by Celeste Hamilton, Community Outreach Coordinator, Idealist.org
I know banks are getting a bad rap right now. But hear me out.
With my job, I come across a lot of stories of people reaching across borders, ideologies, issues and more to enact change. But one of my favorites from the past year is CheckSpring, a community bank that serves the predominantly immigrant population in the South Bronx. In an area where check cashers abound, CheckSpring instead focuses on helping the disadvantaged accumulate savings, and empowering them with financial knowledge.
“We’re not out to teach people anything that they don’t seek out, or wave a paternal finger, but provide access to knowledge and tools,” says Charlie Wilcox, one of CheckSpring’s founders. “We have a great deal of faith in people’s ability in making decisions. If we provide these tools, we have a good shot at making a difference.”
It’s not your traditional approach to social change. What is striking about their story is that the entire community had a hand in erecting the building that now stands just yards away from Yankee Stadium. Charlie, along with Kelly Dillon and Mac Wilcox, may have come up with the innovative business model, yes. But the local owner of a meat company chipped in initial start-up money. Neighboring nonprofits helped get the word out. And residents now comprise the entire staff.
Charlie, Kelly and Mac imagined a better life for the poor. They connected with others. And they acted. Isn’t that what building a better world is all about?