ROCHESTER — Sister of St. Joseph Beth LeValley noted that her congregation’s mission is to “serve the neighbor without distinction” — and she pointed to the Progressive Neighborhood Federal Credit Union as evidence of her belief in that mission.
“This is the credit union everyone built,” she said at a recent celebration of the credit union’s 10th anniversary. “It’s helping people become self-sufficient, and I think this is what people want.”
Founded in October 1995, the credit union is located at 1130 E. Main St. and primarily serves low-income residents. Sister LeValley was one of the union’s founders; is currently secretary to the board of directors; and also has served as the credit union’s vice president.
At the celebration, the credit union debuted a new logo of a rising star to signify that its members are “Rochester’s Rising Stars.” The credit union has itself risen from being the simple dream of such founders as Sister LeValley and other community leaders in the early ’90s to becoming a thriving institution with 1,800 members and $2.6 million in assets, credit union officials noted.
According to Progressive, the credit union has loaned out more than $6.6 million since it was founded and has experienced a default rate of less than 3 percent. Progressive offers a host of services, including small-business and auto loans, and recently debuted a credit-building program for members that tracks their financial behaviors and allows them to earn credit for following the savings and budget plans they develop with support from Progressive.
Sister LeValley noted the credit union’s success shows that the lives of its low-income clientele can be changed for the better. Traditional banks may not be interested in loaning to low-income people, but Progressive has made such customers its base, she said. Indeed, according to Progressive’s latest annual report, the credit union has financed a number of small-scale purchases and businesses, including the following:
* A grandmother living on Social Security obtained a $500 loan from Progressive to buy bunk beds for her two grandchildren when they unexpectedly moved into her apartment.
* One woman was able to purchase a washer/dryer with a Progressive loan.
* One man was able to open up a hot dog stand with financing from the credit union.
Betty Smith, a Georgia native, said that she was able to build her “Miss Betty’s Downhome Sauce” business with help from Progressive. The entrepreneur has gone from selling bottles of her sauce out of the trunk of her car to making it available at several stores throughout the region, including Wegmans. Stories like these uplift the spirits of low-income people, according to Leta Brayboy, president of Progressive’s board of directors, who noted the recent onslaught of headlines about violence in the city’s poorer neighborhoods.
“Right now, we’re in dire need of hope, and we hope our program will bring people hope,” she said.
Progressive enjoys the support of dozens of Rochester-area churches, organizations and individuals, including many in the Catholic community. According to its annual report, the credit union has benefited from almost a score of area Catholic churches, groups and individuals, as well as the Diocese of Rochester and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. bishops’ anti-poverty campaign.
The credit union is one of many projects Sister LeValley has shepherded. She’s also former superior general of her order’s leadership council, as well as former president of the Greater Rochester Community of Churches, an ecumenical organization to which the Diocese of Rochester belongs. Long interested in economic programs that benefit the poor, Sister LeValley said she chose to help bring the credit union into existence because she thought her experience would be useful to its members.
“I’ve always said I’ll try to raise up other people and transfer the skills I’ve learned in … years of leadership,” she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about Progressive Neighborhood Federal Credit Union, call 585/328-5410.