Despite Name Change, Lighthouse Community Credit Union Holds to Founders’ Ideals

New sign, new name: Cascade Forest Products Credit Union is now Lighthouse Community Credit Union.

When a handful of mill workers pooled their money to start the Columbia River Paper Mill Credit Union in 1953, they had a simple goal: to provide a safe path for themselves and their neighbors to a better financial future.

“They all knew each other and wanted to be able to help each other financially by promoting savings and lending at fair rates,” says credit union President Lori Olsen. “These people did business where ‘your word was your bond,’ and everyone looked out for each other.”

More than 60 years later, the only thing that’s changed is the name.

In 1965, Columbia River Paper Mill Credit Union became Boise Cascade Credit Union. In 1995, it became Cascade Forest Products Credit Union. And last week, at its 2014 annual meeting, the credit union moved to broaden its appeal with a name that better reflects its role as a strong, steady and reliable “guiding light” in a community where people still care about their neighbors.

Say hello to Lighthouse Community Credit Union.

“We have come to realize our niche is the same as it was when this credit union came to be,” Olsen said in announcing the new name. “The principle reason this credit union was formed is still why we are here today.”

With a low-income designation and CDFI certification in hand, the credit union has long been committed to serving low- to moderate-income consumers in the Vancouver area who are mostly overlooked by traditional financial institutions. The credit union has about 1,900 members, and total assets of just under $11 million.

In 2013, it was awarded more than $86,000 in CDFI grants to provide training for staff in financial counseling and free financial education for members. But with an aging membership and many of the mills going away, the credit union needed to improve its visibility in the community, Olsen says, and find a way to capitalize on a field of membership that expanded in 2002 to include anyone who lives, works or worships in the state of Washington.

“We are not trying to be a giant credit union,” she says, “but as a small-town credit union with such a modest building, we are easily overlooked when people are looking for help.”

Olsen gathered staff, directors and members for a series of focus groups that revisited the credit union’s strategic plan and identified the key concepts that make it unique. A social media campaign asked members to create videos that showed why they chose the credit union over other financial options, what they knew about the credit union’s history, and how it had changed their financial well-being.

Armed with that information, Olsen worked with business and marketing students at Clark College to create a brand that reflected what she’d heard: “guiding light,” “weathers strong wind and rain – like life gives us all,” “strong and steady,” “reliable” and, perhaps best of all, “shows a way for people trying to find a better financial path.”

The name Lighthouse Community Credit Union was born.    

 

 “We have done our homework,” she told last week’s annual meeting, “and come to the realization that there is a real need in our community for a financial institution that is the best at helping ‘real-life people’ who experience the ‘dings and dents’ of life.”

To do that, Olsen says, Lighthouse Community will work in 2014 and beyond to develop programs with local church youth groups “to give kids a place to get the resources they need.” The credit union is also partnering with community groups that are dedicated to helping people rebuild their lives.

“We are working with Open House Ministries, which is a homeless shelter for families, and with Grace Ministries, whose Xchange recovery program helps empower men, women and youth lost in addiction to restore their lives,” Olsen says. “Part of getting clean and healthy is being able to manage your finances, so we open accounts for people who many mainstream financial institutions wouldn’t touch. And with our CDFI grant, we are partnering with both these groups to start financial education and counseling programs, with our main target being the underserved and unbanked.”

That’s probably not far off from what those millworkers intended back in 1953.

“We’ve always been a down-to-earth credit union with a family atmosphere,” Olsen says, “and we continue to do so to this day.”

Questions about this story? Contact Gary M. Stein: 503.350.2216, gstein@nwcua.org.

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