Emory credit union creators hope to bridge West Dallas’ banking gap

By |Published On: May 23, 2024|Categories: Economic Development, Gilbert-Emory/Muncie, West Dallas|

News Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Helen C. Emory Park in the Gilbert-Emory neighborhood in West Dallas on Thursday, May 23, 2024.

“Growing up in West Dallas, there were no banks,” says Lenora Coleman, a longtime resident of the historically Black Gilbert-Emory neighborhood. “We had to go across the bridge to bank, so we came up with this idea.”

Establishing a credit union for West Dallas neighbors is the way Coleman is continuing in the tradition of her grandmother Helen C. Emory and her aunt Helen Hurd, whom Coleman says dedicated their lives to advocacy on behalf of the Gilbert-Emory neighborhood.

“To me, it was so appropriate to continue my grandmother’s legacy,” Coleman says.

Coleman and a group of West Dallas neighbors, including George Castro, Elder Samuel Berry, the Rev. Rayford Butler, Inez Fisher and others, began the process of creating the Emory-Gilbert Federal Credit Union to respond to the financial needs of individuals and businesses in the area. 

Though West Dallas is now home to three bank branches — Texas Capital, Frost and Oakwood  — all of them opened on Singleton Boulevard in recent years, following the development of Trinity Groves businesses and apartments.

To Coleman, these banks are for new businesses, not for the established residents.

“It’s difficult to build up wealth if you don’t have any assets,” Coleman says. “Banks aren’t loaning our people money, and people that are getting money from payday lenders are having to pay back those loans three or four times.”

Michael Walker, whom Coleman recruited to help establish the union, is a passionate advocate for local credit unions. In 1984 he formed a credit union for his then-neighborhood in Massachusetts, and he says he is all about “bottom-up” power.  

“I think they’re vital financial instruments,” Walker says. “Unlike banks, credit unions are owned and operated by their members, and they’re for the benefit of their members.”


What does a credit union do? How is it different from a bank?

While banks are a business with shareholders, intended to create profit, the only shareholders in credit unions are their members. All credit unions have some type of membership requirement to reach a particular group of people, and can be based on factors such as geography, employment  or membership in a labor union. 

The types of services offered by a bank or a credit union are the same: deposits, withdrawals, loans, investment services, etc., but in a credit union, every member has an active role in selecting what services their union should provide.

When working with a bank, customers are protected by the FDIC, or Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which both regulates banks and guarantees that all customers’ funds up to $250,000 are protected, even if the bank closes. Credit unions are regulated by a different, but similar organization, called NCUA, or National Credit Union Association. Their role is to monitor credit unions across the country and provide the same type of insurance to members, up to $250,000.  


How is a credit union established? 

In order to create a credit union, organizers work with the NCUA through a three-phase chartering process before opening their doors. 

In phase one, organizers create a vision for the credit union. While this can include brainstorming products and services, their main responsibility is to create a “defined body,” which outlines the union’s intended clientele and membership requirement. 

In the case of Emory-Gilbert, this is residents and business owners in the 75212 zip code, approximately 29,000 individuals. This information is then sent to NCUA for approval.

Upon NCUA approval, organizers then enter phase two, seeking community feedback and input. This includes their general thoughts about a credit union, but also what types of services and products they would like to be offered.

Emory-Gilbert currently is in phase two, and is distributing a physically-mailed and online version of the survey. They want to receive at least 500 responses from people who live in or are involved in business in the area. 

After reaching this benchmark, Emory-Gilbert organizers will share the raw survey results and a report of their overall findings to the NCUA for review and approval so they can start the third phase and offer a charter to the union.

This charter would outline the credit union from top-to-bottom: services, products, even the hours of operation. After this charter is accepted by the credit union, organizers can then begin the process of securing funding to open a physical location.

Importantly, Emory-Gilbert will not be able to take any deposits or offer any services until these steps are completed, per NCUA guidelines. Walker says that covering the up-front costs will rely on grants, such as direct donations from community members or other individuals and corporations, or even community reinvestment funds from traditional banks.


When could the EFCU open? 

Because of the multi-step NCUA approval process, and the following time needed to secure a location, purchase equipment and hire employees, there is not yet an expected opening date for the union.


What are neighbors saying?

For neighbors like Mike Robles, the owner of DTX Barbers on Bernal Drive, figuring out business finances since he opened three years ago has been difficult. Robles says he knows barber business can fluctuate throughout the year, and this instability made him hesitant to seek a bank loan.

“I wanted to bring liveliness and business to the community. Instead of running away from the neighborhood, I wanted to build the neighborhood,” Robles says. “Financially, I really just opened with what I could … I was scared of the unknown, the fear of not being able to make it so I didn’t want to get a loan.”

Though Robles feels his business has seen success without loans, he was excited to hear about the potential credit union. Robles feels that the neighbor-led structure will allow community members to uplift each other, especially when it comes to small businesses.

Financially, Robles feels one of the biggest challenges in West Dallas for residents and business owners is having access to funds for building repairs, and says opportunities to make visual improvements could improve the neighborhood. 


What comes next?

Organizers have already worked to gather feedback from a variety of neighbors, and plan to present their findings thus far at an upcoming community meeting this Saturday, May 25 at 1 p.m. 

Surveying of neighbors will continue until 500 responses are reached, so far 113 neighbors have completed the survey, Walker says, and from there, Emory-Gilbert will share more information with community members. Any questions about the survey, or the credit union, should be directed to Lenora Coleman, by calling or texting 469-271-0325.

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About the Author: Michaela Rush

Michaela Rush joined Dallas Free Press in July 2023, as a Report for America Corps Member. Prior to joining RFA and DFP, Michaela worked at The Battalion student newspaper at Texas A&M, most recently as the editor-in-chief, covering campus news, local businesses, student organizations and LGBTQ+ topics. Outside of journalism, she plays several instruments, including flute and alto saxophone, and is a self-proclaimed “band nerd.”

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Report for America Corps Member