Over 54 million people and 19 percent of the United States population - or one out of every five Americans - have some type of disability and a large number of which are “unbanked” or “underbanked.” Credit unions in New Jersey are working to make a difference in this area with the Building Economic Strength Together (BEST) internship program. The BEST program is a collaborative project that provides internship opportunities for people with disabilities. The last cycle, Cycle VII, of the program is underway in New Jersey after being piloted two years ago in New Jersey.
The group of interns, credit union representatives, and program partners at a recent luncheon at the New Jersey Credit Union League office to discuss the experiences of Cycle VII of the Building Economic Strength Together (BEST) internship program.
The BEST program was developed by a strategic partnership between the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) through its REAL Solutions program, the New Jersey Credit Union League and the New Jersey Credit Union Foundation, the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (Federation), the National Disability Institute (NDI), and Allies Inc., a New Jersey-based training group for people with disabilities, with funding provided by the Kessler Foundation.
The BEST program provided internships to persons with disabilities in New Jersey credit unions with the end goal of providing them permanent employment and to help credit unions develop best practices to serve these families. The participants receive valuable on-the-job training by interning at the credit union, but it also helps credit unions better understand how to serve this important and underserved segment of the population.
"These interns have been very productive in the credit unions they are working in. Some have even gone on to full-time positions and could very well become our credit union leaders of the future," said New Jersey Credit Union League President/CEO Paul Gentile. "It's been equally rewarding to see our credit unions learn how to better serve this underserved segment of America. I hope it can be emulated in other parts of the country. The BEST program certainly brought out the 'best' of the credit union cooperative spirit."
During the two year program, 44 New Jersey credit unions hosted 54 interns over 7 cycles. While credit unions were under no obligation to hire the interns at the conclusion of the six-week training period, several interns are now working either full-time or part-time at New Jersey credit unions.
The program has sparked national interest in the credit union industry and the involved partner organizations are working on developing ways to sustain the momentum of the program into the future. The Kessler Foundation is also currently evaluating the program and a detailed report is forthcoming.
About REAL Solutions®
REAL Solutions® is the signature program of the National Credit Union Foundation. REAL — ― “Relevant, Effective, Asset-building, Loyalty-producing” — Solutions works to help credit unions offer a wide range of products and services that have proven successful in serving working families with low wealth and modest means. Using product/business models created and tested by credit unions, REAL Solutions disseminates information to credit unions through special meetings, an online impact center at www.realsolutions.coop, and state and national conferences. As NCUF’s signature program over the past four years, REAL Solutions has been adopted in 40 states and is saving members tens of millions of dollars. It has now become a documented business strategy for credit unions to grow their memberships by serving the underserved. Real people with real needs are finding REAL Solutions at credit unions.
About the National Credit Union Foundation (ncuf.coop):
The National Credit Union Foundation is the US credit union movement’s primary national philanthropic program provider, fundraiser and grant-maker. Through NCUF grants and programs, credit unions provide widespread financial education, create greater access to affordable financial services, and empower more consumers to save, build assets, and own homes.
NCUF is funded primarily by investments in the award-winning Community Investment Fund (CIF) and by generous Supporters led by the Credit Union National Association and CUNA Mutual Group. All NCUF donors provide support that empowers NCUF and state credit union foundations to make financial freedom achievable through credit unions.
The National Credit Union Foundation is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization. NCUF continues to earn the Better Business Bureau seal of approval as an “Accredited Charity” for meeting all 20 BBB Wise Giving Alliance Standards for national charities.