Loving the San Francisco Bay Area... Community development, urban ministry, trying to defeat poverty, faith, religion, politics, good music, the quest for the perfect pizza, the Yankees, motorcycles... All in a 'day's life'

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Recent Press Release

Branch Is First Credit Union in Area Currently Served By One Community Bank, Several Check-Cashing and Payday Lending Establishments

March 21, 2008

From coast to coast, several credit unions have banded together to help Community Trust Credit Union in Modesto, CA open up a branch in East Palo Alto.

The community of more than 40,000 residents, mostly low-income and Latino, is currently served by one small community bank as well as a number of check-cashing and payday lending establishments. Many banks left the 2.5-square-mile city in the 1980s. On March 15, Community Trust Credit Union of East Palo Alto held its grand opening celebration with more than 150 members, community and credit unions leaders, residents, and legislative officials in attendance.
Palo Alto, CA-based Stanford Federal Credit Union and Addison Avenue Federal Credit Union, and San Francisco-based Patelco Federal Credit Union joined up to serve as the mentor credit unions and underwriters of the branch, officially called Community Trust Credit Union of East Palo Alto. Each, along with the Northern California Urban Development (NCUD)—a non-profit organization that works on economic empowerment and community development in East Palo Alto—contributed a total of $120,000 in initial capital. And the three credit unions have pledged to contribute interest-free deposits of $100,000 for the next three years. Each also provided staff, resources, and worked to raise capital from other credit unions and affiliated organizations.

So far, 10 credit unions and credit union affiliates from throughout the country—including Bellco CU in Colorado, Bethpage CU in New York, NuUnion CU in Michigan, University FCU in Texas, and PSCU Financial Services, a St. Petersburg, Fl.-based credit union service organization that serves more than 1,100 financial institutions nationwide—have contributed $100,000 each in interest-free CDs. Contributing California credit unions include LBS FCU in Long Beach, Orange County’s CU in Santa Ana, KeyPointCU in Santa Clara, Meriwest CU in San Jose, and Star One CU in Sunnyvale.

“This is a unique collaboration of credit unions helping each other to try to bring services to an underserved community,” said Joe Duran, Community Trust Credit Union CEO.

“We couldn’t have opened up the branch without the support of both the community and these credit unions,” said Sandy Smith, Community Trust Credit Union vice president of branch development.
The need for more financial institutions in the East Palo Alto community led NCUD founder John Liotti to seek out Duran and his credit union three years ago for assistance. Community Trust Credit Union, a designed community development financial institution since 2002, has served its membership, which include low-income, Latino populations in the Central Valley. Liotti wanted to use Community Trust’s model to start a credit union in the city. But upon finding out that would take too long, it was decided to open a Community Trust CU branch instead.

Duran credits three people in particular for their assistance during the process: Stu Fisher, vice president of business development and retail sales for Addison Avenue FCU; Anita Macias, senior vice president of corporate planning and communications for Patelco FCU; and Keith Troup, vice president of branch operations for Stanford FCU.

“Addison Avenue believes in economic empowerment; we wanted to do something in this space that showed leadership in the community. The support we’ve given to the community of East Palo Alto is one of the many ways Addison Avenue goes the extra distance to demonstrate this,” Fisher said. He has been deeply involved in the development of the institution and served as its interim CEO for a time.
“It's a pleasure for Patelco to partner with these credit unions to help bring needed financial services to the residents of EPA, this venture is truly representative of the cooperative sprint of credit unions,” said Andy Hunter, Patelco Federal Credit Union president and CEO.

Stanford Federal Credit Union CEO John R. Davis said: “We know that many people are 'unbanked' and lack access to money for purchasing a home or car. People who live in a cash society cannot get credit and they often pay outrageous fees just to cash paychecks. This community needed a credit union that understands its needs, and that's what they got.”

