New credit union advocates, accelerates its hometown

Black-led unity of Eatonville enriches town’s legacy

EATONVILLE, FL (March 27, 2024) — It would come as no surprise if you’ve never heard of Eatonville, a small town 10 minutes north of Orlando, Fla. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t come to know the town that “freedom built.”

Established in 1887, Eatonville is the first and oldest town to be organized, governed, and incorporated by African American citizens. It has preserved its history, heritage, and small-town charm, but like many rural communities, it has struggled with economic development and revitalization.

“One thing Eatonville has is a plethora of is churches, but it is a food and finance desert,” said Rev. Jerrold Smith of Macedonia Missionary Baptism Church.

“What Eatonville needs is commerce, and that’s been a challenge,” said James Rivera, branch manager of Unity of Eatonville Federal Credit Union. “In the past two years I can only speak to two businesses that have opened in Eatonville, and we’re one of them.”

The vision of Unity of Eatonville FCU began over a decade ago by Pastor Willie C. Barnes of the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church located in Eatonville. In 2018, he convened a group of individuals who were members of the church, and who became later known as subscribers by the NCUA, to seek out getting a federal charter.

Through their tireless efforts, they were subsequently granted their federal charter in December of 2021, and the credit union opened for business in June of 2022. When they opened as the Unity of Eatonville Federal Credit Union, they became the town’s first ever financial institution. Today, with almost $3 million in assets, the credit union offers auto loans, secured personal loans, savings accounts and share certificates.

When the credit union celebrates its 5-year anniversary three years from now, the credit union wants to be a full-service credit union offering everything from everyday banking to mortgages to even wealth management, Rivera said. For a community without a lot of disposable income (the median household income is $27,917) that’s significant because finances can’t easily be spread across various financial institutions.

“Each generation starts out and there’s a gap in passing along that generational wealth,” said Unity of Eatonville Chairman George Williams. “One area we’d like to move quicker on is financial literacy.”

In just two short years, Unity of Eatonville has become a catalyst for change. Rev. Smith, who serves on Unity of Eatonville’s board of directors, says it’s important to know what Eatonville is known for in 1882, but also what’s happening in 2022.

“The history doesn’t die, and our ability to thrive doesn’t die,” he added. “We are history in the making.”

The tailwinds to Unity of Eatonville’s growth are the credit union’s ardent relationships with neighboring churches, its current 334 members and being part of the African American Credit Union Coalition. The headwinds to growing membership is the need to add services and finding the right technical and financial partners to take the credit union to the next level.

In March, the credit union joined a creative thinking workshop with Your Marketing Co. The credit union’s leaders walked away with ideas on how to undertake social media and marketing tasks, grow youth programs and community events, and work with industry partners that can assist with grants and non-member deposits.

“It was very productive to get that diversity of thought on some of the challenges we have,” Smith said.

When it comes to growing the credit union, younger generations value diversity and inclusion and are more supportive of initiatives that promote equity and representation, according to supervisory committee member Jordan Vaughn. He believes that there are opportunities to find partners who want to build communities and support families that may not look like their own.

“There are kind and compassionate people we can find that can tap into what it means to be a part of our charter,” he said.

“This is why we love what we do,” added Your Marketing Co.’s CEO Bo McDonald. “Unity of Eatonville is enriching lives, creating opportunities and fostering a vibrant and inclusive community where everyone can thrive.”

For more on minority-owned Unity of Eatonville, visit or call (404) 637-5657.

About Your Marketing Co.

Your Marketing Co. is a full-service strategic planning, branding and marketing firm serving credit unions that are not content with the status quo. Since 2008, YMC has helped dozens of credit unions grow their potential through strategy, execution and accountability. And we give a damn!


Bo McDonald
Phone: (864) 230-1923


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