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Photo Friday: Well Wishes, Dan!

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • December 15, 2017

Dan started working for us 4.5 years ago as an AmeriCorps VISTA, Program Assistant for Business Development, fresh out of Syracuse University. Since then, he’s grown to lead our business development efforts through Up Start and became Deputy Director under Dominic Robinson. He’s contributed great amounts of energy, laughter, and support to all of us at Economic Inclusion, and we suspect for many in the community at large.

We’re going to miss his playfulness, his dedication to the cause, and his willingness to happily go above and beyond for all of our programs. Join us in wishing him the best of luck as he makes the leap to Detroit!


Photo Friday: Nadia’s Northside

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • December 8, 2017

Thank you, Nadia Ahishakiye, for taking over our Instagram this week and showing us what it’s like to be a seventeen year old living on the Northside! To view all of her photos, visit our Instagram or Facebook.

Do you love taking photos of the Northside? Send us a message and check out all of our Insta Takeovers: www.instagram.com/explore/tags/nsuptakeover



“Foreigners Like Me” from Hopeprint

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • December 6, 2017

This latest think piece from Hopeprint picks apart important concepts in our culture: “foreigner,” “majority,” “kindred.”

“They walked up the street with the babies in the stroller, dimly lit by the street lights. Though it was impossible to see their faces from across the road, their silhouettes and posture as they walked was recognizable in the way it only is when you have come to know someone. I raised my voice and hand, saying ‘Hello!’ Mom looked over and returned the greeting with a grin across her face. 

Due to a rather absurdly full season of grant writing, conferences, meetings, budget building, curriculum development, traveling to other cities for our multiplication efforts and more, the chance this evening to stand still and greet my neighbor felt like an extra treasure. As I spent a good deal of the evening alternating between coloring and building lincoln logs with their son, Ahmed, not speaking a lick of Farsi or Pashto (his mother tongue as an Afghani), I pondered anew the journey our friends take to get across the ocean to their new and foreign land… new kinds of houses, new language, new trash system, new transportation system, new ways to access food, new kinds of food, and on and on it goes.

Ahmed was quite content with not trying to understand me; he was just going to keep living his life, observing passively. Meanwhile, little Lisha pulled a book out of the bookcase, and sat on my lap to read it. As the pages turned, she could nearly quote the whole thing to me, making it clear she has spent a whole lot of days in our home with that book. Her little tongue rattled off imaginary stories and creative expressions in the primary tongue of her birthplace, English, differing from the Nepali tongue of her mother. 

Lisha knows the Nepali dishes that usually fill her family table, but she also knows chocolate chip cookies. Ahmed is dressed in the typical fashion forward, sharp manner of his fellow Afghani, Syrian and Iraqi 3-year-old peers, but is overwhelmed and lost in an almost entirely unknown world. Lisha’s presence in our living room exudes familiarity. Ahmed’s presence in this space exudes this sense of foreignness. 

Ahmed is young, and I know from years of watching little Ahmeds grow up, that in 18 months from now, he will be chattering away in a language he was clueless of today. He will not remember the land of his birth as an active memory, and this nation of the United States will be what he knows as home. His parents speaking Pashto at home, or the colorful hijab his mother continues to wear, will ever remind him he is of a particular people, but he will find himself in the strange gray of being foreign and familiar in his own home and nation of eventual citizenship. 

Ahmed and Lisha will spend all to nearly all of their lives in the borders of this nation that welcomed their families. In their personal identity, they will carry very little of their family being factually “foreigners” at one point. Culturally connected or bicultural, yes absolutely; but foreigner would not be the narrative of their own writing. Yet unless if the story changes, Ahmed and Lisha will spend the rest of their days keenly aware of this part of their heritage. The beautifully dark olive tint of Lisha’s skin, and her gorgeous Nepali features, will likely speak before her mouth does to the world she encounters. Ahmed’s name and maybe someday his wife in hijab will serve as a preface to his story written by others not himself. Whether Lisha or Ahmed feel or see themselves as foreign, and irregardless if they are no longer foreign as naturalized citizens, they will never really be allowed to forget it. This is the cultural craftsmanship of our ‘majority’ culture . . .”

