A conversation with Robert Gibbs on new Hope Lives fund

The late Hope Simmons Bynum’s legacy of giving to others will live on through the Hope Lives Fund, a new program at Hope Credit Union designed to help disadvantaged women through tough times. It was started following the untimely death of Bynum, who was known for her work in the community. Jackson attorney Robert Gibbs was on the steering committee that helped initiate the program.

Why start Hope Lives?

“Hope Simmons Bynum was a community activist. She was involved with several community organizations; she volunteered at several nonprofits, like Stewpot Community Services; she mentored students at Rowan Middle School. She died at an early age, a couple of months ago, and wanted to honor her legacy and her volunteerism. The steering committee got together after her death to come up with a way to honor her. Hope Lives actually came out of that effort.”

Who is on the steering committee?

“The steering committee consists of Portia Espy, Donna Barksdale, Jim Ingram, Jim Johnston and (myself).”

What spurred the committee to get started?

“Hope died in May of this year. At the services, there was a statement made by Chuck Poole, who basically said look around the room. You see all of this diversity here, but you probably won’t ever see it again. We took that as a challenge. We felt our community needed to look like it looked in that room that day.”

Tell me about that diversity. What did that room look like?

“Her service was very diverse – black, white, rich, poor, people in suits, people in regular clothes.”

What does Hope Lives do?

“Bill Bynum, Hope’s husband is president of Hope Credit Union. He also wanted to honor his wife. Ironically, a young lady that Hope had mentored at Rowan, sent a letter to (the Bynum family) after she found out Hope had passed. In the letter, she said she was pregnant and working in a restaurant and was embarrassed. Hope saw her, encouraged her, and even that day, as Hope left the restaurant, she called her over and gave her a check for $300. That money changed that lady’s life. She was telling us at Hope’s service that for some people $300 could be a lifeline, enough to get some gas in the car, to pay an electric bill, to buy groceries. That $300 inspired her to do better and today that young lady is an executive director of a nonprofit.

“When Bill got the letter, he thought about setting up a fund to help young ladies who fall into that category. Through the Hope Enterprise Corporation, a tax-deductible donation can be made to the Hope Lives Fund. That would allow young ladies who are referred by organizations partnering with Hope to come into the credit union and get a no-interest, $300 loan. If they pay it back, the money goes into a savings account for the young ladies. If they choose not to pay it back, all is forgiven, and they’ve had $300 free and clear.”

So, either way, the recipients keep the money?

“When they pay it back, we set up a savings account that will follow them for the rest of their lives, or it’s $300 that they don’t pay back. I hope they pay it back, so they can start saving and start a relationship with a banking institution.”

To make sure I have this right, a lady cannot just walk into a Hope branch and ask for the money, they have to be recommended?

“They have to be referred and they have to make an application for it.”

What organizations have to make the referral?

“Jack and Jill of America (Jackson, Miss. Chapter), the Junior League of Jackson, the Women’s Foundation, Anderson United Methodist Church, the Lighthouse … Women who go to those groups for help, and those groups can refer them to Hope.”

You talk about setting up savings accounts for these ladies and helping them build relationships with the credit union. How important is it for people to have a relationship with a financial institution like Hope?

“When you think of all the predatory lending establishments in our community, if you go in and ask for $300, the interest on that may be 50 percent, 100 percent. Something like a loan from Hope Lives could be mean the difference between being able to handle a short-term financial emergency or getting into a hole that you can never get out of.”

What are the requirements to receive the money?

“The lady has to be between the ages of 18 and 30, and they have to have a short-term cash need. The young lady Hope Bynum helped fell into this category, and that is basically who we tried to make (the funds) available to.”

How many times can a person borrow $300?

“Again, if they pay it back, they have a savings account they can always go to and draw (from). If they don’t pay it back, I imagine they won’t be able to come in and utilize it again.”

How much has been raised for Hope Lives so far?

“On the day we introduced the program, it had about $25,000. I don’t know how much has been raised since. We introduced it publicly and several people indicated they would be making donations, so I’m sure it’s increased.”

Have people already come in to seek the money?

“I don’t know. My volunteer effort was to make sure we had this set up so people could start contributing.”

Does the steering committee have a target on how much it wants to raise?

“No, we don’t. We hope to keep the fund sustaining itself. We decided, too, we would like to have a program at least once a year to make sure Hope’s memory is not forgotten and that people can keep making donations.”

For more information, call Hope Vice President Robbye Good at (601) 949-2808.

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