For five years, Shannon Clements of Newark was living her dream.
As coordinator of the New York state “Wheels-to-Work” program through Catholic Family Center, she made it possible for people in Ontario and Wayne Counties anxious to find and keep a good job get the reliable car so critical to the process.
Her job was part of the regional charter that served four counties, echoing similar charters across the state. She helped nearly 100 people obtain special loans to purchase a used car but then, reeling from the recession, the state cut funding for the program. For two years, the agency tried to keep it going, but by July 2011, it was clear Clements would lose her job. After she left in September 2011, another position was eliminated until all that remained was a lone staffer, working on outstanding collections.
She thought her dream had died.
But now, thanks to Keuka College’s Action Research Project (ARP), her dream has found new life. The ARP is a cornerstone of the Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP), in which Clements is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in organizational management. Similar to a graduate thesis, an ARP involves research and integration of multiple course concepts, all focused on a subject area unique to the student’s interest, and often, employer.
And Clements’ ARP proposal, to introduce a similar auto loan program in the private sector banking industry, is close to becoming a reality.
This winter, Clements joined Generations Bank, a nine-office bank, as a credit analyst in the commercial loan department at its main branch in Seneca Falls. In a chapter of life that almost mirrored a fairy tale, her proposal caught the attention of bank President Menzo Case within days of her hire. Case had privately considered launching a loan program in the vein of Wheels-to-Work, so after learning of Clements’ personal passion, he tapped her to head up the new initiative.
“It’s incredible! It’s a real wow!” raved Andrew Wyner, assistant professor of management, who was leading Clement’s class, known as a cohort, through the first stages of preparation for the ARP. After fellow students observed Clements “almost in tears,” Wyner said, when sharing how the state canceled the program she had seen work for so many, they were in awe at the turn of events.
By Nov. 1, Generations Bank will introduce its new auto loan program for Seneca County residents who may lack the means to qualify for a traditional car loan.
While a new commercial loan offering will not become a profit maker for the bank, Case said he expects the project “to take on a life of its own,” and he’s excited to see what kind of impetus the program can create in the private sector. He’s already invited officials from Seneca County Workforce Development and local car dealers to consider how they can be involved.
According to Clements, her ARP and the bank’s new loan program will include educational components similar to what Wheels-to-Work used to offer clients. These included instruction in budgeting, credit ratings and restoration, and even car maintenance. Armed with this knowledge, recipients are better prepared to handle the responsibilities of loan repayment.
The philosophy of giving someone a hand up, not a hand-out, is one Case advocates, given his 17-year background with Habitat for Humanity, which makes home ownership possible for those willing to labor with volunteers through the building process.
“We’re trying to put together qualifications that make sense for these folks that are ready to take steps toward self-sufficiency and improving their lot in life,” Case said. “If someone’s willing to work and show me some financial discipline, then I’ll go the extra yard for them and find a way to either get them in a home or now, we’re going to get them in a car.”
The ARP and loan product development Clements conceived has remained in place even after she took another job closer to her home with a hospital. Case asked her to remain in a consulting role to complete her ARP and get the bank’s loan project off the ground. Clements will graduate with her Keuka degree in May 2013.