To read the entire blog entry, visit Hopeprint’s website.

Oxtail Stew, Fried Plantains, and More: Taste of Africa Opens

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • December 3, 2017

Did you catch Teri Weaver’s story last month about the new Congolese restaurant on the Northside? Look below for a snippet of the story and read the full article with photos on Syracuse.com.

“When Ullys Mouity became a U.S. citizen seven years ago, he said his dream was to open an African restaurant.

Now he and his family have. They opened The Taste of Africa in October on Syracuse’s North Side, in the spot once home to Weber’s Restaurant.

Weber’s, a German restaurant, closed in 2009 after six decades. A soul food place, Sharon’s Bar & Restaurant, operated out of the space at 820 Danforth St. in the interim.

Now the corner restaurant is serving Congolese food – goat or oxtail stews, fried plantains with fiery pili pili sauce, and cassava.

The family-owned business includes Mouity; his wife, Adija Balume; her sister Saida Balume; and his brother, Angeton Mouity.

The sisters are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They came to the United States in 1990 and moved to Syracuse in 1998. The brothers are from Republic of the Congo, a smaller country west of DR Congo. They came to Syracuse in 2005.

The Taste of Africa serves food commonly found in Central and East Africa. In addition to stews, fried fish and rice, the menu also offers cassava, or pondu.

‘This is one of the main sources of foods in the region,’ Ullys Mouity said.”

To read the entire article, visit Syracuse.com.

Photo Friday: Meet Nadia

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • December 1, 2017

“My name is Ahishakiye Nadia. I’m seventeen years old. I’m a senior and currently attending PSLA@Fowler. I’m Burundian, but was born in the country Tanzania. I moved to the Northside in 2012 from Idaho. I really love the Northside. It’s a very beautiful place with many beautiful and unique cultures. I love learning about the different cultures and people around the world, many of which live on the Northside.”

Connect with us on Instagram to follow Nadia’s Insta Takeover: www.instagram.com/northsideup. Each day we’ll share one of her favorite photos of the Northside.

Up Start Business Hosts Event on Northside

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • November 27, 2017

Our colleagues at Up Start have been busy helping the latest cohort of entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground, including Pretty & Pink Party Planning who’s having a “girls only” event on the Northside at Jumpin Jupiter! Check out all the details for Girl’s Just Wanna Have Fun!

To learn more about Pretty & Pink’s services, follow them on Facebook.

Photo Friday: First Snow Along Ash Street

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • November 24, 2017

Thank You!

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • November 23, 2017

Feeling thankful today for the partners and neighbors that make our work possible. It is through our collective energy, passion, and hard work that positive change can take place in our neighborhood.


NBP Member Interview Series Featuring Ron Ehrenreich

Written by Anna Rupert  • November 22, 2017


Editors Note: Anna is serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) at NEHDA for the year. Her roll involves a variety of tasks, such as recruiting volunteers and applying for funding opportunities to plan fun events that benefit the community. Anna graduated from Syracuse University with a BA in Spanish. She also works as a dance teacher and volunteers on the Mission of Miracles in El Salvador when she can. As part of Anna’s work with NEHDA, she is writing some posts for us to share. All of her posts can be found under the “NEHDA” category. To learn more about NEHDA, visit their website and Facebook.






Cooperative Federal is a credit union owned, operated and run by its members. Coop Fed prides itself on serving people and communities that are underserved by the conventional financial institutions, with 94% of their clientele being low-income, and 64% being credit invisible. Ron Ehrenreich serves as their treasurer and CEO, as well as being one of the founders. Read on to find out more about this wonderful local financial institution and all their contributions to the community. 


Anna: How did you get involved with the Credit Union?

Ron: OK, well, going back to when I was not much older than you I was active in what we called then “The Movement,” and then as the activists settled into neighborhoods and communities around the country we were looking for ways to bring activism into our neighborhoods. A lot of people got involved with forming food co-ops, and I joined the food co-op here in 1976, and I helped to found the food co-op in Philadelphia when I was 21 but I was never involved in the food part. I helped to secure the building and get the backing for renting the building and so then what we were finding was people were doing that, that whole movement was having trouble getting capital. Nobody would lend to them.

