Helping new Mainers is something Maine CUs are "embracing"

January 16, 2018

According to recent articles, Maine's population growth is a result of immigrants coming to the state to settle.  Many of these 'new Mainers' have little or no experience or understanding of the financial system.  However, thanks to outreach efforts and a commitment to financial education by Maine CUs, a number of immigrants are finding a 'home' for their money and financial services at a credit union.

Coming from countries such as Somalia, Rwanda, Burudni, Syria, Iraq, and the Congo, a number of Maine credit unions are creating new programs and services to help immigrants get acclimated and on the path to financial success. 

At cPort CU, the credit union has been active in the immigrant community for a number of years, including developing a scholarship program that began in an elementary school in Portland, which had a large immigrant population.  The program was aimed at getting kids interested in college, and provide a scholarship to help them get started.  Additiionally, Gene Ardito, President/CEO of the credit union, served on the Board of Community Financial Literacy, including several years as Chair, an organization that is focused on helping immigrants learn about the basics of financial literacy.  "Several years ago, we recognized the importance of reaching out to immigrants and welcoming them as members.  Today, the credit union employs several immigrants who speak multiple languages to help make the experience easier, and offer specific products, such as microfinance loans, and by listening to the needs of the immigrant community was the first financial institution in Maine to offer citizenship loans for immigrants," added Ardito.

Ironically, the first CU in Maine, Telephone Workers of Maine CU (now Infinity FCU) is also actively involved in reaching out to the immigrant community.  When the CU opened a new branch in Portland's back cove area last summer, it announced a new 'Bridge to Citizenship' loan program.  "At Infinity Federal Credit Union, we celebrate diversity of experience, perspective and ideas in the work we do and the people we serve," Liz Hayes, President/CEO of the CU, said.  Hayes noted that Infinity FCU has team members who speak many of the languages of Maine's immigrant population, including Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish, Azeri, French, Kirundi, Kinyarwanda, Russian, Vietnamese, Nepalese, Hindi, Punjabi, and Bengali.  The credit union, in partnership with Portland Adult Education, has also hired new employees who speak multiple languages.

In a segment that aired recently on WCSH 6 and WLBZ 2 that the Maine CU League coordinated to highlight the work of credit unions with the immigrant community, Ardito, whose mother emigrated from Italy in the 1930s, talked about the challenges that many immigrants face when coming to Maine.  "Language is certainly an obstacle, as is a lack of trust and understanding of financial services.  Credit unions and non-profits are leading the way to help immigrants coming to Maine with services and resources to help them become financially solvent."

Both Ardito and Hayes said it's great to see credit unions "leading the way in helping immigrants by being proactive in providing services, resources and support.  It certainly captures the credit union philosophy of 'people helping people'."