college after studying in the U.S. and Mexico.
Today, she uses her family’s experiences and her fluent Spanish to instill trust in potential members she meets at parent-teacher conferences, churches, the zoo, and anywhere else Latino residents gather.
From the beginning, Nueva Esperanza Community has worked to give Latino residents access to credit, despite their lack of traditional credit histories.
The credit union’s first loan went to a couple who needed a furnace to replace the risky space heaters they used to keep their children warm at night. Although they had a steady income and a good debt ratio, other lenders turned the couple down because they lacked a credit rating.
They cried when they learned Nueva Esperanza Community approved their loan. “We have such heartwarming stories,” Cuevas says. “We become counselors, advisers, friends.”
For the first year, Cuevas was the credit union’s only employee and worked out of her car recruiting members. Nueva Esperanza Community now has a part-time teller.
Cuevas uses the hourlong drive from the credit union to her rural home to shed the stress of each day. The next morning’s drive back helps her arrive at Nueva Esperanza Community ready to deliver solutions for Latino residents.
“I’ve always felt like I have to make every moment count,” she says. “You have to reach out to everyone in your community and make them aware of what you can contribute.”