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Plan for Tomorrow by Supporting Vulnerable Communities Today

By Ebony Perkins, Self-Help Credit Union

Self-Help CU logo-GreenMoney

Recycle? Check!

Reduce energy use? Check!

Skip the straw? Check!

Divest from fossil fuel companies? Check!

Support vulnerable communities currently bearing the brunt of the environmental damage? *Crickets*

Temperatures are increasing, ice sheets are melting, and sea levels are rapidly rising. Scientists have been sounding the alarm for decades. With youth-led climate strikes gaining attention in 2019, a broader group of Americans are acknowledging how our actions have affected the home future generations will inherit. We are in crisis mode and need to protect our tomorrow. But in our efforts to protect tomorrow, we need to make sure to support the people and communities affected today.

Historically, our most vulnerable groups—low-income and minority communities—feel the effects of our declining planet before the general population because they often lack the resources to shield them from the inevitable chain of events that occur as a result of environmental decline and failing infrastructure. They experience the effects of climate change at higher rates, are plagued by water contamination, and are more often located near landfills and hazardous waste sites than other groups. As a result, they suffer from mounting health issues, displacement, and even death. Unfairly so, they are robbed of the chance to live and raise their families in safe communities where they can enjoy healthy food, drink safe water, and breathe clean air.

At Self-Help we have long believed that it is crucial to invest in communities on the front lines of harm from climate change, and we are committed to this fight. Our mission is to create and protect economic opportunity for all. While our work benefits communities of all kinds, our focus is on those who may be underserved, including people of color, women, rural residents and low-income families and communities. We have made loans totaling over $386 million to projects with environmental benefits: recycling businesses, land conservation, efficient affordable housing, and solar energy.

Over time, as we worked to help families build wealth, we recognize that they are being increasingly affected by more-frequent, more-intense hurricanes, wildfires, and irregular weather that were much less common decades ago. We see that we need to create new tools to help our members adapt to and bounce back from the shocks and stresses of changing climate. In that work, we look to our innovative borrowers to take on environmental stewardship in ways that work for their communities. Read on for examples of the direct investments that Self-Help has made to entrepreneurs, homeowners and community organizations who are affected by environmental issues.

How Self-Help Supports Vulnerable Communities

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Ryan Bethea of Wilson, NC. Photo Courtesy of the Wilson Times.

• Environmentally Restorative Oyster Farming

In Self-Help’s home state of North Carolina, many coastal communities are seeing rapid growth in the mari-culture industry. Ryan Bethea of Wilson, NC decided to start an oyster-farming business and came to Self-Help for financing. He is passionate about protecting and preserving North Carolina’s natural beauty and resources, and we were excited to partner with an entrepreneur with an environmentally restorative business. A few months after receiving the loan, Ryan won the coveted Oyster of the Year award at the annual NC Seafood Festival in Morehead City — surely the first of many future successes.

• Building Sustainable Food Ecosystems

Community Foods Market is a project spearheaded by Brahm Ahmadi in West Oakland, California, who was inspired by the enthusiasm for healthy living he witnessed in the area. This community, rich in its people and culture, has long suffered from disinvestment and financial marginalization. Residents have not had a full-service supermarket for 40 years, often resulting in a lack of healthy and nutritious food options for its residents. The loan, used to fund construction of a 14,000 square foot space, will support Community Foods Market as they become a full-service grocery store, health resource center, and community hub that engages residents to lead healthier and more socially connected lives.

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• Energy Efficiency in Public Schools

Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School (ANCS) is a high-performing public charter school that has an outstanding record of providing great education for its diverse students. While building a superb learning environment, ANCS also wanted to build on environmental sustainability for their buildings and cafeteria. Working with their Self-Help loan officer and our sustainability expert, ANCS reviewed their energy options and invested in systems that reduced costs and improved the educational environment: LED classroom lighting that adjusts to daylight levels, high efficiency HVAC, and kitchen upgrades.

Thanks to these improvements, the school earned an Energy Star Certification from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In fact, the school received an Energy Star score of 99, way above the 75 required for eligibility. ANCS also was named a National Green Ribbon winner by the US Department of Education.

How You Can Support Vulnerable Communities

At Self-Help, we are committed to support communities impacted by environmental issues today. Below are a few ways you can do the same.

1. Invest in Community Development Credit Unions: Put your money where your values are by placing your cash reserves with local community development credit unions. They offer money market accounts, term certificates, and savings accounts, all at competitive rates. Self-Help Credit Union even offers a special green certificate of deposit that supports our lending to environmentally sustainable projects.

2. Support local environmental justice organizations: The environmental justice movement is made up of dynamic grassroots groups who seek to halt the pollution that harms their communities and advance sustainable, cooperative, and regenerative communities. National organizations such as the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, Green for All and the EPA’s Environmental Justice office are great starting points.

If our goal is to achieve environmental and economic justice, we need to prepare for tomorrow by investing today in the communities that are most vulnerable to the shocks and stresses of climate change and most impacted by the burdens of pollution.

 

Article by Ebony Perkins, a dedicated, solution-oriented social entrepreneur whose heartbeat is community. She has a demonstrated ability of working with investors and donors and helping them make smart and strategic decisions. As the Investor & Community Relations Manager at Self-Help Credit Union, Ebony helps groups and individuals invest funds in a mission-aligned institution that supports communities of all kinds, especially those underserved by conventional lenders. Before that role, she served as the Donor Relations Manager at Central Carolina Community Foundation where she managed a system to engage and educate over 400 individuals and groups to help them achieve their charitable goals.

Ebony’s commitment to investing in the community is evident by her service and contributions to Women In Philanthropy, Durham Center for Senior Life, University of North Carolina MPA Alumni Board, Association of Black Foundation Executives, Friends of African American Arts & Culture, and Columbia College as a mentor.

Energy & Climate, Featured Articles, Food & Farming, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

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