Cooperative Federal Turns 30!

From the September 2012 PNL #817

Carl Mellor

The birth of Cooperative Federal Credit Union came under modest circumstances in September 1981 as many center-city bank branches closed in Syracuse and a small group of activists discussed alternatives to the general financial system. The founders had little money and not much experience in fiscal management. Yet they had a strong belief in community-based institutions, in the possibilities posed by a credit union owned by its members and dedicated to enhancing the local economy.

That vision first took root on April 3, 1982 when the new credit union started operating in a small space in the back of Syracuse Real Food Cooperative. Years later, Cooperative Federal established a stand-alone branch office at 723 Westcott St., followed by the opening of branch offices at 401 South Ave. and 800 N. Salina St. That physical presence is important, and so is the credit union’s coordination of loans into the Syracuse economy. The 30-year total is roughly $100 million.

That number, while significant, doesn’t tell the entire tale. Cooperative Federal’s story is one based on commitment and cooperation. The credit union couldn’t have opened without initial help from community members who pledged $100,000 in deposits. It wouldn’t have survived the first five years without a commitment from board members and staff who dealt with tight finances and minimal infrastructure. Similarly, the staff’s work was an absolutely essential element in the credit union’s growth during the next 25 years.

In addition, Cooperative Federal has fulfilled its commitment to a membership which includes some folks with middle-class incomes and many others who work but don’t make a lot of money. With a range of services extending from checking accounts and mortgages to financial counseling, the credit union has long served as an alternative to the tools of financial exploitation: subprime mortgages, payday loans, and outrageous credit card terms.

Join Cooperative Federal members and supporters to celebrate the 30th anniversary at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo on September 22, 6pm-midnight. Featuring dinner, dancing and a performance by The D.R.E.A.M. Freedom Revival. For more information, call 471-1116, ext. 700.

Cooperation has come in many forms during the past 30 years. At the beginning, Syracuse Real Food Cooperative bent over backwards to help a brand-new credit union. In turn, Cooperative Federal has worked closely with various agencies and neighborhood groups, including Southwest Community Center, Home Headquarters and the Assisi Center, to name just a few.

Carl is a freelance writer and a longtime credit union member.