Circle of Honor Leadership Award
Hawaii First CEO, Laura Aguirre, accepts the Circle of Honor Leadership Award on behalf of Hawaii First FCU at the OFN Conference earlier this month. The Circle of Honor Award recognizes a Native CDFI that is successfully increasing access to capital and financial resources in Native communities. This ceremony is part of the Annual Native CDFI Convening hosted by Opportunity Finance Network and First Nations Oweesta Corporation. Read Laura’s acceptance speech below.
Aloha! From the Big Island of Hawaii…thank you to First Nations Owesta and the OFN for this award. We are honored and grateful to receive this award for the work we so strongly believe in. First Nations Oweesta has been an inspiration since the beginning of our CDFI journey. Seeing all that your organization does, made us ask ourselves what more we could do and it really IS how our Community Resource Centers came to be.
We saw the need for a one stop where tools and resources could be provided to promote self-sustainability. Do you need access to a computer, help looking for a job, creating a resume, small business startup and development, enrolling in college, preparing your taxes, setting up a budget, access to affordable credit, foreclosure prevention, social services, etc. Have a problem and don’t know where to turn, together we could figure it out. There is HOPE.
Instead of asking why? We started to ask why not? We didn’t need to wait for someone else to put a community resource center in place, we could be a socially responsible credit union and make it happen right now. To ensure the success of our CRCs we required each member of our team to become a Community Development Certified Financial Counselor. They then use their knowledge to make smart financial decisions in their own lives and also use it to empower our community members. At every point of contact, whether at our branches or CRCs, an individual can receive one on one financial counseling. There is no waiting to see a loan officer or the manager for assistance or hope.
Based on the success of our first CRC, we received a CDFI grant in 2011 to open our second and largest CRC, assisting over 16,000 to date. I so wish my entire team was here to share in this moment as they are a group of individuals that have come together with passion and a belief that things have to be “right” for everyone and not just a select few. This is the “why” that keeps our team inventing new products and services to meet the needs of our lower income community. We call ourselves lions, as we roar for what is “right” and will not stop until those who need hope finally have it.
After attending a CFED conference in 2006, we established our Individual Development Savings account program. This has been key to hundreds of individuals obtaining homeownership, starting a small business or accessing higher education. The best part is that we now have created a Youth IDA program for high school juniors where upon graduation they have enough to cover their first year of tuition at our local community college. We recently had 60 students start college that may not have had the opportunity before. There is hope for a better future.
Another IDA success story is a family who lived in their native land in a tent with no running water for 12 years. The grandparents were raising their grandchildren whose parents are incarcerated. Not knowing how to start the construction process, they came into our CRC. Together we began the journey to bring their dream to life, creating a savings plan, opening an IDA, building credit and attending our financial workshops. The credit union then utilized our Nou Ka Hale “This home is yours” construction loan program to build their new home. I think they are still amazed that their dream actually came true.
This has been such an enlightening week surrounded by so many other leaders. I feel encouraged and inspired knowing that each of us will return home and continue to expand the work we do. I encourage each of you to relish the life changing work you do and celebrate the hope you provide to others.
Hawaii First is humbled to be part of such a network and our PRIDE of Lions will continue to roar for what is right.
Thank you again First Nation Owwesta and OFN for this honor! The work our team does requires a lot of heart and skill. We try to show the same to our team of lions. By far our most popular employee benefit is our Infant to Work program for newborn to 6 months. We currently have 2 babies on site daily and more are more may be coming. What a joy they bring to our team and our members.