Sandra “Sandee” Rosas played in Echo Park as a child, but never dreamed that she’d one day return to the neighborhood to serve as manager of the Episcopal Community Federal Credit Union (ECFCU).

She has had more than 24 years’ experience in the financial industry — 22 of it serving in credit unions — but what drew her to the ECFCU, she said, was learning about the credit union’s economic justice ministry.

“Before I applied for this position, I didn’t know much about the credit union and how important it was to the community,” said Rosas, 47, during a recent telephone interview.

But after some research, she concluded,“What the credit union does is really important for community development, giving loans to individuals who would not be able to get loans elsewhere, and offering financial education and assistance.”

That’s because economic justice gels with her own personal philosophy “of people helping people.” She aims to continue current credit union initiatives and hopes to eventually expand them.

Rosas has worked for the Household Finance Corp. and other companies and is experienced in nearly every facet of the credit union industry, including such positions as vice president of lending, executive operations manager, collection manager and director of collections.

Daniel Valdez, credit union board chair and CEO, says Rosas not only brings solid experience but also a fresh perspective to the agency.

“I’m very pleased to have Sandee join us as our credit union manager,” Valdez said. “She brings many years experience and a fresh perspective to our credit union that are surpassed only by her passion for the ministry.

“The board and I are excited by her energy and commitment to serving our members and to reaching out to those who haven’t yet discovered this vital economic justice ministry of the Diocese of Los Angeles.”

The Rev. Canon John Taylor, who chaired the transition committee, agreed.

“The committee recommended Sandee to the board after interviewing eight finalists. We were impressed by her breadth and depth of management experience and her palpable heart connection with the economic justice mission of our credit union,” he said.

“An exciting extra was that she grew up not far from the Cathedral Center. Both she and we felt it was the job she’d been preparing for her whole career.”

Reaching out to potential members

The credit union has more than 2,000 members and about $5 million in assets, and with just a few weeks on the job — she started July 22 — Rosas says she is taking the time to get acquainted with the credit union and its people.

“My focal point is to service the members we currently have and to retain them,” she said.

Eventually, she hopes to get out “and visit all the churches and let them know what we have to offer and all of the delivery mechanisms we have, letting them know we are part of a cooperative service system where all credit unions are partners.

“Potential members want to know where they can obtain money and it’s hard to grasp sometimes that they can walk into any credit union and make a withdrawal or a deposit, even though it (that credit union or system) might not have our name on it,” she said, referring to the cooperative system.

One of four children, Rosas grew up in Lincoln Heights and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from California State University at Los Angeles. Her father was a chef who fed celebrities and staff on the sets of such NBC-TV series as “Wonder Woman” and “Hawaii”; her mother was a homemaker.

A former Catholic, Rosas says she is now a born-again Christian, “a firm believer who loves Jesus Christ and is active in her church.”

She lives in Chino Hills and has a 20-year-old daughter who is a film major and attends the Art Institute of Orange County.

She succeeds Urla Gomes, who retired July 31 as chief executive officer of the credit union. Gomes joined the credit union in 1994 shortly after its inception as an economic justice ministry of the diocese.

Rosas’ vision is to expand the credit union’s reach. “Basically the long-term objective is to grow as much as we can and reach more of the churches,” she said. “We have a lot of untapped resources, to make it grow while not affecting our capital.

“But,” she added, “that’s in the future. Right now I’m just getting my hands around it all. The ultimate goal is to grow the credit union to the point where we can open another branch or two.”