C3 initiative: connecting the international community

It was the turn of the millennium.  The student sat attentively as the teacher brought the class to order and began rattling off a series of phrases.  The young man understood nothing but his name when it was said.  Before he realized what was going on, everyone in the class stood up and headed into the hallway where the student lockers were located.  Bewildered as to what was going on, the young man grabbed his French-English dictionary that he’d been frantically flipping thru trying to find the meaning of the torrent of words proceeding from the teachers’ mouth, and followed the group out.  Standing in the hallway watching as his classmates began unloading their book bags into the lockers, he froze.  The teacher, noting the uncertain look on the boy’s face came over and pointed to a locker not currently being stuffed full and once again began spouting more phrases.  The boy still stood there with a blank look.  Finally, the teacher pointed to the combination lock, pointed to the paper where a combination was written, and once again repeated herself.  She’d been assigning everyone their locker and combination!

That young man was me.  That was the first few minutes of the first day of school my Freshman year at École L'Eau-Vive in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.  It was just the first of many frustrations, faux pas, triumphs and victories as I navigated life in a country and language that wasn't my own.  It was one of the most difficult years in my young life.  By the end of the school year I was able to pass my classes and learn the French language to a comfortable extent.  I know how debilitating and scary it can be not to understand the majority of the population around you.  That is why I have launched the C3 Initiative at ORNL Federal Credit Union!                 

Oak Ridge and Knoxville's past census numbers show a significant increase in the number of households that speak a language other than English namely Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese and French.  This particular project is still very much in its infancy.  The next three steps in the C3 Initiative are as follows:

1. Design & Align
We are currently designing the first 8 weeks of lessons so that they not only contain the desired teaching material but also align with our core beliefs, philosophy, and branding as a credit union.  We don’t want to JUST teach English, we want to create financial freedom by giving our culturally diverse community the confidence needed to financially thrive.  The first 8 lessons will be very basic English lessons using the alphabet to teach words necessary to accomplish common financial transactions at a branch, drive-thru, or ATM.  We want them to know how to make a deposit, cash a check, request a transaction history, make an on-line transfer, or balance a checkbook - all in English!

2. Reach In & Reach Out
While I may have been this project's author and creator, it is going to require a passionate and  dedicated group of volunteers for it to succeed.  I will reach in to our employee base to recruit and enlist the expertise needed for marketing, course content, educators, etc.  At the same time I reach in, I will reach out to our community groups that help refugees and immigrants in our area such as The Bridge Refugee Services, Inc. or Knoxville Internationals Network to build momentum for this exciting new program that we are piloting.  We are shooting for a fall start date so we can take full advantage of the International Credit Union Day.  Our hopes are to have an international festival of sorts to help kick off this initial 8 week period of classes.

3. Go All In
The C3 Initiative is just a piece of a much larger diversification plan within ORNL Federal Credit Union that will help bridge the gap between making sure that our employee base reflects our membership base.  We have identified the landscape; we have identified the needs, and have anticipated what we believe to be our future needs as an organization to stay relevant as a financial institution in East Tennessee.   This project will create a culture of appreciation within our organization and community from which will flow the benefits of increased membership growth, greater community outreach and involvement, a more culturally diverse workforce, better brand awareness, and the pride of knowing that you have helped make a difference in another person's life not just when they are banking.  We don’t want our international communities to just live, we want them to thrive! 

Stay tuned for exciting updates!

Jonathan LaBarge