Since the branch’s soft opening in December, Duran, Smith, and other CTCU staff have made the three-hour round-trip trek (double if there’s traffic) to East Palo Alto at least once a week. For the first month and a half, other employees traveled to the Bay Area city to provide training. The branch—currently opened four days a week—is staffed with two employees, both hired from the local area. It has now opened more than 150 accounts, mostly through word of mouth, according to Duran.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Gordon McDonald on Retooling the Church in the Starbuck's Model

Here's a great quote from Gordon McDonald at the Leadership Journal website where he discusses some recent retooling the Starbuck's organization and how it relates to the way we 'do church'.

Gordon States:
I believe that the evangelical movement—in which I've invested my life—has been pretty much hijacked away from its original identity as Jesus-proclaimers and changed into a political movement. Ask any five people on the street what an evangelical is, and I bet four of them will offer a political (not a faith-based) answer. Remember: we are named by those who are not of us; we do not name ourselves.
He goes on to state:
Perhaps a door-closed session might provide an opportunity for us to ask ourselves if we are really caring about (and speaking into) the most important things that challenge our world and, close-in, our own society. I for one don't think so. Is it possible (to borrow a word-picture once ascribed to D.L. Moody) that we are too often haggling amongst ourselves about where to hang pictures while all around us the building we are in is burning.
Join the discussion here.

CU Grand Opening Recap - NCUD Update

Dear NCUD Friends,

Recap of Grand Opening
Last Saturday we had a wonderful grand opening celebration. Many leaders, well wishers and friends from the East Palo Alto (EPA) and surrounding community attended. This included State Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, East Palo Alto Mayor Pat Foster, City Council members David Woods, Ruben Abrica and Pete Evans, members of the national, regional and local credit union community and church leaders from EPA and surrounding communities. We also had a special presentation of a flag that was flown over the Capitol in Washington D.C. from Congresswoman Anna Eshoo given to us by State Congressman Ira Ruskin.

This was a wonderful, joyous celebration where we culminated over 3/1/2 years of work, planning, praying and organizing. I know many of our friends were able to stop by, thank you for celebrating with us. I will shortly post pictures of the event on our website at www.norcaludc.org. I have also attached an article that was in the Palo Alto Daily News last Saturday.

Many of you have played a part in this project throughout. I wanted to say thank you. We're here because so many helped and believed in us along the way. East Palo Alto now has it's own credit union, and an alternative to hi-cost predatory lenders and check cashers. You've been a big part of that.

What is NCUD Doing Now?
NCUD is now turned it's focus on three main endeavors: supporting the credit union's activities in the community, youth (and eventually adult) financial literacy training and micro-finance lending.

Our youth programs, including our 'Economis' token economy program and our Basic Financial Literacy Training is currently working with 135 students weekly and having great results. We have begun the research and development process to identify and implement a micro loan program using best practices from around the country. This will be implemented with our partner organizations in the community in the upcoming months. More great news is certainly to come!

Getting Involved
Your continued support is critical right now as we build upon our success. If you'd like to make a donation, volunteer in our youth programs or simply hear more about our efforts please don't hesitate to contact me. Donation can be made through out web site or by mailing a check to the address below. All donations are tax deductible.

If you'd like to volunteer to teach a class, help with random tasks in the office or any number of activities, please contact me. A current needs and opportunity list is on our website.

Golf Tournament on July 18th
You can also support us by sponsoring or playing in our Third Annual Golf Classic on July 18th. More information is on our website at: www.norcaludc.org. This event benefits our youth financial literacy programs. We're looking for major sponsors ($1500.00 and above), hole sponsors ($300.00), raffle and auction items and willing golfers!

Again, thank you for your encouragement, support, prayers and good will over the past years. We expect great things for East Palo Alto and Northern California!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Article in Palo Alto Daily News about East Palo Alto Credit Union Project

Here's a recent article about the credit union project. Our grand opening was yesterday - more updates to come...
First credit union shows signs of success
Plan aims at low-interest loans for East Palo Alto
By Banks Albach / Daily News Staff Writer

John Liotti has a vision for East Palo Alto, and it involves low-interest loans.

