‘The mouse that roars’

‘The mouse that roars’

Credit union’s commitment to community belies its modest size.

July 19, 2019

Tarrant County’s Credit Union (TCCU) is by most measures a small credit union, with fewer than 50 employees, $86 million in assets, and approximately 11,000 members.

But staff’s commitment to community involvement is huge—and it’s making a significant impact in an often-struggling neighborhood just four miles from TCCU’s office in downtown Fort Worth, Texas.

“We say we’re the mouse that roars,” says Shelli McCoy, vice president of operations. “We have extensive community efforts and givebacks are more than what many big credit unions do. We have passionate people here, and it starts from the top with our president and CEO” (Lily Newfarmer).

For McCoy and many of her co-workers, attending the National Credit Union Foundation’s Development Education (DE) Training fueled that passion. Most of the projects currently underway at TCCU evolved from staff’s experiences at DE.

“I was just blown away when I went to DE,” says McCoy, who’d been working in the credit union industry for a dozen years before coming to TCCU and attending DE in 2015.

“For the first time I understood what credit unions are about,” she says. “When I left DE, I knew I would never look at my job or my members the same. I’m part of a true movement. It just changed my whole outlook on credit unions, my career, and my world view.”

An eye-opening experience

Learning about credit unions’ cooperative principles and philosophy, and 12 global development issues, was the first eye-opening experience for many DE participants, McCoy says.

“Though I’d been in the field for years, I’d never heard of these,” she says, adding that the program explores issues that hinder people from being successful. “It makes you understand that your members are facing those issues and that you need to help them.”

Upon graduating from DE, “you’re basically charged to go back to your community and use what you’ve learned in a project,” McCoy says.

She became aware that just a few miles away from TCCU’s downtown office, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Fort Worth was being revitalized as a holistic “Purpose Built Community,” providing local housing, jobs, schools, and health care, with many new facilities being built on donated land.

The goal was to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

“I felt this was it—it was meant for me to find this,” McCoy says. “It intrigued me that people in this community were dealing with each of the 12 development issues I learned about in DE.”

CEO Lily Newfarmer recalls that McCoy “came back from DE on fire and came across Renaissance Heights. The mayor had already rerouted a bus route to go there. The YMCA was putting a facility there and a clinic was opening-up. I said, you know what’s missing? Financial education.”

McCoy, TCCU co-workers, “and many other DE friends in the area” spent time in the community, “where residents got to know us and we got to know them,” she says. “We asked, ‘What do you need? Let us help you.’”

The volunteer group’s early efforts included participation in a back to school rally and donation of school supplies, paid for by TCCU staff. It also hosted the neighborhood’s first financial education Reality Fair for high-school students with the help of the Cornerstone Credit Union Foundation.

One of the anchor nonprofit groups involved in Renaissance Heights is ACH Child and Family Services, which handles all foster care in Texas. TCCU funded and taught Biz Kid$ classes to young people at the ACH Emergency Shelter for a year, and donated materials to continue the financial education program.

Volunteers have also provided financial education to young people who receive housing and support services by ACH while they work or attend college after they turn 18 and become officially too old to be in the foster care system.

For her DE work, McCoy received the Joe Biden Award for Development Educator of the Year for North America in 2018. There were entries from around the world. “When she won, we could barely contain ourselves,” Newfarmer recalls.

NEXT: ‘It changed my perspective’

‘It changed my perspective’

Newfarmer worked in credit unions for 20 years before attending DE—and she went only to placate two colleagues who had gone through the training/

“Honest-to-goodness, they hounded me for two years to go,” she says. “It changed my perspective, not just on how credit unions should act, but in my leadership role. I wanted to be more impactful in the lives of my staff and in my community.”

She believes everyone can benefit from DE, especially people in the early stages of their credit union careers. Along with Angela McCathran, CEO of Peoples Trust Credit Union, and Courtney Moran, executive director of the Cornerstone Credit Union Foundation, both DE graduates, Newfarmer helped develop a two-and-a-half-day intensive training course called “Leveraging the Credit Union Difference” for people who can’t attend a full DE training.

This is now part of the Cornerstone Credit Union League’s annual training lineup.

Meghan Jamison, a Member Solutions Clerk at TCCU, is actively involved with a large network of young professional credit union employees, organizing and hosting dozens of workshops and events.

Jamison, who won the 2018 Young Professional of the Year award from the Cornerstone Credit Union League, completed DE training last year.

“The empathy you learn is a huge game-changer,” she says. “I’m in collections, which is a unique role. I hear all of the bad news. Going through DE changed how I do my job. I understand that good people go through bad situations, and I let them know what services are available. It’s about trying to help without judgment.”

Melissa Burleson, TCCU business development coordinator, received the Cornerstone League’s 2017 award for Young Professional of the Year. She completed DE training in 2015.

“I originally went in thinking the issues they’d be talking about were in developing countries, not in my community. But going through DE was eye-opening. I’d been very naïve but came out realizing the importance of volunteering.”

After the training, Burleson partnered with not-for-profit and non-profit groups and focus on one of the 12 development issues each month for a year.

One month, focusing on transportation, “we partnered with a nonprofit in Denton and collected gently used and a few new bikes for those who were homeless or didn’t have transportation to and from work,” she says.

Other partnerships have resulted in TCCU employees volunteering to clean up a local lake, participating in and sponsoring blood drives, working at a local food bank, helping to plant and maintain a community garden, and raising money to buy new coats for almost 90 children.

The connections TCCU has developed with its members and neighbors in the Fort Worth community can be replicated elsewhere, too, Newfarmer believes.

“Making lives better” can be the mission of every credit union and employee, she says. "A lot of times people think getting involved is too overwhelming because they can't go away to do field work. But you don't have to go to a remote place around the globe—field work is wherever you are. Do something. If you do good, business will come.”