Plus there were some other things going on at the same time, banks were leaving neighborhoods in urban areas, fleeing to the suburbs, plus they weren’t lending to people in the neighborhoods. Women were having trouble getting credit, particularly women who were single, separated, widowed, divorced, abandoned. At that time all the credit would be in the husband’s name. So, we even saw instances where the husband would die, leave the house to his wife but there was a mortgage on the house and she couldn’t get a mortgage to replace the mortgage that was in the husband’s name. It was ridiculous, plus the usual cast of characters who couldn’t get credit: people of color, people who were living on low income, the same kind of people who are shoved aside today. There was a big push to resist apartheid in South Africa, so there was a movement afoot then to divest money from South Africa and banks were being asked to divest money and nobody would–not a single bank in this area would. So we said, “well we could do that and we could address these other issues,” so we had a meeting, a meeting of activists, passed a hat, and we got $30 [laughs].

We were young and idealistic and we didn’t realize that you couldn’t start a financial institution with $30. (Now to be fair $30 then was more like $80 today, so if you had a meeting of low-income people and you passed the hat and got a few dollars here and five dollars there and you ended up with $80 it wouldn’t be so bad in terms of the purchasing power.) So we used that to organize a pledge campaign, we got pledges of a hundred thousand dollars, submitted our application to the national credit union administration, we got chartered. So I was on the organizing committee. We routinely set up a table outside the food co-op and at peace council events and wherever else we could and got these pledge cards signed, and then we tried to figure out what to do next. We had a series of meetings where we asked people what would you want us to lend for, and what would you want us not to lend for, so we ended up framing our lending policy then, and that stuff is still in place. I mean, we’ve elaborated on it and developed it since then but that really framed the basis of what we would lend for and what we would not lend for, and I think we had a vision of serving people who weren’t being served and trying to take into account the whole person not just a bit of them. We developed methodologies for evaluating people’s credit worthiness based on kind of alternative criteria that made sense, not just was easy for a banker, and we’ve done that since then, we’ve developed ways and methods of dealing fairly with people that the banks would just walk away from.

So anyway, that’s how I got involved, I was on the organizing committee, I was part of the board, and I became the second treasurer. As we got going more, the first treasurer said he couldn’t keep going with the work. I had bought the first personal computer in the area, and so I was able to do projections and an electronic spreadsheet was like the most miraculous thing. That helped me to become the treasurer and to work with the info that we had, we could only do projections quarterly because the computer didn’t have the brainpower to do it monthly. I had been trained at mainframes and card punching and all these obsolete things when I was in college. But I could not do the work that I do without a computer and I wouldn’t be any good at it if I had been born 20 years before,because I can’t do that stuff with my mind and paper. So anyway, I was on the board, became treasurer, and that’s how I got involved, and I’ve stuck it out.


A: The Credit Union’s 35th Anniversary was in October, what does that mean to you?

R: I think the most important thing for me is that we have kept faith with the vision of our members. I have tried to keep that vision ahead of us . . . My greatest fear is that somehow we would just become a nice credit union. We’re not just a nice credit union, we do what we do on a regular basis, year in and year out what others think is impossible. But, we have wonderful people who work at it and see what we achieve and fill part of it and make it happen. It doesn’t happen on its own.


A: What are some of the experiences that have most impacted you in your time working at the Credit Union?

R: In terms of the experiences, I think it’s step-by-step trying to do more, trying to achieve more, adapting technology, adapting when we didn’t have technology . . . We adopted to the technology that was available that we could afford and now we’re pretty much up to the state of the art technology for what we do and that’s great. And we had to update as we opened other offices, so this past year we’ve upgraded our entire network. Next year we’ll be replacing our core system that keeps track of all our members’ money and transactions.

