From CUNA.org; New York (2/24/11) - The Building Economic Strength Together (BEST) program, an initiative to strengthen the connection between credit unions and the disabled community in New Jersey, recently completed its pilot year, and appears poised for growth in 2011.
BEST, developed by the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (the federation), the National Disability Institute and Allies Inc., a New Jersey-based training group for the disabled, places disabled persons in credit union internships. The disabled community is widely unbanked or underbanked, according to Pamela Owens, director of education and training for the federation.
"It's a natural fit," Owens said of the BEST program. "So many people with disabilities don't have banking relationships and we're a credit union organization. This program fits the credit union philosophy perfectly. It makes sense for everyone involved."
In its first year, the BEST program placed 20 interns at 13 credit unions in New Jersey. Four of those interns went on to accept permanent positions with the credit unions. Interns have worked in the credit unions human resources, marketing and accounting departments, and as tellers and member service representatives.
Owens said that accommodating the interns was relatively easy because of Americans with Disabilities Act standards. The type of disability was not a factor in placing interns, either, she said. "It all comes down to the motivation of the intern and the willingness of the credit union to be accommodating," Owens said. "I can honestly say the interns were extremely motivated and the credit unions went out of their way to accommodate them."
Owens told News Now BEST hopes to place 30 interns in 2011. On Monday, 11 interns will begin a two-week training program. On March 14, they will begin their internships at eight credit unions. Many of the credit unions are repeat participants from 2010. "We've had credit unions that have participated in three training cycles already," Owens said.
Job preparedness is one of the goals of the program, but just as important are its outreach efforts. "We want participants to know they can have checking and saving accounts and teach them how they can be financial independent," Owens said. "We want to build the relationship between the disabled community and the credit union community."