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Grant funds fin-ed workshops for refugees in S.D.
HURON, S.D. (2/15/11)--Tailored financial management workshops and individual counseling sessions have helped Dakotaland FCU, based in Huron, S.D., to make a difference with the population of Karen refugees, political refugees from Burma now calling the city home. The city of 12,000 experienced a tripling of its immigrant population after the refugees fled their homeland because of governmental unrest in Burma, said Dawn Mutchelknaus, vice president of marketing at Dakotaland FCU. Most fled to Thailand and some have come to the U.S. "The Huron community as a whole has strived to assist our immigrant population in transitioning to their new home," Mutchelknaus said.
Click to view larger image Sah Lay Lay Wah, right, shown with her family, is instrumental in Dakotaland FCU’s providing services to Huron, S.D.’s population of Karen immigrants from Burma. (Photo provided by the National Credit Union Foundation)
In 2009, the credit union partnered with Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota to provide financial management classes targeted to the Karen community, with translated materials and an interpreter. With a grant last year from the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF), the credit union expanded these workshops. Almost 200 Karen-speaking people attended six classes in 2010 that dealt with basic financial management, checking and savings accounts, home ownership concepts and credit cards and borrowing. They also learned to manage a budget, save for future expenses and develop a positive credit history. Through individual credit counseling, the credit union is assisting families with establishing a budget, buying Governor's homes, helping them get approved for U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Housing loans and for real estate loans with the credit union. The credit union opened 275 to 300 new accounts with the Karen population. These accounts have at least a savings account, direct deposit and ATM card, with most also having checking accounts and credit card and debit card services. It also hired Sah Lay Lay Wah, a Karen refugee, who translates and interprets for other Karen residents who have opened accounts, purchased cars or bought homes through the credit union. Wah was born in Thailand in a camp called Hway K' lot. She and her siblings grew up at the camp, knowing that leaving the camp would mean capture by Thailand soldiers or jail or worse. When Wah was 14, Burmese soldiers and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army burned the camp and returned later to kill those who remained. Her family moved to Mae La, a second camp, where she attended school and higher education courses there and learned English. At 23, she left for the U.S. Her husband Blue secured employment with Dakota Provisions, and Wah joined Dakotaland FCU's staff. They were recently approved to buy their first home. Owning property was not possible in Thailand, she said. "I feel safe in Huron," she said. "This is a great example of a credit union helping members of the community reach financial independence," said Tom Candell, NCUF deputy executive director and chief operating officer/chief financial officer. NCUF grants are made possible by supporters of the foundation and the Community Investment Fund.
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