On February 18, 1982, the newly formed Syracuse Cooperative Federal Credit Union was recognized and insured by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) as Charter #23865. The credit union opened to its members and issued its first shares on April 3, 1982.
The opening followed a nine-month effort. Organizers reached out to individuals and groups, gathering pledges of support for the proposed credit union. With $30 contributed for expenses by a local group of activists, the organizers were able to obtain pledges of $100,000 from neighborhood residents. The Syracuse Real Food Cooperative provided support for the fledgling credit union: a shared part-time staff person and a 5’ by 6’ space under solar panels on the back porch. Lending policy was developed with input from a series of membership meetings. Lending started on October 1, 1982.
The founders started as an organizing committee and became the first board. They included David Beard, Ron Ehrenreich, Louise Grindrod, Michael Messina, Terry Mundy, Mike Musler, Sondra Roth, Susan Schwartz, and Jane Slabowski. The first staff position was filled by local activist Ed Kinane. Mostly “baby boom” generation activists, they learned organizing skills in the civil rights movement, the opposition to the Vietnam War, the feminist movement, and other causes. They envisioned the credit union meeting unmet financial needs of the community, and directing the use of savings in positive ways.
Specific concerns of the founders included “divesting” from businesses that supported the Apartheid system of racial oppression in South Africa, providing consumer-oriented services, and serving those that the for-profit banking industry fails to serve, particularly:
- women, who were then entering the work force in record numbers
- workers with part-time jobs (including many women, artists and musicians, youth, and others coping with underemployment)
- unconventional businesses & organizations (consumer cooperatives, worker cooperatives, communal residences, community organizations, and nonprofits)
- very small businesses (home businesses, microenterprises)
- families with little wealth and low income, and
- people facing the effects of past or present discrimination (especially located in the southeast part of Syracuse, African-Americans, Native Americans & the GLBT community).
In addition, the founders insisted that the credit union should be sound, fiscally responsible and accountable. Such a credit union would, they hoped, help build a foundation for a community-based economy and gain a measure of independence from a distant and unresponsive global economy. The credit union found broad support. Fueled by volunteers, the credit union grew steadily. Volunteers served, as they do now, as directors, loan committee members, and internal auditors. Members worked on education and outreach, policy development, planning, cleaning, painting, carpentry and more. In the first few years, volunteers served as tellers.