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Lower Valley Credit Union’s innovative outreach efforts honored at national confab

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Pictured in Washington, D.C. with the prestigious Trailblazer Award for Outstanding Service to the Underserved are (L-R) Lower Valley Credit Union Lending Vice President Rita Gutierrez, Finance Vice President Josh Beck and President/CEO Suzy Fonseca.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Lower Valley Credit Union was awarded the Credit Union Times’ Trailblazer Award for Outstanding Service to the Underserved, at the Credit Union National Association’s Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C. The award honors credit unions that promote change by creating and implementing innovative strategies and solutions.

Lower Valley Credit Union is a $60 million, “Low Income Designated” credit union deeply rooted in the Lower Yakima Valley. Headquartered in Sunnyside, the credit union also operates branches in Prosser and Grandview, and will open a brand new Sunnyside branch in the fall.

“Each year we seek out the gold standard in credit union management and service for recognition in our Trailblazer program,” said Credit Union Times Publisher Sarah Snell Cooke.

“And each year, when we look at the nominations that have come in, we find it hard to choose,” Snell Cooke added.

“Lower Valley Credit Union’s focus on providing both financial education and affordable financial services to its largely lower-income membership made it this year’s Trailblazing credit union,” echoed David Morrison, senior staff reporter at the Credit Union Times.

“When making this award, the Credit Union Times seeks credit unions that combine teaching members what they need to do with providing affordable products and services which help them do it. Lower Valley Credit Union deserves the award and our congratulations,” Morrison said.

Since 2010, Lower Valley Credit Union has originated some 400 loans to first-time borrowers and approximately 1,900 used-auto loans to its limited income and credit members. According to Scott Butterfield, principal of the consulting firm Your Credit Union Partner, who nominated Lower Valley Credit Union for the award, the credit union’s role and image within the community is growing rapidly.

“Partnership invitations are coming in from national, regional and local groups, each wanting to partner with Lower Valley Credit Union to increase outreach efforts and community impact,” Butterfield said

“Lower Valley Credit Union’s financial results prove that credit unions can do well financially when they stick to credit union roots and help people of modest means.

“Most importantly, Lower Valley Credit Union is impacting the quality of life in meaningful ways for thousands of consumers. Truly, they are creating hope and access to a better tomorrow,” said Butterfield.

According to joinbankon.org, the percentage of unbanked households in Sunnyside is 17.7 percent, double the national average of 7.7 percent. Industry leaders said the Lower Valley Credit Union’s commitment to credit-challenged members is reflected in the high percentage of affordable used-auto loans made, including 385 who lacked a reportable credit profile within the past three years.

It was also pointed out during the conference in D.C. that besides affordable access to credit and financial education, the predominantly Hispanic population base of the Lower Yakima Valley community needs financial resources. Spanish speaking members do not have to be referred to another department for help; they have seamless bilingual communication available to them at all times at Lower Valley Credit Union.

“You can say that the bond that is developed with our members is unmatched, not just because we take time to visit with them, but because our efforts are sincere,” said Lower Valley Credit Union CEO Suzy Fonseca when accepting the award on behalf of the staff.

“We know their struggles firsthand. We know what the trenches look like because we’ve been there, too.

“We’ve been to the orchards and harvested the fruit. We’ve seen parents and neighbors struggle to gain their citizenship, much less fair credit of any type. Above all, we recognize that dignity and respect is critical in any relationship-building, but without sincerity, it just simply does not work,” said Fonseca.

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