With the support and help of several community members, Liotti last December launched Community Trust Credit Union, the city's first credit union. He's hoping that a combination of cheaper car loans and mortgages, eventual small business financing and an alternative to the expensive check cashing outlets in the city will help locals save and succeed financially.

Liotti said the credit union can offer members car loans 5 to 10 percent lower than banks.

The credit union will celebrate its grand opening today.

"This community has been amazingly under-banked," Liotti said inside his credit union office on Bay Road. "Our goal is to move people out of the shadows of the financial world and away from predatory lending."

East Palo Alto, a 2 1/2-square-mile city with 31,000 people, has 14 check cashing outlets where residents can get fast cash at a steep price. Before the credit union, residents had only one bank in the city - California Bank and Trust, near Home Depot in the Ravenswood Shopping Center, which set up shop in 2001. Before that, financial institutions stayed away since an exodus in the 1980s amidst rising crime.

Throughout the years, some residents have looked into setting up a local credit union, to no avail, said the Rev. Paul Bains, whose brother owns the credit union's building.

"This is not the first time someone has tried in East Palo Alto, but it's the first time it's been successful," Bains said. "No one stayed the course."

With local roots and a growing number of local accounts - 140 already - Liotti is confident his credit union will succeed. Its manager, Maria Chavez, said she is steadily getting referrals from other members and has also been signing up people who have never banked before.

"We've had to show some people how to use an ATM," Chavez said.

Liotti, who also is president and CEO of Northern California Urban Development, said he first thought of opening a credit union around 2004 and made it happen through a large network of supporters and donors. The day-to-day operation of the credit union, for example, is being handled by the main office of Community Trust in Modesto. Liotti said he plans to support customers with financial advice and training through his nonprofit.

Community Trust, which has branches in Stockton and Riverbank, is classified as a community development financial institution by the federal government and thus eligible for special grants. Its president and CEO, Joe Duran, said it focuses on underserved communities.

"More than 50 percent of our members are classified as low-income," Duran said. "What we've discovered is that a lot of the traditional banks have moved away form these areas."

The initial $800,000 in financing for the East Palo Alto branch came from numerous sources, Liotti said. Menlo Park Presbyterian Church kicked in $50,000, and three larger credit unions - Addison Avenue, Stanford and Patelco - dedicated $300,000 total toward covering the branch's losses in its first three years. To jump-start its working capital, several credit unions around the country made zero-interest, three-year loans to the credit union.

"What we believe in is that East Palo Alto should have as many services as possible to be healthy and whole," said Larry Moody, director of local ministries for the Menlo Park church. "It wasn't a hard sell."

Liotti said he feels the credit union will break even after 19 months.

"A lot of people from outside the community said we couldn't do this," Liotti said. "We've surpassed our own expectations," Liotti said.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Simul Iustus et Peccator

The Latin phrase, simil iustus et peccator, encapsulates how I've been feeling lately in my struggle to have good character. This is highlighted by the fall of NY governor Elliot Spitzer. 

It means simultaneous saint and sinner. The excellent article on the Sojourners website called "Latin Tattoos and 24 Hours of Televangelism" (by Nadia Bolz-Weber) The article deals with the duality of life and the redemption of the Cross of Christ. We are all 100% sinners - but Christ's sacrifice (as Christian's believe) makes us righteous in His eyes, making us 100% saints. It's not a licence to sin -we all are called to live holy and righteous, but it speaks of the state of grace we live in when we are committed to Christ in spite of our failings. It also reminds us of our hopelessness without Christ's sacrifice. Appropriate thoughts during this Lenten and Easter season. 

