Creative banking for the community’s benefit

An educational nonprofit struggled to find a financial backer for a series of projects to help low- to moderate-income communities. When the need resonated with BankPlus, an unbreakable partnership was formed, with some financially unorthodox and, ultimately, successful outcomes.

By Colleen Morrison


Innovation comes in many forms, and for BankPlus, a $5.3 billion-asset community bank in Belzoni, Miss., it comes down to finding a way to do the right thing, even if at first it doesn’t look good on paper.

Community Students Learning Center (CSLC) can testify to this. As a nonprofit based in one of the poorest counties in the country, CSLC leads with a mission of service in support of low- to moderate-income (LMI) communities. When it needed capital for a housing refurbishment project, leaders weren’t surprised that many banks deemed it too risky a proposition.

“We initially took our program to some other banks, and they wouldn’t get involved,” recalls Beulah Greer, CSLC executive director. “We had a board president who said, ‘We have to get this done.’”

The CSLC team had faith in their vision, and they knew that if they were persistent, they would find the right partner. “BankPlus stepped up,” Greer says. “We are so thankful to BankPlus for trusting us. They could have said, ‘We don’t know you,’ but they didn’t, and we thank God for that.”

“We understand that the needs of these programs don’t always fit the typical underwriting criteria used. Our commitment to our communities has allowed us to lean into innovative and creative ways to serve their needs.”
—Mark Ouellette, BankPlus

The community bank’s efforts to help make CSLC’s vision a reality mirrors how it supports its community by thinking outside of the proverbial box.

“At its core, BankPlus is a bank with a deep commitment to serve our communities,” says Mark Ouellette, first vice president and director of affordable housing for BankPlus. “We are continuously looking for ways to position ourselves around what our communities need most, and the Community Students Learning Center aligns perfectly with our essential value of improving quality of life and making a positive difference.”

By the numbers

BankPlus has provided and/or helped CSLC secure:

An initial grant of

$308,000

to make desperately needed repairs for 44 elderly and disabled homeowners

A second grant of

$495,000

to assist more families with home repairs

$1,974,462

from a HUD Rural Innovation Grant to fund job training and the construction of a subdivision of new low- to moderate-income homes

$1,171,174

in Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas grants

Ouellette notes that BankPlus has crafted its community development philosophy to make funding a possibility for low- to moderate-income communities. “We understand that the needs of these programs don’t always fit the typical underwriting criteria used,” he says. “Our commitment to our communities has allowed us to lean into innovative and creative ways to serve their needs.”

With BankPlus, Greer knew CSLC had found not just a bank, but a community partner.

Beulah Greer: BankPlus is in our county. They are genuine, caring people who want to give back to constituents. It’s important to work with a local bank when you’re giving back in your own community.

Mark Ouellette: As a community bank and partner, we strive to understand the needs of the many populations we serve in order to ensure the success of community development initiatives. When our communities are thriving, it creates a ripple effect with a lasting impact. We understand these investments are not just for today but lead to growth and success in the future as well.

The relationship has extended beyond one project to new areas that support CSLC’s overall mission.

Greer: Beyond home rehabilitation and development projects, BankPlus has also been generous in helping us with a program that focuses on developing the learning of preschool youngsters. As the program’s sponsor for the past eight years, BankPlus has been instrumental in helping the community through this work—and it’s been an enormous success! In fact, a few years ago, the state produced assessment tests for the third grade, and all 18 children who were in our program passed on the first round.

Ouellette: It’s why you hear us say so often, “It’s more than a name. It’s a promise.” When our partners see there is a need, we want them to know they can count on BankPlus to respond. It’s a promise of a better tomorrow.

This commitment to innovation for the good of the community continues to have positive effects.

Greer: BankPlus has assisted us with new ways and new options to meet our mission. They know what our community is looking for and help us find other innovative ideas to strengthen the relationship. When you bank locally, people know where their money is going. It feels good when you’re putting money in this bank, and they are giving back to us.

Ouellette: As BankPlus continues to expand into new markets, no matter how large the bank grows, we will always be first and foremost a community bank. Our pledge is to help the neighborhoods, towns and cities we serve thrive. We continue to do this by fixing our innovation strategy around a deep understanding of our community needs.


Colleen Morrison is a writer in Maryland.