And now our members have access to their accounts, obviously in the office, over the counter, but over the telephone, over their cellphones using an app, Web Teller, over the internet. They have home banking, mobile deposit capture, basically everything and we bring it to them affordably. We’ve done it differently than others. We take the costs, divide it up, try to break even, and we charge our members $3.00 a month. They don’t have to pay for any of those other services, the bill pay and anything like that. There’s a lot that goes on where we take the right road, we could have done something else but we’ve done something that’s fair and sometimes the members don’t realize (that).

I’m happy and content with the way we’ve done things. And it’s not to say there’s no room for improvement. We could always do things better. In fact, pretty much every week we figure out something we could do better. In terms of the other experiences that have impacted me, one of the most difficult was the crash. We reduced staffing by eleven people, and these people are friends, neighbors, but we had to do whatever was necessary to keep the credit union alive or else we all would be gone, everyone would be gone. That was very difficult but we did it and two thousand credit unions didn’t make it through the crash, so I’m glad that we did. It definitely hasn’t been easy since the crash with interest rates being so low. It’s always been uphill. I didn’t expect it to be uphill for 35 years, but it’s always been uphill, but particularly steep since the crash. We’re making it work and we’re doing our part and in part we’ve done more. We’ve been more mission-driven and I think that’s the right approach. During the crash we didn’t know if we were going to make it, but our idea was if we’re gonna go down, we’re gonna go down fighting. But we did make it and we were able to keep and motivate our people, our staffing by doing more, by achieving more. People that work here are not in it primarily for the money, they’re in it to change this corner of the world.


A: Over the 35 years it has been open, what positive neighborhood and community changes have you noticed as a result of the Credit Union’s community programming?

R: I think the biggest thing that we’ve done is to deploy capital into the community where we think it will do the most good. We have requests all the time from out of town landlords who want to buy something in the SU area and rent. We don’t do that, but over the last 35 years we’ve lent one hundred and thirty seven million dollars in this community. Pretty good for a $30 investment [laughs], but we’ve focused it on creating first time homebuyers, that’s the biggest chunk. We are primarily a mortgage lender, and I don’t know if we could do that in another community — the housing prices in Syracuse are very affordable, even for people on low and moderate income. So we’re able to create first-time homebuyers, which is the source of most inter-generational wealth in the United States.

We foster small business, small business startups and growth, and a type of small business that I would call self-employment. A lot of our small businesses would be better off having unionized manufacturing jobs but those jobs don’t exist, so if they have a skill, we can help them turn it into a business and be self-employed and support their families, and have the dignity of work.

Another thing that we aim for is people’s personal financial situation. We are a place of first opportunities and second chances, so we can help people get on the track or get back on the track. We do debt consolidation, help people establish credit, we have credit builder loans. We have over the last year developed an opportunity auto lending program for people who are getting jobs but don’t have transportation to get to their jobs. So we have figured out ways with some partners of mitigating some risk and making it possible for our members to get a quality, affordable vehicle and for us to mitigate and manage our risks in doing that. We have to pay attention to that.

In part, we have developed a methodology for lending to people who are under-resourced. When somebody loses their job it’s really not the best time to repossess their car and foreclose on their house. So we try to stick with our members through the hard times and we look to them to stick with us, and they do.


A: The Credit Union’s youth programs are receiving the proceeds from the Cooperative Federal 35th Anniversary Fundraiser and Gala. Are there expansions you are planning on making to these programs?

R: First of all, our priority is to sustain the programs that we have. We have received funding in the past to get these programs setup but once they’re setup there’s no funding that we’ve got. They’re an operating expense, and yet they’re important. Now we are looking at expanding youth programs, looking at the potential of running more youth financial education programs.


A: How do the In-School Savings Branches positively impact students’ financial futures in the long term?

R: Part of it is financial education, seeing them save and giving a place to cash their paycheck, we’ve even made a few loans for good purposes. We’ve done some loans for a lawn mower so someone could have a summer job, and that would earn more than enough money to pay back the lawnmower. Then the people who are actually involved in running the office in the high schools, if they do a reasonable job we offer them summer jobs here at the Credit Union. It’s a summer job at a financial institution, it’s something to put on your resume, and we write reference letters. It’s a way for a student to get a summer income and get something to help them either get a future job or get into college or whatever, and a couple students who did well at the summer job we have offered part time Saturday jobs at the Credit Union while they were at OCC.