The article states:
"The really liberating thing about this is that when we all come to the table fully aware that we are sinners, that we are broken on some level and never perfect, then the temptation to pretend otherwise is greatly diminished. To embrace your sinfulness and saintliness is not the same as being intentionally immoral. It is to be realistic that no one can possibly be 100% honest all the time, to always think of the neighbor before the self, to always honor God in everything you do, to at all times decrease in self so that others may increase. Even if our actions come close to this (they never do but if they did), we still are stuck with the reality of our minds and the thoughts of our hearts. You see, the spiritual poison of our own righteousness, of saying here are the rules we must follow to please God and to be sanctified, and I follow those rules so I have good reason to be prideful about my sanctification because I earned it is problematic. The moment we try and maintain our holiness, the moment we try to appear to be without sin, that junk just comes out sideways."
It reminds me of an old Resurrection Band called 'The Struggle' It says"
Sometimes You scare me by what You cause me to see
And I'm afraid of knowing who I am
Although You've changed me there's still a whole lot of old wineskin
And to open up would destroy the me, I'm afraid to show
One part of me doesn't want to grow
But I'm tired of this lingering winter
Tired of ground so hard and cold
Plow Your way through, I'm asking You to, Jesus
Lord, You're my only hope

Go Visit This Site

Go visit Sam's blog. He's been following in my footsteps and blogging again.

We've been on a quest to find soup dumplings like the ones we ate in New York. Living in the Bay Area, with the large Chinese population we have here, you'd think we could find something similar. Our quest continues - but we recently came close at at place called Hu Chiang Dumpling House in Cupertino. Great soup dumplings, but still not as good as Joe's Shanghai in Chinatown, Manhattan.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Growing Up Online

I recently saw a great episode of Frontline called "Growing Up Online". To me, this is the natural extension of Jeremy Del Rio's "Mook's, Midriffs, Myspace and More" teaching. In the episode the narrator states that this is the most significant generation gap since rock and roll in the 60's. I agree that many parents don't get how addictive and important their kids online profiles are and will become. As I've heard some of the experts say lately, the next wave, even greater than the social networking sites, will be virtual reality sites like Second Life where people can create an existence of their own design. Even Silicon Valley giants like Sun Microsystems have begun using Second Life for video conferencing. This shows the importance and usefulness of this type of program. 

Sites like this blog are already passe to young people. They've left this form of expression to us old folks! 

If you have kids, they certainly know about and most likely are using Myspace and Facebook. Over 90% of kids are online, and the number is growing. There is no way around it. So, the question is, how, as parents (and concerned people, youth workers and pastors) are we to act? We have to find ways to be both police and encouragers. There are many good things about a life online, but as with anything - there are many perils. We have to find a way to provide boundaries without being obtrusive. Samuel is only 12 right now - so I know I have a lot to learn. 

I look at the time I spend online (i.e. this blog). Between his online account with Playstation and his website my son is starting to rival my time online. I have to think strategically, knowing the times we live in.

Watch the episode - and please post your thoughts....

Like they used to say on TV (remember that??) - It's now 12:30 in East Palo Alto, do you know what your kids are posting online? Quite chilling!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Bank Accounts for the Undocumented

We keep getting asked about providing bank accounts for undocumented. Here's an answer:
"At least 200 (including Community Trust Credit Union) U.S. financial firms and other businesses accept an identification card called matricula consular, which is issued to Mexican nationals by Mexican consulates. More than 4 million immigrants carry the cards, according to the Mexican government and the Congressional Research Service. (Source: USA Today)

The U.S. Treasury Dept. granted a victory to immigrants who use consular identity cards, as well as to the banks who serve them. Source: National Immigration Law Center.)

