PHOTO INFO: Kendall Foster, CEO of Scenic Community Credit Union, the Rev. Evelyn Harris of St. Luke United Methodist Church, and Rosalind Connor, President and CEO of Bethel Bible Village. Their organizations are collaborating to help families in crisis at Bethel prevent and break a cycle of debt and poverty.
St. Luke UMC, Scenic Community Credit Union and Bethel Bible Village Collaborate To Pilot New Helping Hand Program
Hixson, TN — Bethel Bible Village is excited to partner with St. Luke United Methodist Church and Scenic Community Credit Union on a new venture that will benefit families in crisis.
“Many of our families in crisis are moms with children who are working very hard but have been hit with a series of challenges,” says Rosalind Connor, Bethel President and CEO. “A divorce or unexpected job change may be financially devastating. A series of medical expenses or car repairs can bring them to their last dollar.”
In desperation, some sign a car title loan, but they may not fully understand the terms. They find out quickly that there is no way to keep up with the high interest charges, which may range from 15% to 22% monthly and are sometimes compounded daily. As single parents struggle to make these payments, they can fall behind in their bills and wind up losing their housing.
“At Bethel, families in crisis can find temporary housing in our Next Step program,” Rosalind notes. “As part of the program they receive financial counseling and budgeting advice, but they can’t get back on sound financial footing and start saving until they can pay off those high-interest loans.”
A Hand Up not a Handout
Today, these families have new hope, thanks to the Helping Hand program created by the Rev. Evelyn Harris and Kirk Low at St Luke UMC, which is being piloted at Bethel.
“The Helping Hand is a micro-loan program for those who cannot qualify for traditional loans. Micro-loans up to $2,000 can be borrowed from a fund set up by the church at SCCU to pay off title or payday loans, put down a deposit on an apartment or utilities, or even purchase home appliances–all at a significantly lower interest rate than typically offered,” Rev. Harris notes. “Access to necessary funds in a way that preserves a person’s dignity and helps build their credit history, is critical to preventing and breaking cycles of poverty, especially for those who have been generationally unbanked. It also helps build up our community through personal empowerment and financial freedom.”
“Who better than the church to step up, partner with local agencies, and offer a way toward financial freedom, a helping hand to those who need access the most?” she adds. “As Proverbs 14:31 says, ‘Those who oppress the poor insult God, but helping the poor honors God.’”
A single mom in Bethel’s Next Step program recently paid off her title loan through this new program and is able to repay the loan to SCCU at less than 3% interest.
A Heart for Community
The church is only able to offer this forward-thinking option thanks to a collaboration with Scenic Community Credit Union. SCCU will collect the new loan payments from the moms, then the payments will reflect on their credit scores and help them recover their finances more quickly. They are also able to start a savings account while enrolled in the Helping Hand program.
“Scenic Community Credit Union is proud to be involved with the Helping Hand program. This is a great program for our community and fits perfectly with our mission to ‘Advance financial peace of mind within our community,’ ’’ says Kendall Foster, SCCU CEO. “Our community, as a whole, becomes stronger by helping those in need help themselves to better financial security.”
“Scenic Community Credit Union is making a meaningful difference,” Rosalind notes. “It shows how the financial sector can be a valuable partner in the community, helping not only those who have resources, but also those who need a fighting chance to reclaim their lives.”
It Takes a Village
“We say it takes a village, and it’s very true,” Rosalind adds. “Thanks to St. Luke UMC and SCCU, the families we serve in our Next Step program can get back on sound financial footing and create a new and dramatically different life for their children when they are ready to leave our campus.”
For now, Helping Hand loans are only offered through Bethel’s Next Step program. Families must qualify for the loan and have the ability and a plan to pay it back. Over time, Rev. Harris hopes to expand the program and collaborate with other organizations in the community.
Bethel Bible Village has helped children and families in crisis in the Chattanooga area for 65 years. To find out more about Bethel, visit bethelbiblevillage.org. To set up an interview for a story, contact Kathy Casey at firstname.lastname@example.org.