As an immigrant, Shaida Samimi understands the challenges that new arrivals to the United States face. A refugee from Afghanistan, she came to America in 1981, unable to speak a word of English.
Today, she’s a financial wellness partner at $9 billion asset Patelco CU in Dublin, CA. When she learned that Sacramento was a hub for immigrants from Afghanistan and now Ukraine, she wanted to leverage her experience at Patelco to provide financial well-being assistance.
“Two of our key pillars at Patelco are serving the community and promoting financial well-being,” Samimi says. “I knew I could connect with these people because I’ve been in their shoes. I literally spoke their language, and I had full support from [Patelco Business Development Manager] Michele Enriquez and Vice President of Virtual Delivery and Membership Development Darin Mink.
Samimi reached out to the community connections she’d developed in her position at Patelco. She set up a brainstorming session with the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services and World Relief of Sacramento, where Samimi serves on the board, to explore how to partner to meet the needs of the newly arrived Afghan families.
She assisted in drafting letters to lawmakers to facilitate Visa applications. Soon, the families were connected with housing, transportation, school registration, new clothes, toys for the children, and household items such as bedding, furniture, and kitchenware.
Samimi also recruited a network of volunteers to assist the new arrivals. “I had to recruit some contacts to help out,” she says. “And there are a lot of colleges and universities around Sacramento. Most of them have Afghan students. So, I started reaching out to all these clubs at the universities, and we came up with close to 300 volunteers.”
Financial services are always a challenge for new arrivals to the United States, and the Afghan and Ukrainian refugees were no exception.
“These individuals have a clear mistrust of the banking system because of their experience in their home country,” Samimi says. “I first teach them the difference between a credit union and bank, and the importance of establishing credit.”
Her next goal is to ease the new arrivals into basic financial services. This is key as other financial institutions turned away many of the new arrivals due to identity requirements. Samimi worked with internal stakeholders at Patelco to understand documentation and requirements, and created procedures and processes by which to create a welcoming and inclusive experience for the new arrivals.
“We have a step-by-step system,” Samimi says. “We hold our members’ hands. We teach them to build savings and credit with specific products that other financial institutions don’t offer.”
But perhaps the biggest factor working in her favor is the trust Samimi has developed with the Afghan community. “They trust me,” she says. “They know I have their best interests in mind.”
Since 2022, Samimi has shifted much of her focus to the Ukrainian community, which is seeing an influx of refugees due to the war with Russia.
“Through our partnership with World Relief, we’re expecting to assist 1,300 new refugee families in 2023 with financial education through a series of monthly workshops in their language and support through products and services,” she says.
Others have recognized Samimi’s generosity. She received the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues’ 2022 Social Impact Award. This honor recognizes an individual or organization that demonstrates an unyielding dedication to building stronger communities and improving members’ lives through financial education, wellness, social responsibility, mentorship, and/or diversity, equity, and inclusion practices.
She was also honored internally with Patelco’s Financial Health Hero award for her efforts.
This story was originally published in CUNA News.