The Catholic Campaign for Human Development has awarded a local nonprofit a $35,000 economic empowerment grant that will help provide financial and other assistance to low-income residents of the area.
The Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council (DCRAC) will use the money at its Stepping Stones Credit Union, which has been in operation since January 2012. The grant has a two-fold purpose, said Rashmi Rangan, executive director of DCRAC. It will be used for economic development and for leadership training.
“The funding will be used for staffing, training, material,” she said.
One of the goals is to train DCRAC clients to serve in leadership positions with Stepping Stones. The poor need to have a voice on the board, she said.
For the last 10 years or so, DCRAC has been working on alternatives to predatory lending, such as payday loans, which carry harsh repayment terms. A grant for $20,000 six years ago helped capitalize the credit union, but growth has been slow, Rangan said.
“It is slow-going because we don’t have a lot of resources to build the credit union,” she said.
Sean Wendlinder, a grant specialist with CCHD, said DCRAC is currently the only grantee in the Diocese of Wilmington.
“It does not have to be a Catholic organization,” he said. “We like to see Catholics involved in the work because Catholics are funding the work and it’s an important part of the church. CCHD is also an evangelization tool of the bishops to reach out into the community.”
Getting the word out about Stepping Stones and building trust in the community are difficult, Rangan said. “The financial crisis destroyed the trust of many in financial institutions.”
But the credit union was a huge need in Wilmington, giving more people an option for banking, check-cashing and borrowing, she said. DCRAC, which was established in 1987, helps people build credit histories and find housing. It offers tax advocacy for clients who have to meet with the Internal Revenue Service or the state Division of Revenue, among other services.
“None of these services costs our clients anything,” Rangan said.
The latest award is in the form of a challenge grant, meaning DCRAC has to raise an equal amount. Rangan is confident the organization will meet the challenge.
DCRAC will issue a report midway through the year and again at the end of the 12 months addressing how it is meeting its goals and whether Stepping Stones is adding membership, creating assets, growing revenue and other metrics, Wendlinder said. It is eligible to receive this grant for three years.