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Good Stuff

Found the website: The Wittenburg Door. Back 'in the day' I used to read 'the Door' religiously. It's great Christian satire and commentary on modern eveangelicism. I laughed out loud reading the article on Obama called "Blessed are the Swishy"

Here's what I've been listening to lately. I recommend all these records: 
  1. Echos, Silence Patience and Grace - Foo Fighters
  2. In Another Land - Larry Norman (RIP)
  3. Brighter Than Creation's Dark - Drive By Truckers
  4. Sirens of the Ditch - Jason Isbell
  5. In Rainbows - Radiohead
  6. The Fight of My Life - Kirk Franklin
  7. Magic - Bruce Springsteen
  8. Into the Wild - Eddie Vetter
Went and saw "No Country for Old Men" last weekend. While it's bloody, it has a profound message. It's not for the faint of heart. I intererpret the movie as a statement about chance and choices. It's about the choices we make and how they impact the world around us. I've been thinking about it all week. 

Friday, March 07, 2008

Non-Profit Leadership Crisis

Great article in the Palo Alto Daily News on the current leadership crisis in the non-profit sector. 
Nonprofit organizations face an unprecedented challenge in recruiting and retaining the next generation of leaders, according to a sobering report released this week by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services in San Francisco.

And unless it meets the challenge, virtually every sector of society will feel the effects, noted Linda Wood, senior program officer with the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, a San Francisco organization that three years ago began offering leadership development grants for nonprofits.

"As a society, we are more and more dependent on the nonprofit sector to deliver services to have strong cultural organizations, to fight on behalf of people with respect to civil rights, to create strong and healthy communities, and even to educate our children," Wood said.

Government is outsourcing more work to nonprofit organizations, said Jeanne Bell, executive director of CompassPoint. And most environmental organizations are nonprofit, she added, as are a growing number of community health clinics.

"If we're not building leadership in that sector, it's a no-brainer that there's a lot at stake," Wood said.
It goes on to say...
"What you're seeing are big cohorts retiring all at once, which is creating a lot of questions about the future of the leadership," said Marla Cornelius, projects director with CompassPoint and one of the authors of the report.

In addition, the number of nonprofit groups keeps expanding, fueled in part by baby boomers who made fortunes in industry turning to philanthropic ventures, according to a 2006 article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review called the "The Leadership Deficit," published by Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.

Between 1995 and 2004, the number of nonprofits with annual funding exceeding $250,000 grew from 62,800 to 104,700, a growth rate of nearly 6 percent, the Stanford article stated. And between 1992 and 2002, each year saw the formation on average of 2,900 new foundations, which disseminate grant money to nonprofit groups that directly provide services.

As a result, noted Thomas Tierney, the study author, the nonprofit sector will need to recruit an estimated 640,000 new executives in the next decade - nearly two and a half times the number currently employed.

Many nonprofit organizations, Tierney wrote, are "one person away from a leadership crisis."
So, what are some of the conclusions on how to counteract this problem?
To attract enough high-caliber nonprofit leaders to meet the growing demand, the report outlined a series of steps that executive directors, boards of directors, individual donors and foundations can to take to recruit and retain leaders.

A key is for nonprofit boards and foundations, as well as the public, to support increased salaries and benefits for those working in the nonprofit sector. The report noted that "we tend to undervalue nonprofit work and the people who do it."

And along with better compensation, more support is needed to fund internal development programs.

Also, the job of executive director needs to become less onerous, emphasized Wood, as younger nonprofit workers report wanting better work-life balance than their predecessors.

"One of the goals is to take the burden off the shoulders of the executive director, and build a senior team," she said.

"In the past, our job was to roll up our sleeves and do the good work for the good cause, and not focus on infrastructure needs and professional development," Glenn said.

"The for-profit world is very mindful of developing within and spending lots of money to do it," she continued. "And that isn't part of the culture of the nonprofit world."

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Anne Lamott - Thoughts on Grace

Anne Lamott was interviews in the Washington Times about her new book on grace. I may not always agree with her politics, but I love her writing and fresh perspective.
The following are excerpts from an interview:

Question: This is your third book on faith. How did you choose these particular stories for inclusion?

