A Cooperative Community Park

Isolation in Los Alamos, NM, has prompted an alliance of local cooperatives to provide a gathering space for people craving connection.

 
 

Collaboration is an exceptional cooperative advantage. What one credit union cannot do alone, several working together can accomplish.

For example, a planned cooperative community park adjacent to the new head office of Los Alamos Schools Credit Union ($23.7M, Los Alamos, NM) sprung from seeds planted almost a decade ago.

In 2012, the Net Promoter Score derived from the member surveys of Del Norte Credit Union ($849.3M, Los Alamos, NM) showed they believed their credit union’s cooperative structure mattered. “Promoters” there valued service and believed the credit union was locally owned — a cooperative not a bank. DNCU used that finding to differentiate itself. It joined forces with three local co-ops — Little Forest Playschool, Los Alamos Cooperative Market, and Bathtub Row Brewery Co-op — as well as two credit unions — Zia ($176.3M, Los Alamos, NM) and LASCU — to offer support, invest in their communities, serve their members, and educate the public about the cooperative difference.

The result? Keep It Co-Op New Mexico.

Building A Cooperative Commons

Matt Schmidt, CEO of LASCU, purchased land in the town’s center to build a new head office. The site includes adjacent space Schmidt believes should be converted into a cooperative park and community gathering place. The pandemic has only reinforced that belief.

“Isolation had led to a craving for connection,” the credit union CEO says.

The two-phase plan includes a community gathering space, outdoor concert stage, and room for a beer garden. It’s a bigger concept than LASCU alone can realize, though, so Matt approached Keep It Co-op. The group gave its immediate support.

Cooperative Education

Each contributing organization believes cooperation among cooperatives is vital. According to Schmidt, the group and projects like this are planting seeds.

“We trust they will grow,” he says. “These projects show our belief in each other and the community.”

Schmidt believes his credit union’s focus on educational employees and students makes its role in informing the community about cooperative design even more appropriate.

“This shared space allows us to tell the story of why you should join a co-op; the value we bring together,” he says. “It is a concept that could be adapted to any community in America.”

A Place To Gather After Being Apart

The six Los Alamos cooperatives that comprise Keep It Co-Op New Mexico have deep roots in the city’s history.

Little Forest Playschool: In 1951, moms in the American Association of University Women founded Little Forest, which initially included 15 children and cost 10 cents for juice and supplies. Today, it is a cooperatively managed preschool in which children learn through exploration and play.

Del Norte Credit Union: Founded in 1954 as Los Alamos Scientific Lab Credit Union, DNCU was the first financial institution in Los Alamos. The organization became a community charter in 1981 and expanded financial services and offerings to surrounding communities.

Los Alamos Schools Credit Union: Ruby Meaders founded LASCU out of her home in January 1955 — just after the unveiling of the “Secret City.” She was more than glad to serve the needs of non-governmental businesses like grocery stores and financial institutions.

Zia Credit Union: In 1955, approximately 200 support contractors for the Los Alamos National Laboratory founded Zia Credit Union as a special interest group. In 1975, the credit union expanded its field of membership to serve the entire community.

Los Alamos Cooperative Market: The market opened in 2011 with a mission to serve Los Alamos County and surrounding communities by providing fairly priced, wholesome foods and other goods in an ecologically sustainable, socially responsible, and economically appropriate manner.

Bathtub Row Brewing Co-op: After three years of hard work and investment, Bathtub Row Brewery Co-op became Los Alamos’ first craft brewery and the fourth cooperatively run brewery in the United States in 2015.

 

This post appeared originally on Chip Filson’s blog, Just A Member, in January 2021.