Snapshot: Alicia Portada

Director of Communications and Community Engagement at the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union

How did you first get into this work?

12 years ago, I was a new immigrant looking for jobs but I lacked referrals and job history since they were all in Peru. I decided to try the AmeriCorps Program to build my network from scratch. The opportunity was to be a volunteer in a small credit union in East Harlem and what attracted me to it was the cooperative model. My dad always talked, very proudly, about his cooperative in Peru, his participation in it, and how they helped him in times of need. I volunteered through AmeriCorps for one year and after that, the CEO offered me a new position in marketing. I remember that as soon as I started I had a lot of things to do, and there were always more things to be done ASAP, and that never changed. I took that as a sign that this was the place where I belonged.

What does ‘Solidarity Economy’ mean to you?

It means equilibrium of the optimal levels of economy and happiness. I think if we work in solidarity, my happiness doesn’t mean your loss, because my work would supplement you, not disparage you.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this work?

I wish that more people would be involved with cooperatives, that more people would take action and drop their bank accounts and join us, and that they would help us in spreading the word that we could have more control of the things that we complain about if we would put our money in the places that allow us to do the decision making. I wish I had more funds to advertise the impact of our lending and services in our communities.

What gaps in your work do you think could be filled cooperatively or through value chains?

We extend membership to any cooperative group in NYC, but a lot of them probably don’t know. We can help fulfill the financial needs of many cooperative groups and use the cooperative network for referrals.

Why do you think it is important for cooperatives to help other cooperatives?

To obtain equilibrium. To me, for example, if you go to a business and you don’t like the service, you complain. But if the boss doesn’t care nothing will change. In a cooperative there are more people at stake, like five bosses and more perspectives that would bring the complaint to a health resolution. There is five times the energy to succeed.

What is your ‘theory of change’? 

If we empower individuals and local small businesses to take back our economy, with their savings, work, consumption, and energy, we can make huge economic changes.

Do you see a role for youth involvement in your work?

YES. Young people nowadays are so critical and that is a good thing. We can show them how to take action. We thought about having a Youth Credit Union with a Youth Board of Directors. We still love the idea and are waiting for the right group to start with.

Can you talk a little bit about LESPFCU’s decision to open up a branch on Staten Island?

The branch is the product of the support of our growing membership in Staten Island. I think it was a perfect match between our interest in going to communities where banking access is restricted for many reasons, and a hardworking community wishing to grow economically. Now we just need to let the whole island know where we are.

And what about the LESPFCU bus initiative?

The bus is a product of our desire to connect with more community organizations and to share branch experience. A lot of banks are closing branches and people are losing the interaction with other people with whom to talk about their accounts, but also about what they should be doing to buy a house, start a business, savings for college or vacation, keeping their money safe, in general, becoming real owners of their accounts and their money.

What social media or news outlets do you follow?

I personally do Facebook only. I can’t handle more at this moment. I have family and friends abroad on WhatsApp, so they keep me very busy with the latest news, world trends, and funniest memes.

Where can we find more information about the work you are doing in the future?

On our website and by subscribing to our e-newsletter. The credit union also has Facebook @LESPeoplesFCU and Twitter @LESPFCU.

What is the best way for people to get involved and support your work?

Become a member, tell us about your experience, give us feedback that doesn’t require a huge expense on our part, but if it does, come to the annual meeting and see what other members think about your idea. Also, get to know who works here, our staff is encouraged to share members’ comments and experiences. Share your experience with other people and your organizations. Also, you can join the volunteer Board of Directors and other committees.


One Comment

  1. Calin Cheznoiu

    Mrs. Portada is the reason I opened a CU account. She showed me how my big bank was charging me unseen fees and loopholeing federal standards. Talk to her about leaving your big bank and you will find that not only does she embody these values, but that her knowledge, dedication, and compassion inspire confidence in her work and the CU as a whole.

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