Answer: They were really just the next batch that came along organically. I love being a little bit older. I really do think you grow up as you go. In "Grace," I am kind of dealing with the reality of who I am now and that I am probably not going to be too much different than this. And how I can be more graceful about handling the things I don't get.

Q: How has your faith evolved during these past 20-25 years? How does your work reflect that?

A: I didn't mean to become a Christian — my father hated Christians and especially Presbyterians. He was the son of Christian missionaries in Tokyo, and he just found them lacking a certain deep human quality. He called Presbyterians "God's frozen people." So I accidentally wandered into a mostly black Presbyterian church when I was 31, when I was still drinking. I didn't mean to go to church. I went in because I didn't have any more good ideas, which I think is where spirituality really begins.

Little by little, I started to follow Jesus, without knowing what that meant. I had been living fairly successfully with a good career, and I had lots of loving relatives and friends. But I just thought I was the most screwed-up person on earth. I thought one day the phone would ring, and I would be busted as a fraud. I would have to get a real job, and I would get kicked out of the tribe.

Jesus took me just as I was. I got sober and learned who I was. I needed to let go of this baggage that I had been carrying, this identity that I thought I needed to be a writer — suffering, narcissism and self-loathing.

Q: That's an interesting idea — the perception of a writer. How would you say your faith has impacted your view on suffering and self-loathing and that in turn has impacted your writing?

A: I was raised by a writer, and most of our friends were alcoholic writers also. I sort of bought into that whole thing, that somehow the suffering and the chaos you created in the world and in your own life just came with the territory. I think that has killed a lot of people.

I really did worry if I got sober my gift wouldn't be there, that my gift was dependent on having this kind of edge of despair and of being larger than life, which you certainly feel like when you're drinking. You also feel as small as a lentil, so failing as a creative spirit, as a human in your own family.

When I got sober it took me a really long time to be able to write again — months — and then it felt like somebody had come by and cleaned the windows. Everything I have written since I got sober has been much better than the earlier stuff.

Q: How does aging affect your views on grace?

A: Being a parent really grows you; so does beginning to be old enough that a number of people in your life die. It shakes you up and forces the issues of who you are and how are you going to live. How much more time are you willing to waste doing stupid stuff that doesn't matter?

Q: You mentioned joy earlier.

A: I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We're here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don't have time to carry grudges; you don't have time to cling to the need to be right.

Q: You have very strong political beliefs, which are influenced by your faith. In America today, there are religious people who hold equally strong, but opposite, beliefs also because of their faith. Your work has managed to attract a following among both sets of people. Why do you think that is?

A: I just tell people to write what they want to come upon, what they're really like on the inside. I love it when people are real, and I love it when people are silly, and I love it when people grapple with issues of life.

I really have a different way of encouraging people, which is much more toward who they really are and not who they agree to be for their families or their churches, but who they deeply and truly, authentically are. It's a relief for people that someone who can be funny is also really trying to tell the truth about what it's like to be human and a woman and an American and a Christian.

Q: Where do you think the role of shame comes into all of this?

A: Deciding to heal the toxic shame from our families and cultures is the single most important thing we do, the incredibly difficult work of abiding self-love. I was all but defeated by shame. Our family didn't ever have enough money. I didn't have enough money when I was raising Sam [her son] for a long time, but I had this terrible combination of shame and self-loathing, narcissism and grandiosity — it's all the same thing.

Toxic self-consciousness is really part of the enemy of shame, as is perfectionism. We were raised to think we can do better; we were raised thinking we were almost OK. To me, it's the great fight we are called to do, to stand in our truth. Instead of doing what our mothers would do, clean up the living room and make it nice for others, to say to God, "I picked up the living room, but I know I won't heal if I just show you the living room. I want to show you the closet and the drawers. I am very sad, and I am very terrified because I know it's bad." That's how I experience Jesus, Him getting how deep the suffering and the shame is — and standing in the truth of you being a child of God.