A Conversation: Ebony Perkins of Self-Help Credit Union
Brady Quirk-Garvan at Money with a Mission interviewed Ebony Perkins at Self-Help Credit Union.
Brady Quirk-Garvan: Ebony, what is your role at Self-Help Credit Union?
Ebony Perkins: I am the Vice President and Director of Investor Relations. Simply put, I get the opportunity to work with individuals and institutions that want to put their cash to good use. I get to have fun when I go out to people and explain how they can use their money for good and see the light bulb go off. I get really excited about that! It’s an educational opportunity.
BQG: What do you wish that more people understood about Self-Help Credit Union?
EP: I think a lot of people hear the words “credit union” and they have a certain picture in their head. Self-Help is so much more than just a credit union. We are a family of non-profit organizations with the same goal of being able to create opportunities for all kinds of people. We just go about it in different ways, and the credit union is one of those ways that we help people. We do our lending, but we also do a lot of community development work, and a lot of research and advocacy work—not just in local communities, but across the country. Self-Help is more than just a credit union. We are a mammoth of an organization that’s using different methods in order to bring about change.
BQG: What initially drew you to work at Self-Help?
EP: I came from a community foundation in South Carolina. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into. But I quickly recognized the magnitude of what Self-Help was doing. It was seeing the people that they were helping and the ways that they approached local problems that really attracted me. I love helping people realize that they can do something good, and I could really scale that up and make a greater impact. I knew that at Self-Help I could do more than I was doing before.
BQG: During your time at Self-Help, what has been a favorite moment that you’ve had?
EP: Obviously 2020 was very difficult for a lot of people. Normally I engage with our investors—high net worth individuals, institutions, etc. I rarely get to directly connect with our borrowers. When COVID hit we learned about the Paycheck Protection Program lending program. Our leadership quickly recognized that the commercial lending team was not big enough to handle the work that was coming in, so they brought all hands on deck and I jumped into this project.
This allowed me to talk with our borrowers—not just our investors—for a long stretch of time. I was able to see how this work was really helping people. Before I would tell our story, but to actually engage with somebody from point A to point B was something else. To hear an adult man cry because he’s worried about making ends meet, providing for his family, and keeping this business afloat, and then to be able to come through for him—that’s a different kind of experience. It was very eye-opening. I’ve never been so excited to work 20-hour days. It was something I’ll never forget.
BQG: That’s amazing and it’s nice to think that in a year that was really difficult for people, positive pieces can come out of it. When times are tough, the great part about institutions like Self-Help is they can be there to serve and step up in a way that no one else can.
BQG: For Natural Investments’ clients, what role can investors play in supporting Self-Help’s work?
EP: I often ask, Are you comfortable where your money sleeps? At Self-Help we can’t do everything that we do on our own. We have been successful only because of the people and groups that have accounts with us. We use those funds to support local communities. And so what investors and individuals can do is move their savings to Self-Help and just rest comfortably, knowing that those funds are doing something good. They’re helping the people who need them in order to buy their first home or start their own business. And it’s helping to revitalize communities that have been neglected for far too long.
SELF-HELP CREDIT UNION VS. SELF-HELP FEDERAL CREDIT UNION
Self-Help has two credit unions—not branches, but two separate entities. Self-Help Credit Union is a state-chartered credit union with branches in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and Virginia. Self-Help Federal Credit Union has branches and serves communities in California, Washington, Chicago, and Milwaukee. However, you don’t need to have a branch in your community—anyone can join Self-Help. All you need to do is become a member of the parent organization, the Center for Community Self-Help.
Photo: Ryan Bethea of Wilson, NC decided to start an oyster farming business and came to Self-Help for financing. A few months later, he won the coveted Oyster of the Year award at the annual NC Seafood Festival in Morehead City- surely the first of future successes.