A: What hopes do you have for the future of the Credit Union?

R: The hopes I have for the future is that the Credit Union will continue to grow, serve more people, reach a sustainable scale. We are a financial institution with just under 25 million in assets, that is teeny. At our current scale of operations, with the offices that we have we could probably break even with less angst and struggle if we were twice our size in assets. It’s always a struggle growing assets, but I would like to see us reach a sustainable size, serve more people, do more.

For example, over the last three years we have grown our business lending on an average of 36 or 37% per year. We’re geared up to do more. We’re hoping to find some more capital to lend and I hope that someday we’ll get into the fourth Syracuse high school, Corcoran. The most important thing is that we keep the faith and keep the vision — that we do what others view is impossible, that we serve the people. “Finance for the people,” that’s our motto and I think we’re trying to build a new society within the old one.


A: Around the office we have a running topic of food and our favorite restaurants so what is your favorite restaurant on the Northside?

R: New Century


A: What is your favorite thing to get there?

R: Pho Thai which is beef noodle soup.


To learn more about Cooperative Federal, visit their website and follow them on Facebook.

A Visit to Isabella Lofts

Written by Rachel Nolte  • November 2, 2017


Editor’s Note: Rachel is serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) at NEHDA for the year. Her roll involves a variety of tasks, such as recruiting volunteers and applying for funding opportunities to plan really cool, really fun events that benefit the community. Rachel graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a BFA in Sculpture and a minor in psychology. She spent the past year serving in another AmeriCorps program where she traveled the state of New York to help out with various environmental projects. As part of Rachel’s work with NEHDA, she is writing some posts for us to share. All of her posts can be found under the “NEHDA” category. To learn more about NEHDA, visit their website and Facebook.


It was a fine fall day, the heat spell finally having been broken, and I was on my way to get a peek inside the much talked about Isabella Lofts. Steve Case, co-owner of 800 Block LLC, the firm that purchased the Assumption Campus on North Salina Street, came to meet me and show me around the building.

It is clear when you speak to Steve that he is passionate about this project and quite proud of their improvements to the building.  In the first apartment we saw, he eagerly pointed out the granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances, and the preservation of the original wood floors wherever possible.

One thing that was immediately evident was the excellent quality of lighting. The setup of each individual apartment was unique because of the nature of the converted building. Some living rooms or bedrooms were larger or smaller in different apartments. But in all of the spaces we looked at, the windows let in generous supplies of natural daylight.

The first few apartment rooms we looked at were straightforward, monochromatic, tasteful: a blank canvas for somebody to make their own.

As I wandered from room to room, I was consistently delighted with the varying vistas that the windows revealed to me. Steve showed me his favorite apartment on one of the higher stories of the building. From its windows, you can see all across Syracuse. Such a view would surely make the future inhabitant want to say “Look, Simba. Everything the light touches is our kingdom” to anybody fortunate enough to visit.

As a fan of historic architecture, I was especially fascinated by rooms that offered a close-up of the structure of the church itself.

My personal favorite rooms were the last few that we saw in the Nun’s Quarters. These were still in the process of being finished, so I did not get many pictures. I loved the architectural details in these rooms. For instance, the original ceilings were intact with their intricate patterns.

The wood paneling and trim was beautiful to behold. I found myself imagining vintage scenes from the space’s past life.

As Steve showed me around, we encountered several people working on the building, all of whom were happy to see Steve and chat for a moment. It was a pleasant tour and Steve even shared some insights with me on upcoming projects for the campus. Fortunately for Steve (but unfortunately for anyone interested in an affordable, conveniently located apartment) the apartments at this building will all be rented out soon! So if you were thinking about taking a look, my advice is to contact Steve (scase@acropolisdevelopment.com) right away.

Stay tuned for updates on this project and more!