A pioneering lender proves that the best community support begins at home

East Coast Credit Union (ECCU), based in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, has made the news on many occasions during the past 90 years, usually in recognition of corporate social responsibility, quality member service, and frequent nods as a top Nova Scotia employer. Recent kudos celebrate the organization’s #EastCoastCUCares Grant Program, a community investment initiative introduced in 2021 to help Nova Scotians endure the hardships of COVID-19.

Conceived as a way to strengthen the economy during difficult times, the #EastCoastCUCares Grant Program provides $100,000 annually in grants from $5,000 to $30,000 for local initiatives that create a measurable social and/or environmental impact in the community. In 2021, the first year of the program, recipients included L’Arche Cape Breton, the New Glasgow Farmers Market, Hope Blooms, Dartmouth Adult Service Centre, The Deanery Project, Healthy Minds Cooperative, Lake City Works, CACL Antigonish Workshop, and Acadia Recreation Club’s Square Roots Project.

“Funding is focused on social enterprises and cooperatives that demonstrate a measurable impact on health and wellness, community development, and climate resilience,” says Charlotte Jewer, Community Engagement Specialist with ECCU. “As a lending scheme, it mirrors ECCU’s longtime commitment to helping communities grow and prosper.”

ECCU began in 1933 as a support for farmers and fishers who couldn’t access credit through the banks. The idea was that prosperous community members would deposit funds, and that these funds would then be loaned to people who were not eligible for conventional loans. What began with a modest $100 in assets and 25 members has grown to become the largest credit union in Nova Scotia, with over $1 billion in assets and more than 42,000 members in branches from Cape Breton to Halifax.

“Despite this growth, we are determined to remain true to our core beliefs,” says Jewer. “As an organization, East Coast Credit Union is involved in many different aspects of giving, and because we return 10 per cent of our profits to the community, the more we grow, the more we can give.”

The need for this financial support is evident in the more than 100 applicants for the 2022 #EastCoastCUCares Grant Program — more than double the number from the previous year. At a recent awards ceremony, The Canadian Black Women in Excellence Society, Greenii Inc., Richmond River Roots, and Antigonish Farmers Market each received $10,000, with $5,000 allocated to Dartmouth Adult Services Centre, St. John of the Cross, Two Tunics Clothing Bank, Mill Road Social Enterprises, Pan Cape Breton FoodHub, Happy Hive Honey, and Farm to Feast Café Association.
The top award of $30,000 went to Dartmouth’s Healthy Minds Cooperative (HMC), an organization that provides a supportive space for those working on mental health challenges.

“When the ECCU team stopped by our office to deliver the cheque, we all shared in the excitement,” says Tyler Colbourne, executive director at HMC. “As a small organization with limited funding, we don’t get many opportunities to try bold new things. Funding through the #EastCoastCUCares Grant Program will allow us to develop and deliver a program focused on bridging mental health with climate justice and other complex social challenges. It will also let us expand our programming by building relationships with the community.”

In addition to community grants, the #EastCoastCUCares umbrella covers a variety of other giving programs, including a dozen $1,000 bursaries for youth demonstrating community involvement and leadership. Funds also go to Random Acts of Kindness, an initiative that sees ECCU branches choose their own causes. Projects have involved everything from gift cards given out at the grocery store, bingo nights at local seniors’ homes, and visits to other community organizations with treats and giveaways.

“We really do a lot in the community and hope to do even more as time goes on,” says Jewer. “Giving is an important part of our history.”

To find out more about East Coast Credit Union #EastCoastCUCares, visit www.eastcoastcu.ca/Community/Community+grants

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