December 30, 2010

Community initiative aids children

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Health, Women at 12:45 am by dinaheng

It may take a village to raise a child, but the Children’s Bureau in Los Angeles, a non profit committed to strengthening at-risk families, knows it takes a whole community to create a better future for young children vulnerable to abuse.

Two years ago, the organization launched the Magnolia Place Community Initiative, an effort to support 500 blocks of low income families in the West Adams district of Los Angeles by pulling together resources from county government, community services, and businesses. Today, there are 75 organizations working on health, education, parenting and economic stability in the neighborhood.

This winter, in a season of economic discontent, the initiative got a huge boost with the opening of the neighborhood’s first banking center. While money can’t cure every social ill, Pan American Bank’s willingness to invest in a district long plagued by poverty, crime and child abuse is a beacon of hope that cannot be underestimated.

“In low income areas, there aren’t enough parks, grocery stores and banks,” explains Alex Morales, president and CEO of Children’s Bureau. “Half the community doesn’t have a banking relationship, making them vulnerable to exploitive situations.”

For example, check cashing operations that specialize in giving short term loans with high interest fees can ensnare customers in a cycle of constant debt.

“If your refrigerator breaks down, they’ll offer you a rent-to-buy option, and by the time you pay it off, you’ll have bought the equivalent of three refrigerators,” Morales says. “They may offer a cash advance on your IRS refund, and charge a high rate of interest for it. If you don’t have a credit card, or are short on cash, once you get into that cycle, you always need money because you’re always behind.”

Getting trapped in that kind of financial mire results from not being taught how to handle finances as a child, and not having a bank in your community.

Pan American Bank, the nation’s second oldest Latino-owned bank, has a mission to empower Latino communities through its banking relationships, and has designed its facility in West Adams toward that end.

The Pan American Bank Technical Assistance Center provides an ATM machine at the front of Magnolia Place Family Center, the initiative’s community hub, along with a service area inside the building. The bank will provide financial literacy training to community members, along with services to assist local customers and small businesses in the area.

“They’ve eliminated fees for checking, and are not requiring minimum balances,” Morales says. “They’re giving incentives like putting in $5 for every child who opens a bank account, so they really want to help the community.

“In this economic climate, it was even harder to attract a bank to come into this community. But this bank is part of our educational effort. We may not be able to give them all jobs, but we can help educate people about things like earned income tax credit, which pays people money if they’re working, but still earning below the poverty level.”

There are many projects going on around the country that provide comprehensive, preventative services to help low income families, and the Magnolia Place Community Initiative stands among them as a national model. It’s nice to see that despite an uncertain economy, there are financial institutions like Pan American Bank that are giving as much as they’re getting from their communities.

For it’s only when we think of all the nation’s children as our own that everyone’s future will truly be better.



1 Comment »

  1. Jesse Torres said,

    Thank you for spreading the word! Imagine a world where every child had the tools to build assets through savings from birth and had the financial literacy to make the right financial decisions. That is our goal.


    Jesse Torres
    President and CEO
    Pan American Bank
    “California’s Oldest Latino-Owned Bank”

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