A West Side native and River Forest resident, preacher’s kid and banker, Michelle Collins talks about her passion for the community where she worked and lived for more than 30 years.
Growing up in Austin
I’m a real West Sider. My father founded our Rose of Sharon Community Church on the West Side. The church is 67 years old now and located in Maywood. It’s been a journey and a labor of love for me and gave me great insight into the community, because you see real people in their everyday lives.
I started off at Lucy Flowers Vocational High School, which used to be an all-girls school. My parents moved into Austin when I was younger because they felt it was a great community to live in and they wanted me to go to Austin High School, which was one of the top high schools in the city at the time. I loved it there. I was a cheerleader and that’s where I graduated from.
Getting into banking
I ended up finding the love of my life career-wise, which is community development lending. I started out doing home mortgages, then moved into small business lending, renovation lending and nonprofit lending. I worked for one of the top community development banks in the country, Shore Bank, for almost 20 years. Then I worked for ABC Bank in Austin. I retired in March 2020, right before the pandemic. I was working for Wintrust, Chicago’s community development bank.
The importance of community development lending
There’s lending and then community development lending. Sure, banks taught me the difference between the two. Sometimes you can just lend to people and you don’t know the impact or the change in the community. There’s also financial literacy that helps people and businesses borrow responsibly.
I was doing a loan with a mom in Austin and when she first met me she said, ‘My house is the ugliest house on the block.’ Austin, by the way, is very much like Oak Park, in that it has the Frank Lloyd Wright historical homes, it’s just a matter of which side of Austin Boulevard you’re on. But the structures of the buildings are very similar. It’s really about being able to maintain and keep them up.
This house, in particular, needed painting and a new front door, windows, etc. I did the loan for her and, as part of my lending process, I would go back and see if she put the money into the property and how it looks. And her son came outside and said, ‘We have the best house on the block now.’ That’s the kind of thing that touches my heart. It’s worth everything to help people in that way.